Without exception, when I go into a client's workplace, I notice things that should be changed - many things that are frequently outside of my mission. Sometimes serious things. I struggle with "Should I say something? or "If I say something, how should I say it?"

Some background (I have my own company and I consult to other software companies): I normally get calls to fix things in marketing, management, or software (broken teams, processes, or ideas).

Usually, I can be candid and behind closed doors, and mention something to the owner/co-founder/senior manager - starting with "Perhaps, it is not my place but I thought I would bring it up and let you decide. I noticed xxx"

When that is not the case or when it concerns the owner or co-founder (their behavior or lack of it) and it is not why I'm there, admittedly, I struggle. I know many who artfully do the three monkeys - but most times, I've been thanked heartily for speaking up. (Frequently, I joke and say "my premature grey hair is making me say this.")

Any rulesets or better ways to handle this?


3 Answers 3


As an external consultant you have two major forces working in these situations and depending on your point of view, they may be pulling in different directions.

The forces are:

  • Doing a good job - bringing most value to the client
  • Keeping the job

The view points are:

  • "I was brought in to consult", meaning, taking an overall look at the client and giving your feedback on anything you believe needs to change
  • "I was brought in to fix one thing"

Sometimes these view points are reinforced in the contract - some clients may be interested in you doing one thing and one thing alone (they may be aware of other deficiencies and not want them to be raised and discussed as part of the contract).

In general, follow the spirit of the contract and once you get a "feel" of the culture of the client, follow that - if people, in general, keep their heads down, chances are good that the client is not open to suggestions that fall out of the specific issue you have come to fix.

At the same time, as you noted, behind closed doors, many managers do appreciate a candid appraisal - again, this is something you need to get a "feel" for, after seeing the manager/management team and their style of management.

  • +1 for the having to do it by feel. Ultimatly, how people will react is a very personal thing and there isn't a one size fits all answer. Just have to learn to read people and judge that against the severity of the issue. Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 4:36

There cannot be one answer that fits all. I think it greatly depends on the level of relationship you have with a specific client. Are you a hired gun to deliver a defined scope, are you a consultant to the client, are you a partner, or are you a trusted advisor?

So the trigger of how much can you point out will depend on the depth of your relationship with your client.

The only caveat I see to this is if the problem you are seeing presents a risk to the work you are there to do. In this case, escalate no matter the level of relationship.

  • Seems like a legitimate answer to me. Too bad some coward had to down-vote it without leaving a comment.
    – Fernando
    Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 16:23

It is easy to think we know what is best and sometimes we get into the mindset that we have all the right answers. It takes a lot more effort to control our desires to dip our hands into everything we see that we don't like. I have urges like this as well, as a part of me wants to control everything about the environment around me to make sure everything works smoothly but I have learned that it is better to start out by asking questions about the situation if I get involved at all. Sometimes there are details that are not obvious or I do not know as much about the topic as I thought I did. Asking questions instead of starting out by simply saying something along the lines of "I think this is wrong, here is how to fix it" makes people less defensive and more likely to respond positively.

Beyond that, why put the extra effort forward to do something you aren't getting paid to do? Going back to keeping your self control, I'd try to practice focusing on the task at hand and not let yourself get distracted by everything around you that you don't like. I'm sure there are some places where EVERYTHING needs to be fixed and the fixes haven't occurred because people simply don't care, so your comments won't have any benefit but could certainly rub someone the wrong way.

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