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The Pose

“This is just what I experienced with a project at a medium-sized enterprise. There I convinced the management …”

I’m at a meeting. I have a lot to do – and in front of me an external consultant is striking the pose. After two minutes I’ve got it: Yes, he’s an important man.  And he’s been in charge of many projects (client names are withheld for reasons of discretion) – and he even speaks with members of the Managing Boards.

Infallibility

“It has to be done this way. There’s no alternative.” He’s repeating the sentence for the third time.

He then looks round, fishing for approval. “Then this is how it will be, since there’s no objection.”  Now I feel the urge to interfere. The discussion is getting arduous. The consultant never says that this is his position. I do indeed see alternatives – ones that are superior in many points, I think.

The discussion becomes even more galling.  At no point in time he states hat this is his point of view. No, he’s proclaiming the absolute truth.

He doesn’t even remotely understand that in questions of software architecture there are many varieties, each of which comes with advantages and disadvantages of its own. He doesn’t see that the evaluation of these standards is first of all a subjective one as long as one doesn’t have objective benchmarks to measure the solutions against.

He doesn’t name those benchmarks as he just loves to hear himself talk. He refers to harp on about principles, for the world of principles is pure and unsullied by pragmatism or questions of cost.

Dishonest Arguments …

The discussion can’t be avoided. Now he’s gathering momentum: “It just has to be like this. There was exactly the same problem with a project he wouldn’t name now. There it lead to disaster and the leading IT person of the company had to go. They had to change the architecture in a later phase of that project.” Yes. Tricks like these leave an impression: he leaves the factual level and evokes fear in IT decision makers.  

Everything has its bright side …

While I’m in a meeting, listening to the words of wisdom coming from the rostrum, I start to see the positive aspects.  The longer you have been in the business, the further you get away from operational business, the more loof you get.

I vow the following to myself:

  • Hopefully I will never be this arrogant towards my clients. And even if I may think my clients are idiots, I will never let them feel it.
  • I will make an effort to always keep my arguments on target during discussions. I hope that thus the discussion itself will get more to the point, making it easier to spot nonsense.
  • I will work on my rhetorical skills. When I have to deal with external consultants, I often have to deal with notorious show offs.
  • When you are in a meeting and at the same time you can work on your self promotion skills while the company is paying for it, your values and interests will be totally different from those of your clients.

I’m therefore hardly competitive, as I’m not being paid for living out my narcissism. However, I have to practice this, so that show offs will have a hard time thwarting me.

Values …

I don’t like to deal with self-promoters and self-promotion during meetings. Arrogance shouldn’t be lived, it should be ostracised.

It all starts with company principles. There will always be companies that define themselves as part of the elite, with very elitist employment policies, but even in such cases a company’s business principles should bring  customer relations to the fore.  

Maybe we should start a campaign to reach a change in value: “Yes to performance, yes to innovation – no to arrogance!”

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9 Comments

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  1. Vijay Vijayasankar
    I know exactly what you mean.
    I just met a guy 2 weeks ago who was beginning to posture himself in a meeting. it took a lot of effort for me to not yell and scream at him. He and I work for different consulting companies – so it was a bit complicated. Finally, I excused myself for a few minutes to step outside and cool off.
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  2. Thorsten Franz
    Hi Tobias,
    What you describe is the absolute truth. I’ve been in some of the meetings you describe, but the behavioral patterns you have sketched here are of course ubiquitous.
    I wish I had the calm to deal with this kind of attitude in the proper way: calmly calculating, at least tactically and better strategically – but that is very hard to do.
    A management consultant for whom I have great respect once called me “the knight of the open visor” when I really ought to be “the knight of the burred, bloody blade”. 😉
    Cheers,
    Thorsten
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  3. Harshit Kumar
    Hi Tobias,

    This world is so full of diverse set of people, you never know whom you meet next. Since the geographies have reduced by rapid globalization, more often then not we end up meeting people who seems to be so different be it consultant or be it others.

    Regards,
    Harshit

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  4. Adam Szigeti
    Hmm, the situation is even more complicated when you are new to SAP, like me, and the external consultant has tens of years of experience… I try to believe that at least he’s right, and it is only the style that is so frustrating, but overall, the project will be alright
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  5. Rahul Urs
    do you even consider the constant changes in the software which makes an external consultant to make statements such as “It has to be done this way. There’s no alternative.” He’s repeating the sentence for the third time….

    This blog is a perfect example of the IGNORANCE some business folks who type such blogs like this and have NO clue on the technical world of SAP …

    too bad ….there are too many people who will agree with me…

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    1. Vijay Vijayasankar
      Rahul, I have been an external consultant for a long time and I have come across fellow consultants who take this stance – and I am with Tobias on this..there is no excuse for this behavior. All I would wish is for Tobias and others to not geerealize this behavior to conclude that all external consultants are like this.

      Not that I don’t see your point – from prior experience, external consultants might know issues with other approaches that the internal guy has not been exposed to, and hence might try to save time by going for the answer without explaining the rationale. The issue that Tobias raised here is that despite saying there is no other solution – consultant didnt seem to own the claim, and hence sounded bad. If the same consultant entered into a dialog with others in the room and convinced them with strong arguments – probably this blog would not have been written. A lot of my time in projects is spent mentoring my team on the importance of how to behave with the client – and a big part of that is how you present solutions.

      And one last thing – Tobias is not an “ignorant business folks” type – he is an SAP mentor, and very technically focussed. If you look in SDN, you will see a lot of excellent technical blogs that he wrote.

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      1. Tobias Trapp Post author
        IMHO you are absolutly right. Of course we shouldn’t generalize my critique: External consultants have much experience from different companies and know lots of different approaches, so they can turn a deaf ear to new ideas. Sometimes it is easy to convince customers, because they are looking for change, and often controversial discussions are necessary, which help to find a good solution. And this is why controversial discussions are most valuable for both sides.

        I only wanted to say that if people stop to bring forward arguments and proclaim “absolute thruths” then this is counterproductive and even worse: From my experience arrogance causes more harm than it produces something good.

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        1. Rakesh Singh Chauhan
          Well what I can sense from from the blog is cross cultural sensitivity issue. In many cultures, it is encouraged to put your idea firmly. This leads to a situation where sentences like: I think so, As per me, according to my perspective etc are discouraged. As per my experience with external consultants they are encouraged to think that they know more than others. Even if they do not know, they are told to act so.

          Regards,
          Rakesh

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  6. Wiktor Nyckowski
    Hello Tobias,
    To my mind the problem seems to be a bit broader than just an opposition between external and internal consultants. Is it not rather a matter of who You REALLY are and how much of an adult (i.e., self-assured, open-minded, actively using Your intelect) are You?
    I mean, does it not have more to do with emotional stability and such? Have You noticed that this particular kind of ego-flawed behaviour You are describing happens more rarely among women? I am not saying herewith that female consultants, be it external or internal, are BETTER – only that these particular errors occur among them somehow much less often (blowing one’s own trumpet). It is not a discovery of today that women, statistically, perform much better in emotionally-sensitive professional contexts.
    Obviously, there are other kinds of malicious behaviour specific to female professionals but I find it rather a topic for another blog, not necessarily on SDN…
    All the best
    Wiktor
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