How did expectations get so high?

I’ve recently been looking at battery-operated vacuum cleaners (nothing to do with my work, but we’ll get there).

Anyone who has done the same thing will have seen the myriad of reviewing sites and articles that are available online.

They are very helpful, but as I was sifting through them, I came across a reviewer who stated it bluntly:

If you’re looking for the vacuum that is cordless, powerful, light, efficient, and cleans well in all situations then it doesn’t exist!

Applying the Analogy

It occurred to me that often potential clients treat Health and Safety Consultancy services in the same way – they obviously want to have the ‘complete solution’ presented to them, but they have to be prepared to make do with some compromises. The control-freaks amongst them don’t like being told the realities of life and believe they can ‘have their cake and eat it’.

The truth is that it really depends on how insightful you are as a buyer, considering that these kind of services are not always fully understood.

Ask yourself:
  • Are you good at judging who to trust?
  • Do you value authenticity and honesty, even if the blunt truth isn’t what you want to hear?
  • Do you want to be reassured that H&S is being taken care of more than you want to understand how the system will work and how you can play your part?
  • In terms of our analogy, when you buy your ‘perfect’ vacuum cleaner, will you care when you find out later that it can’t do the things that you were expecting?

Of course, consultancy services are not like physical products that people can quickly test the capabilities of.
The process of setting up a H&S system is a collaborative one.

  • The Consultant brings to the table the overall system that provides the ‘placeholders’ within which the clients operations will be put and adequate management of H&S can be demonstrated.
  • The Client brings the full and honest description of their operations using their experience of what happens normally and what can occasionally change.


Collaboration means dedicating enough time for this information-exchange and the necessary discussions to take place…this is often the sticking point.

In fact, the oft-quoted ‘just haven’t had the time’ has driven us away from offering ‘retainership-services’ into only offering ‘pay-by-the-hour’ services.

Why? Because if someone is paying monthly, you can guarantee them time spent on their affairs. But if you’re running an ethical service, what do you do when they don’t engage?

We made the decision to not take money for sitting around pretending to work.


Expectations about what a H&S Consultancy can do have been driven too high by the ‘market’.

Large H&S consultancies are often the office underlings of HR and Accountancy firms and are therefore driven to ‘sell, sell, sell’ by people who really don’t understand what is being sold. They can employ perfectly good H&S Consultants but the pressure to meet targets AND look for the truth AND care about the outcome is one that can grind anyone into a zombie!

Markets are supposed to correct themselves but providing a high-quality service will generally lose-out to someone providing an easy-answer that doesn’t involve any senior manager or director’s time. This is especially true for lower-risk or seldom-scrutinised workplaces who don’t feel the pressure to be ‘excellent’.

The answer

The answer– as always – is for senior managers and directors to ‘Wake-Up’ and ‘Get-Real’.

Wake-up to the fact that anyone offering a quick-and-easy-solution is probably lying to you.

Get-real and expect to dedicate some of your time to developing the solutions.
Your business is special, valuable, unique…so you have a right to expect your H&S system to be tailored to you.
Once this is done, things will begin to make a lot more sense, and if it has not been done then the system/paperwork will always be a nightmare to try and figure out.

Like the perfect vacuum cleaner, the perfect consultancy doesn’t exist, but we would maintain that for many Clients, we’re the perfect compromise.