When it comes to making changes in employee-benefits plans, you'd think that a consulting firm that specializes in employee benefits would have a leg up on other small companies. Not true.

Last year, Network Management Inc., a four-year-old consulting firm in Mercer Island, Wash., decided to do a study of its own benefits policies. Practicing what they preach, the managers hired an outside consulting firm, also in the employee-benefits field, to do the work. The study went smoothly enough: it was the communication that got fouled up.

The findings were casually circulated to employees in a memo, without any suggestion that there would be an upcoming opportunity to discuss what they meant.

And how did the employees react? "People were insulted," says operations director Anne Durbin. "We screwed up, and we've learned a hard lesson." The lesson? "Written communication is effective insofar as it documents the results of a meeting at which people can talk and raise questions," she notes. You'd think that even a consultant would know that.