Many years ago, I read an article Advice to Internal & External Consultants: Expand Your Client’s Capacity to Use Your Help, Robert H. Schaffer, Advanced Management Journal, Autumn 1976.
Early in the article Bob talks about how much potential is lost to make business perform better. Late in the article he challenges consultants with a vision of significant improvement in our skill as consultants to help organizations improve and change. The vision he expressed has stayed with me for years. I have often been frustrated at my ability to help organization improve. Often I can see what needs to be done but fail to help the organization change.
Once I had this great consulting job with a large mining company. We had helped them deal with a challenge related to the decentralization of decisions on investment in technology. I was very proud of the major breakthroughs we achieved in the relationships in the organization. However they then wanted a new overall IT strategy and I proposed an approach that would help them change quickly as opposed to creating a big strategy that would give them indigestion. We lost out to another firm that promised the big strategy. I was devastated and considered quitting consulting. I was so ineffective in selling our approach because I knew the other approach would be a disaster. Three years later, I was proven right but I still believed I failed to sell the approach that would have made such a difference to that organization.
The lesson I learned was that I was too much into my own thing and really should have adapted to what the client wanted. We could have achieved both if I had been a better listener. In addition I needed to be more flexible and creative in my approach. I fell in love with one approach and just could think beyond that. I have always admired people who could see ways of improving a good design by going back to first principles as oppose to tweeking an existing design.
I still think that we, consultants, miss so many opportunities to help our clients change by our inflexibilty and creativity. We really need to help our clients find ways to use the valuable services we have. I certainly failed to help that mining company avoid a big mistake, big dollars and three wasted years.