I mentioned previously how important high quality documents were for us at Gellman, Hayward. However to our great frustration, we would produce a high quality report for a client and receive high praise but nothing would change.
In the mid 70's Harvey discovered an article by Bob Schaffer and showed to me. Having read it, I flippantly said “Clearly he does not understand consulting he does not talk about ‘the report’.” However the article was very profound and insightful. The basic theme was that nobody does anything they are not ready to do (Readiness). Thus the praise we received for our report was a method the client used to putting distance between himself and us. We then realized what we really wanted to deliver was change, not a high quality report. The report could be a tool but not the product. Readiness is a simple but very profound concept. The concept applies to the consultant as well as the client. Many consultants have difficulty with their egos and really want praise even though they know it likely means a failed consulting job. I always had difficulty with that aspect of readiness. This event dramatically changed the way we delivered our consulting services.
Although we continued to produce quality documents, we paid much more attention to the consulting dynamics. I was so excited about this new revelation that I decided to make a readiness assessment at the first opportunity. I was asked to propose on a piece of work and set about to assess readiness. I discovered the assessment was much more difficult than the concept. I did not have a clue and realized that there is more to this concept than a simple idea.
Over the years, as I attempted to apply the concept, I realized the difficulty of making a readiness assessment. I have many stories of readiness assessments and my lack of readiness to accept the reality of many situations. In the process of assessing readiness, the readiness of the consultant is just as important as the readiness of the client. So many times, I want to apply a previous experience to a new situation and do not pay attention to the specific details of the current situation.
One of the things that I look for in any consulting situation is early successes for the client. I believe early success increases the client’s readiness to take on more change. I think that is true but often the client wants a proposal for the big fix. Often I will try to propose both, a longer term strategy and some early wins. I suspect in some circumstances the idea of early wins scares the client particularly if the readiness for change is low. A better strategy might be to propose what the client wants and as the work progresses, I can find some early wins in the context of the longer term strategy. These early wins will give the client courage to tackle some of the more difficult changes. Once we are into the project, we can much more reliably assess the client’s readiness for change.
A simple of example of a statement of lack of readiness is a person saying “I should …….” One of my teachers taught me that that is a statement of bad intentions. He taught me to hear an additional phrase at the end, “but I am not gonna.” Another fellow said, “People are full of shoulds.”
Over the years I have learned not to jump to conclusions about readiness and remain skeptical. One of my rules of thumb is to watch the feet, not the words. Readiness is demonstrated by actions, not words.