Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Stealing the tax payers watch?

There is a well known and very old joke about consultants, indeed it is probably on a wall in Latin somewhere! You know the one: management consultants steal your watch, tell you the time and then keep the watch. It would be funny if it wasn’t so true! And it would be even funnier if public service organisations did not waste so much money keeping it true and wasting millions of tax payer pounds as a result.

Take this for example which I have extracted (and anonymised) from a tender published this morning: “We are therefore seeking to appoint consultants with the appropriate experience and expertise to develop a detailed action plan to...etc.” The client wants a team of consultants to use the clients existing “desire to take performance to the next level and establish xxx as a leader in this field on a national if not international level”. The tender helpfully outlines all the partners and projects that would need to be reviewed and mined for their information & ideas so that the external consultants can create the action plan wanted. The tender helpfully even goes on to suggest some of the main themes for improvement action indicating that a good amount of analysis and development work has already been done.

This type of tender is frighteningly common. I could just as easily have quoted from another one I saw two days ago seeking help from external consultants to come and write the future of their district for them. And there are countless others I have seen in the past: tenders seeking external consultants to deliver an expensive report based ‘fix’ to them.

But why are these consultancy assignments like these such a huge waste of money? Here are my reasons:
  1. A small external consultancy team is most unlikely to be able to grasp the full complexity of the issues in question. They will only ever be seeing a few frames in somebody else’s long running movie. 
  2. The very nature of the work to generate a consultant-owned report and set of recommendations to be delivered to the organisation is unlikely to nurture the degree of commitment inside the client organisation (and wider system) required to see the plans through to results 
  3. The process used by most consultants involves talking to a number of stakeholders in a more or less linear fashion, often more than once. This approach does not generate the inter linking of all the stakeholders involved and is much less likely to generate a creative solution to requirements in question.
  4. Moreover because the connectivity of the stakeholders is not fully harnessed (because each one only gets to talk with the consultant team rather than with each other) the resulting plans are likely to be less sustainable. An approach which seeks to develop a connected ‘strategic community of stakeholders’ is much more likely to achieve long term as well as short term goals in my view. 
  5. By bringing in an external consultant to carry out an ‘expert led’ project ‘to’ (rather than with) the client’s system, the client is in severe danger of giving out the message to its own staff of “we don’t think you are competent or trustworthy enough to the job required”. I have never met a client where this was their intention, but I have met many staff who thought it was. There is a long term cost to this.
  6. By not embarking on a more participative and ‘whole system’ approach, the client is missing out on so many of the insights, energy and knowledge already held within the staff and stakeholders. Tapping into this for the sake of meeting the current requirements as well as nurturing a culture of engagement in the future provides so many more benefits than a sterile external consultants’ report can provide.
  7. Finally, the costs of bringing an external consultant team up to speed, and then paying for them to talk with lots of people and analyse existing documents are huge. It is far cheaper and more effective, instead, to get the key people who would need to be involved (including those who wrote the existing reports) all together in a room for a day or two to have some good conversations. The resulting energy, creativity, and shared understanding of the complex detail & ‘big picture’ views of what needs to be done is far more valuable than any external consultants’ report.
And so I would ask you, if you are a client who is planning to hire in a team of consultants to write a report for you: could far more be achieved instead by bringing the key people together in room for a day or two? Yes, you may still value having an external facilitator to help you think through the design of such an event and ‘hold the ring’ for you on the day itself. If the event is designed well, it will also write its own report.
  • What do you think? 
  • Could this be better value for money?

Monday, 15 February 2010

Truth & leadership #2

And on holding back the truth
‘…moreover if he finds that anyone for some reason holds the truth back he must show his wrath’*
  • Within your team – what do you do to ensure full and frank discussions?
  • How do you make it clear to them that you need the truth?
* Machiavelli “The Prince” – translated by George Bull – Penguin 1961

Truth & leadership

‘A prince must therefore always seek advice… he must always be a constant questioner, and he must listen patiently to the truth regarding what he has inquired about’*
I knew a Chief Executive once who was so ‘pleased’ with the results of a staff survey he had commissioned that he had the resulting report copies and all the questionnaires shredded.
  • Do you have people around you who tell you the truth? 
  • How do you know?
  • If the truth is not what you want to hear – how do you react?
  • How does your leadership inspire truth?
* Machiavelli “The Prince” – translated by George Bull – Penguin 1961

Thursday, 11 February 2010

The responsibility of being a leader

Machiavelli indicated that for him decisions should only be made for the sake of achieving the purpose of the organisation… That was the only arbiter. For Machiavelli – the ‘state’ was everything

What do you think?

Over what issue might you be a ‘whistleblower’ for the sake of the state?

Change alchemy: Evaluate

When you evaluate something you give out a series of important messages:
  • This is important – so important in fact that I want to know how things are going
  • I don’t just want to know that something is working – I want to know why
  • I also want to know what bits are not working so well
  • Indeed I want people in my organisation to be guided by ‘what works’ rather than ‘we’ve always done it this way’, and
  • This change is here to stay – but I am open to making it work better and hearing others’ views

What messages have you put out recently?

Monday, 1 February 2010

Allowing organisational culture to change...

I spend a good amount of time thinking about and helping clients move from one organisational culture to another. For a long while I have been conscious that such cultures are not easily changed since they represent something very deep in the organisation. Indeed I wonder sometimes whether these cultures can be changed at all.

I have just come across a very helpful article by Richard Seel which comes closer to my thinking about culture than anything I have read before. It is well worth a read! You can access it here (New Insights on Organisational Change).

I very like the idea of searching for a few 'nudges' (or grains of sand as described in the article) that can help a new culture emerge and come to life. In the article, Richard refers to the 'leader as midwife' - which of course I have blogged about only just recently.

Please read the article - and let me know what you think!