Monday April 2, 2012
By Jane Sunley - CEO, learnpurple
I wrote this article for our newsletter; it attracted a lot of feedback so perhaps the debate can continue via this blog:
Whilst there’s good and not so good in all things, we’ve always banned the ‘C’ word at learnpurple – the ‘C’ being consultancy... Whilst we do plenty of work that could be construed as ‘consultancy’ we never label it as such. Instead, we prefer to be thought of as advisers; ‘enablers’ if you like.
Management consulting by definition is to do with helping organisations improve their performance through the analysis of problems and development of plans for improvement. People hire consultants to gain an external viewpoint using their expertise. So far so good.
We, however, believe this is challenged when consultants insist on applying ‘best practice’, well-established models to projects. Why? Because actually, transferring these tried and tested methods across different organisations may not actually be the best solution for all - especially in fast moving, challenging times when it’s highly likely the client is seeking true competitive advantage and is therefore needs pragmatic, original thinking. I base this not on some narrow minded ‘consultant phobia’ or misguided prejudice but from real experience. A well regarded management consultant confided in me that unless people leave the big firms and set up on their own, they will never be able to fulfill their potential and thus introduce true innovation; flexing their entrepreneurial muscle to the benefit of their clients.
Here are two examples of how things need to move up and on:
A couple of years ago I was speaking on the same conference agenda as a representative of a well-known, respected consultancy. Apart from blinding the delegates with complex models on busy slides in writing so tiny as to be invisible to anyone without a handy pair of opera glasses, he talked endlessly about models that, to me and many of those attending, seemed outdated and, frankly, dull. There is something of the emperor’s new clothes about this type of consultant and it’s time to get real and judge performance on just that, rather than reputation and kudos of the brand.
The second example is a little closer to home. An exceptionally bright mentee of mine now works in senior leadership development for a world renowned consultancy. Although he has a brain seemingly the size of this planet, he tends to churn out the ‘usual stuff’ rather than designing anything groundbreaking. Maybe this is because larger organisations like to standardise their thinking, applying models that have worked for others. Or maybe they don’t trust or empower their people to innovate. Who knows? What I do know is that even though this is a popular, top performer, the way he is led within his own organisation is cringe-making. On the basis of ‘physician heal thyself’ it’s difficult to respect an organisation that not only fails to practice what it preaches but seems to go all out to deliver the opposite. I guess the really bright innovators move on. Like Ellie Frost, who spoke at February’s Purple Breakfast Club.
Ellie left an impressive career within a London consulting firm to join the Jamie Oliver Foundation. As a board director of five Jamie Oliver companies, Ellie was instrumental in the planning, development and roll out of key concepts including Fifteen and Jamie’s Italian internationally. She is fanatical about the importance of culture and values and told me she left her consulting career so she could really make a difference. To make things happen through creative thinking, enthusiasm for a brand and being able to innovate, no holds barred. Ellie has come full circle and now runs her own business, helping growth brands innovate. She is very much on board with the ‘enabler revolution’. Is she a consultant or an enabler? I like to think, the latter.
So what do the enablers do? They get under the skin of the organisation they work with and become enthusiastic champions of the brand. They spend time really understanding the needs and issues and then –the important bit – they put their heads together and come up with intelligent, bespoke implementation plans for bringing about the outcomes required. They know it’s not about ‘best practice’ but ‘fit for purpose’. They are practical realists who understand the needs now and what’s to come. It’s never about initiatives and inputs – always about the bottom line, the end result, the metrics. They build tools and make sure people know how to use them. They hand-hold, support and guide, seeing the job through to the end. And they stay in touch as trusted and valued advisors without charging for every phone call and meeting.
So what do you think?
Is it time for consultants to move over or adapt?
Does your organisation prefer time-tested methods or are you looking for a more bespoke solutions?
In your experience, which approach is ultimately most effective in driving the business forward; achieving objectives, goals and milestones and delivering the best solutions?
The enabler revolution has begun; are you on-board?