2017

CAREER CORNER

Full-Time Quality Manager Or Part-Time Quality Consultant?

by Diane G. Kulisek

As companies become leaner and the workforce becomes older, it seems the use of highly qualified quality assurance consultants would be an attractive alternative to hiring full-time regular quality managers.

In fact, in 2005 surveys of business leaders, more than 50% of respondents reported using consultants as performance management resources.1

But, according to the participation in Quality Progress’ annual salary survey from 2001 through 2006, the percentage of consultants that makes up the quality workforce appears essentially unchanged at about 3% while the percentage of participants who are quality managers is also unchanged at about 25%.2

This lack of increased quality consultant representation does not seem to make much sense, so I am inclined to let my personal experience trump the statistics a bit.

Two years ago, I decided it might be a good time to build a private quality consulting practice. It was not a lightly made decision, but the outcome has been disappointing.

I could take it personally, but I have enough evidence to believe the issue is not personal. It would be reasonable to assume a technical professional’s marketing skills might be lacking, but I have checked off everything on my carefully prepared list of “guerrilla” marketing tactics,3 participated in Institute of Management Consultants4 meetings and effectively completed the SCORE5 course on starting one’s own business. I also assertively tapped SCORE mentors and fellow owners of quality consulting firms for guidance.

Most recently, I asked for help in understanding what might be going on from those in my online professional network.6 I’ve combined and summarized my own thoughts along with extractions from insights shared by others, and now I seem to have arrived at a better understanding of the considerations.

Full-Time Quality Managers

There are several reasons an organization might favor hiring a full-time quality manager:

Unquestioned obedience. Hiring managers could believe they have more leverage over a full-time quality manager because of perceived exclusive control over the regular employee’s livelihood. This can be especially important when unquestioned obedience is an essential factor for a hiring manager’s success.

Acceptance of nonquality related tasks. Full-time employees can be asked to perform tasks outside of their basic job descriptions, while consultants are limited to tasks described within their contracts.

Youthful enthusiasm. Entry-level, full-time quality managers tend to bring youthful enthusiasm to the table and can be a great match for a start-up operation’s culture.

Tribal knowledge. Entry-level, full-time employees can grow with a company and its products, providing continuity. They can also serve as a repository for undocumented archival company and product history.

Insider intelligence. Full-time employees tend to learn, become a part of and understand an organization’s culture. This connects them with other employees in ways that can make their ability to complete necessary tasks more effective and efficient as well as less invasive than that of a temporary or part-time consultant.

Internal accountability. Full-time employees must live with the long-term, in-house consequences of their actions and generally cannot behave in ways that would be considered inappropriate by their co-workers without jeopardizing their livelihoods.

On-site presence. If the need to quickly perform a task (such as provide support for an unannounced on-site audit by a customer or regulatory representative) arises unexpectedly, the immediate on-site presence of a full-time employee could be a significant advantage over an off-site, part-time consultant, who might take additional time to respond or arrive on site.

Shared liability. Organizational insurance will typically cover liability expenses incurred by employee decisions but not those incurred as a result of decisions made by consultants or contractors. Consultants or contractors might not have adequate insurance to cover their own decisions. This could require a leap of faith in a hiring manager’s signing off on documented outputs from a consultant on behalf of the organization (consultants typically will not sign internal documentation).

Part-Time Quality Consultants

There are also many good reasons to hire a part-time quality consultant:

Independent objectivity. Hiring managers usually do not have ex-
clusive control over a consultant’s livelihood. This can be especially helpful when the consultant’s objectivity and independence from potential manipulation by a senior manager is perceived as essential to satisfying a business need.

Focused effort. Part-time consultants are much less susceptible to becoming distracted by tasks other than those described in their contracts and are better able to stay focused on completing critical objectives. If there are effective incentives for providing agreed on deliverables ahead of schedule and under budget, a consultant could be the key to more timely and cost-effective completion of critical projects.

Entrepreneurialism. Seasoned quality consultants are entrepreneurs who have had to learn to effectively manage risk to survive. They can be a great match for a bureaucratic organization striving to reconnect with entrepreneurialism by better managing risk within its own culture.

Change agent. The value of a consultant’s ability to be objective and free of inappropriate influence by a senior executive has already been noted. Add to this the natural detachment of a consultant from the influence of informal or pre-existing cultural biases. Consultants can work to overcome complacency and resistance to change without the burden of having to maintain pre-existing relationships with employees who might otherwise be obstacles.

Troubleshooter. Unlike regular employees, consultants cannot rely on tribal or archival knowledge for their success. So, consultants are generally quick to identify and recommend solutions for situations in which an organization has become vulnerable due to missing or inadequate procedures, ineffective training, or business requirements that have changed but have not yet been properly assimilated into the organization’s way of doing business.

External accountability. Consul-tants rely on endorsements from previous and existing clients to attract new ones. Consequences for inappropriate behavior by a consultant almost immediately extend beyond the organization for which the consultant is working and can significantly impact the ability of the consultant to secure new clients.

External credibility. The mutual respect established through a consultant’s long-term working relationships with major customers or regulators can be advantageous when the consultant is brought in to support tasks involving those customers or regulators.

Proven decision maker. Consul-tants must be highly vigilant about the risks associated with decisions they are recommending. Consultants rely and build on a track record of effective past decisions to gain and maintain the confidence of those acting on their recommendations.

Cost management. When budget constraints prevent the addition of regular employees, consultants can be brought in under a separate professional services budget. Consultants can be contracted with on a project basis or on the basis of specific deliverables.

Stress relief. The documentation required to establish an effective quality management system (QMS) or to periodically audit it comprehensively can be far beyond that required to support a QMS on a day-to-day basis. A quality consultant can be the best short-term solution.

Body of knowledge expertise. Adding or bringing new bodies of knowledge or skill sets into an organization can require comprehensive expertise or training tailored for many levels. Expert quality consultants in areas such as auditing, process improvement, problem solving, regulatory affairs or risk management are typically the best resources for achieving effective initial training and implementation. Expert consultants can also ensure continuity of new concepts by training future in-house trainers and performing periodic retraining to keep the knowledge base state-of-the-art.

Blame bearer. If a project has a low probability of success, you can better ensure potential project success and have somebody else to blame if the project fails by hiring a qualified consultant. Out of fairness to the consultant, when one is hired for this specific reason, the low probability of success should be clearly acknowledged in the contract and a provision made for the consultant to be paid regardless of outcome.

Trial by fire. This is the “try before you buy” concept of hiring a quality consultant. Short-term use of quality consultants willing to consider becoming regular employees could be a method of screening candidates for that elusive right fit. This beats the potential expense of recruiter commissions, competitive salaries, relocation costs and separation expenses when untried quality managers don’t work out after being hired.

What’s Really Happening

Because there are advantages both to hiring a full-time quality manager and hiring a part-time quality consultant, I would have to conclude that, all things being equal, there should be equal demand for both types of professionals. But, this is not the case, so all things are not equal.

From my experience, I suspect regular full-time senior quality managers with recent work histories indicating organizational changes every year or two are actually performing as quality consultants without being recognized as such—by either themselves or others.

It would certainly be difficult for a small or even medium-size organization to justify the ongoing expense of a high performing quality practitioner after all its QMSs are humming along on near autopilot, the workforce is trained and competent, continual improvement has become a self-maintaining way of doing business, and the customers are pretty much delighted.

What used to be termed quality management “job hoppers” might actually be members of a new breed of transient, quasi-consultant, quality practitioner “special forces” who go where they are most needed, do what most needs doing and then move on to the next organization in crisis.

The cause of hiring decisions overwhelmingly in favor of full-time quality managers might be as simple as a general lack of understanding about the benefits of hiring part-time quality consultants in some situations or the failure to properly identify this possible new breed of quasi-consultants.

My recommendation is that organizations consider all their quality leadership options in relation to their overall strategic quality objectives. These options should include regular full-time quality managers, part-time or temporary quality consultants and some solutions in between, such as the quasi-consultant quality practitioner special forces.


REFERENCES AND NOTES

  1. Steve Wnuk and Rochelle Dickinson, 2005 ASQ market research results presented at the ASQ Board of Directors meeting, February 2006.
  2. Annual salary surveys published in December issues of Quality Progress from 2001 through 2006 can be found at
    www.asq.org/pub/qualityprogress/salary_survey/index.html.
  3. Jay Conrad Levinson and Michael W. McLaughlin, Guerrilla Marketing for Consultants, John Wiley & Sons, 2005.
  4. Institute of Management Consultants, www.imcusa.org.
  5. SCORE: Counselors to America’s Small Business (SCORE previously stood for “Senior Corps of Retired Executives”). SCORE works closely with the Small Business Administration (www.sba.gov). SCORE’s website is www.score.org.
  6. LinkedIn is an invitation only professional network at www.linkedin.com.

DIANE G. KULISEK of Simi Valley, CA, is president of CAPAtrak LLC and an independent quality management consultant, writer and motivational speaker. She holds a master’s degree in engineering management from California State University, Northridge. Kulisek is a senior member of ASQ and active with the ASQ Food, Drug and Cosmetic Division, ASQ Region Seven (the Southwest), and ASQ San Fernando Valley Section 706. She holds ASQ certifications as a manager of quality/organizational excellence and quality engineer.


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