A consultant cannot serve two masters

21/02/2012 Comments Off on A consultant cannot serve two masters

The Earthquake Commission (EQC) has received the report it commissioned looking into allegations of improper hiring [I cannot find a link – it was in the Dominion Post printed edition]. EQC is not making it public yet, wanting the State Services Commission to peer review it.

The allegations last year were:

The Earthquake Commission (EQC) has been accused of “jobs for the boys and girls” after employing the daughter of its claims manager at $75 an hour.

Several other people with prominent parents also had plum jobs. Because of the competition for the relatively small number of well-paid jobs, nepotism was alleged. EQC called in a consultant.

This is an example of a consulting arrangement that can only end badly. EQC had a problem: the perception of nepotism. To clear itself, it needed two things:

  • an assessment carried out with perceived independence
  • a finding that nepotism had not occurred.

In the end, EQC got neither. It got neither because the consulting was not arranged to deliver what EQC actually needed.

Two masters: EQC set the terms of reference, hired the HR firm, approved the report, and paid for the consulting. Consultants live and die by repeat business. Repeat business comes from satisfied clients who get value for money. EQC was clearly the first master who needed to be satisfied. The second master in all this was the public. Remember, the key problem was a public perception of nepotism. But, the public wasn’t footing the bill. They certainly don’t know or care who the consulting firm was. Regardless of the employment decisions or the quality of the consulting, someone should have managed the perception of independence better.

Process versus outcome: The most important part of any consulting job is the terms of reference. EQC made the ToR for this job public. The ToR is all about the process:

The Reviewer will investigate the Earthquake Commission’s management and application of the selection process for 2012 field staff, to determine the fairness of the policies and processes that were used.

This is typical in two ways. First, bureaucracies (public and private) are all about processes. They develop a process, write it down, and ensure that people follow it. Especially in complex organisations where results are far removed from the everyday actions of each individual, adhering to process is a substitute for producing results. Also, the ToR turns the consulting assignment away from the real allegation. The allegation was, ‘Hey, these people got jobs they shouldn’t have!’ That’s a complaint about the outcome. The ToR asks, ‘Were the proper procedures in place and is there any evidence they were  influenced by senior managers?’ That’s an assessment of the process.

This consulting assignment was set up to fail. That’s the sort of work I try to avoid.


DISCLAIMER: I am not saying that anyone or any organisation did anything illegal.

DISCLOSURE: I own a Christchurch property zoned TC3, so I am not disinterested.


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