I was reminded today based upon a flippant comment from someone in a meeting today about the arrogance of the Dot Com days and some approaches to Consulting.
I remember a founder of a dot com consulting firm saying:
"They don’t know their business. I know it better than they do!"
Wow. I was surprised then and realize it is a great reminder of the fact that this is impossible. I don’t care how smart you may be. Unless you live it – you wont know. And heaven forbid you do. It doesn’t matter it is not your business – focus on helping, not judging.
I was forced after reading Jim’s reference to Schein to go down to the basement and dig it out my library (in boxes but close to the top) “Organizational Culture and Leadership” by Edgar H. Schein. A seminal work worth re-reading.
The hierarchy is (from pg 16) is Artifacts -> Espoused Values -> Basic Underlying Assumptions. The premise being that the Basic Underlying Assumptions are so ingrained in the organizations psychie that they are never questioned “…members will find any behaviour based on any other premise inconceivable.” pg 22
Somewhere else in the book, I think, is a quote I use all the time. “When change goes up against culture, culture wins every time.”
Back to the original point of the discussion as consultants or outsiders we fall into the trap of thinking we can solve the problems of an organization because we see the “artifacts” in the way the organization is run and conclude we could do better.
It’s only when one gets ensconsed into the organization that one realizes there are basic assumptions that drive espoused values that result in the artifacts.
Here’s a real life example from the data warehousing world. Yes I’m going to test your basic assumptions here.. People who build Data Marts directly from source systems assume it is okay to replicate data into multiple marts because that’s the only way to meet the performance requirements of the user — basic assumption from the Kimbal School of Data Warehousing.
People who want to build an Enterprise Data Warehouse – one very large database assume the data should be replicated as few times as possible and that the hardware and database should be configured to support thus architecture – basic assumption from the Inmon School fo Data Warehousing.
Which is correct? Depends on where your culture wants to be I guess.
I have been in the consulting business for about thirty plus years and I agree you cannot know a persons business unless you walk in their shoes. Of course we all have our areas of expertise but there are many things that are part of any business that are unique. All my reading and experience have taught me that things are not always as they appear. For example, a famous book by Schlein talks about the underlying assumptions and how they are very difficult to discern even for the people live in the organization. So how can an outsider say they know better than the people who live it every day.