How many consultants does it take to change a light bulb?

It depends – “How large is your budget?

Truly, is it little wonder the consultancy sector is the brunt of so many jokes.

You know the drill:

Step 1: Recognise the need for community input (be it via a compliance measure or genuine interest)

Step 2: Roll out the media wagon and invite everyone along to the community hall

Step 3: Dust off the International Roast and shove everyone into the sticky plastic seats

Step 4: Public figure introduces charismatic consultant who opens by telling the audience they aren’t there to tell them what to do (carefully omitting the statement ‘that’s what the report will do’)

Step 5: The loudest, boldest and often most annoying voices in the room grind their axes loudly like nails down a chalk board

Step 6: Zen voice of reason steps in and the topic changes

Step 7: Collate thoughts and ideas on butchers paper

Step 8: Consultant collects paper, runs away, collates information and regurgitates the same information shared over the past two decades under a catchy new title and glossy report cover

Or an adaptation of the above, perhaps switching the community hall for an online platform.


Having worked in regional Australia in the community arena for most of my grown up life I could tell you countless stories of snouts in toughs, pointless conversations about ideas that were never going to go anywhere, careless use of butchers paper and sticky dots and then – the glimmers of hope where actual change happened, powerful change.

Believe it or not, consultants aren’t always ‘bad’. In fact, more often than not the people who are wheeled into your community to squeeze out solutions actually want the best for you. I know because I’ve been a consultant for most of my working career.

Being a consultant – being consulted with – and being consulted AT I’ve learned a few tricks that savvy communities really should apply when the consultant word starts getting chucked about.

Signs it may be time to hire a consultant:

  • You feel stuck, like you’re spinning your wheels
  • You feel you need a fresh perspective
  • The issue is challenging or contentious
  • Time is limited
  • It feels like there’s a missing chunk of information
  • A new plan or strategy is required to move forward
  • Something has changed or shifted in the community
  • There is a new compliance measure or something needs an update and you don’t have time to undertake it
  • You need someone that can look at your organisation or community without emotional attachment, connections or bias

Pause and ask yourself:

  • Are we prepared to hear we are wrong?
  • Is this money better spent in action? – doing something?

On deciding to hire a consultant:

  • What is our budget?
  • Are there any funding sources that can assist us?
  • Can we afford to do this properly – ensuring a holistic outcome, not just a bandaid?
  • Do we need someone with local experience and connections?
  • Do we need someone with industry expertise?
  • Do we need someone with experience in a particular issue?
  • What type of person do we want to hire? How will we know we’ve found the right person?
  • How long will we need them for?
  • What are the specific things we want them to do?

Handy tips: Take your time finding the right person and make sure you get several quotes to work out what the usual going price is. Consultancy prices vary enormously. Don’t be afraid to check references (this is a MUST) and don’t ever hire someone that makes you feel uncomfortable – sure, a certain amount of discomfort is useful in change – but if someone has weasel eyes and your skin crawls every time they get on the phone stop complaining and find someone else.

So, how many consultants does it take to change a lightbulb?  Who knows. The solutions are broad and varied and a strategic plan is probably required to determine that.