The value of hiring pessimist consultants

In my previous post, I suggested that potential clients of OD be  “beware of optimistic, cheery consultants exuding “wow-wow we can do it”.  While there are times when optimism is useful,  a good organizational diagnosis and a solid implementation plan must factor in a lot of not-so-optimistic assumptions about human nature. Wearing “a smile you can see a mile”, is important for the trainers of the world, but not for an organizational consultant who you must trust to tell things as they are.”

In this post I want to spell out 4 more advantages of hiring pessimistic consultants.

1) It is very hard to change organizations.

I am 65 (now 71) years old and I have been “at it” for the longest time. The state of our practice is imperfect and there are many reasons for the massive resistance that change efforts encounter.

A more pessimistic consultant  is aware of the difficulties & will carefully chose where to apply pressure and where to back off. A cheery optimistic “yes we can” consultant will set unrealistic goals and either fail, or wallpaper over a serious problems in order to look good and display apparent effectiveness.

2) Within organizations, the chances are that  both the management team members and a perky HR business partner are promulgating good news, bombarding various management forums with optimistic forecasts/assessments.

The last thing a change program needs is an OD consultant, motivated by fear, to bullshit and play down the challenges that management and HR are ignoring.

3) Optimistic “yes we can” consultants come to be associated with the existing power structure and chances are that the troops will learn to mistrust them. Pessimistic consultants are more cynical, more pragmatic and may been seen as more trustworthy, which is a powerful asset to leverage.

4) Optimistic consultants tend to use “tools”, products and religious dogmas (in the organizational sense) to storm forward. Pessimistic consults generally are more eclectic and use whatever works; they are not in love with tools because in general, they have less rigid “belief” systems.

Here is a link for tips to manage pessimistic staff.

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6 thoughts on “The value of hiring pessimist consultants

  1. Oh how we project our strengths as the only way and reject our opposites — stereotyping heavily along the way. A good dose of realism, coupled with a positive outlook and sincere engagement with all in the change process seems a more effective prescription than either the following the pessimist or opposing the optimist prescribed above.

    • I agree with what you say however, I believe that we may disagree what a “positive outlook” is.
      All this “yes we can-ism” and “live your dreams” and coach-driven “make everyone into a goal achieving machine”….this is what I see as non realistic.

    • Be a Pessimist, Be and Optimist; sounds like a zero some game and the death blow to integrity with a client, and maybe your choice is to engage in the place of the Pessimist. Whew, kinda draining to me. Our work is not doing our personal work on the client system, So I concur about the Perky Raw Raw and join with Pixie on the Pessimism. We have to get our S_ _T out of the way, and help the client system see what they can’t see or don’t want to see – based on the paradoxical theory of change – we must be able to be straight with them about the reality, not the fantasy – regardless of where it lands. It is help them managing the tension between the polarities, and to hold the complexity/ambiguity. And Allon, I am with you on tools or method approach – in my zillions of years of experience – it is what do they have that we can use – and how do I support them in the moment by developing something fit for purpose for that moment and where they are trying to get to. Thanks for being provocative! Best Wishes, Bill

  2. Meanwhile the entrepreneur has sold the company for top price.
    As a project manager I have always focussed on the best and prepared for the worst.
    Simple business risk management actually. But it results in optimal results, as opposed to those of optimists and pessimists.

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