CIOs often make mistakes when working with consultants. I pointed out three of them in my last installment.\n\nThere\u2019s a fourth that\u2019s potentially more serious than these three combined: failing to take advantage of the consultant\u2019s edge, either by engaging them or by making their edge your edge.\n\nTrue story: My consulting team, engaged to assess an IT organization\u2019s overall effectiveness, found that some of its practices violated fundamental financial compliance requirements in ways that could potentially lead to civil and criminal liability.\n\nWe presented our concerns to the client\u2019s top executives as part of our preliminary findings review. They, quite testily, disagreed. Their books, they insisted, were squeaky clean, not to be challenged in our final analysis and recommendations.\n\nAs consultants our integrity was, of course, negotiable. But not that negotiable. We wrapped up the engagement and left the client\u2019s halls and conference rooms, never to be invited back.\n\nThree years later they restated (unfavorably) their balance sheet by a few billion dollars.\n\nHow was it that in just six weeks our four-person team, none with specialized expertise in forensic finance and accounting, spotted a major problem with the company\u2019s finance practices that the CFO, immersed in the subject every day, missed entirely?\n\nA fundamental rule of organizational dynamics is what made the difference, namely, that hidden in every company are people who collectively know about everything that\u2019s broken, and how to fix it.\n\nThe consultant\u2019s edge: Breaking the culture of silence\n\nAs outside consultants, all we have to do is listen \u2014 to lots of people, promising all of them anonymity as part of our process.\n\nIn return they unburden, relieved to finally be talking with someone who cares.\n\nIt\u2019s the consultant\u2019s secret edge, and it\u2019s harder to re-create this inside the organization than you might think.\n\nImagine you\u2019re an individual contributor and you spot what you think is a serious problem, such as a steadily accumulating balance-sheet misstatement. What do you do?\n\nYou tell your supervisor, of course. Your supervisor, though, lacks the authority, not to mention the budget and staff resources, to fix the problem. That leaves your supervisor with two choices. They can: (1) bury the problem and hope it isn\u2019t excavated until after they\u2019ve departed for less-vulnerable pastures; or (2) escalate the problem to their manager, who then has the same two choices.\n\nRinse and repeat until the problem reaches a manager who does have the budget and authority, and can reallocate staff priorities to fix it. That should do it, but it doesn\u2019t, because this manager is, by definition, also the manager who will be blamed for the problem if it becomes visible at blamestorming levels.\n\nThat\u2019s when things get ugly, because while fixing the root cause might not be all that difficult and could be handled quietly, fixing the accumulated damage \u2014 in this case restating a balance sheet whose inaccuracies have gradually accumulated over a period of years \u2014 can\u2019t be kept under the management radar.\n\nBlamestorming: Bureaucracy\u2019s big fix\n\nThe most common \u201csolution,\u201d such as it is, is the practice known as \u201cbayonetting the wounded\u201d \u2014 firing or disciplining everyone in the reporting chain directly below the manager who sits at the top of the problem tree and therefore logically owns it.\n\nBy establishing that they \u201chold people accountable,\u201d the bayonetter creates a political buffer that makes them part of the solution rather than the cause of the problem. This layer of protection lets them fix what needs to be fixed without endangering themselves.\n\nA less popular solution is whistleblowing. It\u2019s unpopular among individual contributors because it isn\u2019t a career-enhancing move for those who whistle and frequently leads to bayonetting the aforementioned wounded among their peers.\n\nIt\u2019s also unpopular because its impact is, more often than not, negligible. Employees are, as a result, hesitant to take that path, and management is even less likely to encourage it.\n\nThe solution? Culture change\n\nWhat actually works, should the organization be led by a braver sort of leadership team, is a change in the culture of management at all levels.\n\nThe change is that when something bad happens, everyone in the organization, from the board of directors on down, assumes the root cause is systemic, not a person who has screwed up.\n\nIn the case of my client\u2019s balance sheet fiasco, the root cause turned out to be everyone doing exactly what the situation they faced Right Now required.\n\nWhat had happened was that a badly delayed system implementation, coupled with the strategic decision to freeze the legacy system being replaced, led to a cascade of PTFs (Permanent Temporary Fixes to the uninitiated) to get through month-end closes. The PTFs, being temporary, weren\u2019t tested as thoroughly as production code. But being permanent, they accumulated and sometimes conflicted with one another, requiring more PTFs each month to get everything to process.\n\nThe result: Month ends did close, nobody had to tell the new system implementation\u2019s executive sponsor about the PTFs and the risks they entailed, and nobody had to acknowledge that freezing the legacy system had turned out to be a bad call.\n\nEveryone involved in the affected financial areas and IT areas that supported them knew about: (1) this house of cards; and (2) that trying to alert management to it would be a career-limiting move.\n\nWhat CIOs should do about this\n\nBad news does not improve with age. Assuming problems are caused by bad systems lets employees call attention to \u2014 and organizations to acknowledge and fix \u2014 problems when they\u2019re small and only mildly embarrassing.\n\nAssuming problems are caused by bad employees, on the other hand, leads to the problems becoming humiliating money pits.\n\nOr else you can bring in consultants every few years to figure this stuff out. Just don\u2019t ask them to reveal their sources.\n\nEven though the sources are on your payroll, they\u2019re still the consultant\u2019s edge.