Category Archives: The World of Consulting

Choose the Part You Want To Address

Why do we feel we have to strike a haughty tone when dealing with people?

Years ago the researchers behind Transactional Analysis (TA) warned us of the dangers of Parent-Child conversations. Being chided, either the child in us pouts and huffs off — or erupts, or our own Paternal counter-judgement is invoked — a retaliatory defensiveness.

Instead if we can make requests or points addressing the maturity of the other person, speaking to the better angels in their nature, enrolling their positive pride, eliciting their commitment for something we want to advance together, we’ll get far more resourcefulness from them.

We’ll then be more likely to tap their passion and their gifts, rather than their tap dancing skills.

Whether with customers, suppliers, colleagues, partners, or anyone else — give people something to live up to in the way that you address them. Leaven judgment with appreciation and approbation, bring in objectivity and curiousity to soften the sting of sometimes necessary observations, and above all address the person you want them to be, not the crackpot that may occasionally emerge under stress. “I like who I am when I’m with you” is not a bad aspiration to try and make true for those who relate with us, in both our professional and personal lives.

Sign Up For What?

Business Traveller Magazine announced that a famed hotel in Hong Kong was hosting a spectacular event. A group called “Premium Families of Wine” was doing a set of dinners, pairing top Estate wines from some of the world’s top wine families, with the cuisine of a Michelin-starred Chef.

I had our hotel call for details. After 48 hours of being assured details were “forthcoming”, they sent over a Credit Card authorization form and a price — but no specific event details!

I told them they were hanging on to sanity by a thread to have gone so far as to establish a price, and then having the gall to ask for a non-refundable payment, while providing no details of the menu, the wines, or their vintages. I have therefore no basis to assess the value being offered!

They responded with more rhetoric about a “superb chef” and “top vintages”.  I’m sure that’s the intent, but I’d like to see what’s actually on offer.

This led me to consider how often we make it difficult for clients to know what we’re offering. Agreements are imprecise, metrics fuzzy, and we attempt to overload people with verbal excess rather than clarity and simplicity. Why?

Might it not be an idea to be as transparent as possible? If not, why not?

It’s true that some requests are inappropriate. For example, asking a surgeon for a blow-by-blow game-plan of an upcoming surgery is beyond obtuse. We are counting on their skill and ability to adapt procedures to what they find as they proceed. Similarly as consultants, we rightfully chafe when people ask us for a blow-by-blow of a key engagement. We can and should agree and share outcomes and be answerable for them. But a pre-fabricated game-plan suggests that we are applying stodgy templates from the past, not current imagination.

Working with a client in Mumbai, I kept hearing the refrain, “We’re in a crisis, and we fear there’s too much random and scattered activity.” Smart people! Again, vague, ill-defined strategies and actions, absent any prioritization, can give the illusion of purposeful action. But a surfeit of this actually saps energy from strategically differentiated actions. And the largest lament from the team there was: tell us the larger vision, when we shift from established plans, tell us not only what we have to change but why, validated against the larger vision — the aligned upon “end in mind”.

Absence of clarity reveals an absence of the following: strategy, planning, prioritization or decisive action. Sometimes it reveals a deficit of all of these.

One of my Credit Cards was re-issued. I called to ask how many reward points I had. They said “zero”. I told them my last redemption was two years ago, and I had demonstrably spent a significant amount on this Card.  Hence logically, there cannot be zero points — unless some expired. They said there had been no expiry, but wondered if there was some technical error. I said, “Nothing to wonder about. Look at the expenditure. And as these points are generated by expenditure, tell me where they are. So there is definitely a technical error.” Dead silence, a complaint reference number, and a request to call back in 72 hours. Yet it took three repetitions to drive home the point, that on the face of it, there was clearly an issue. This customer service agent hadn’t bothered to consider with any clarity how these points were issued, and therefore the evident fact that there was a systems error.  So he aroused irritation, suspicion and distrust as to his organization’s collective competence. Hardly an impact to be desired.

So, in dealing with clients, customers, friends and colleagues, when enrolling them for something, make sure they know in terms of key parameters and anticipated value, what they’re signing up for. Try to be clear as to what counts, what matters, and how it will be evaluated. And then align those intuitions and judgments, so you’re not debating the basics over and over.

I continue to hope for the listing of wines and the menu from this venue in Hong Kong. As they sell this in tables of eight, there is a major sale waiting to happen. However, each day that passes, my interest wanes somewhat, the likelihood of my making alternative plans goes up. It’s an interesting insight that when we confuse our clients, leave them uncertain, or unclear, they too, despite evident interest, may take their intentions and interests elsewhere.

Reach out today and check understanding of salient outcomes and expectations with key stakeholders and partners. Insist on being impeccably clear in your dealings, agreements and transactions, as well as in your offerings and proposals. The act of arriving at that clarity is part of the very breakthrough that makes you valuable. So make that effort and ensure you come through here. You’ll find very little competition if you do. Even more importantly, you’ll find scores of grateful and avid clients and fans in your portfolio. You’ll find them, and you’ll be far more likely to keep them.

The Nature of Client Value

Consultants often congratulate themselves gratuitously on providing great service, caring about their clients, being trusted advisers, etc and ad nauseum.

Here is a simple but non-negotiable check-list to ascertain whether you are really providing premium relationship value — value by virtue of a client relating with you — over and above the type of general expertise that is almost certainly readily available through multiple sources.

1) Most of your conversations should be about client outcomes, not your methodologies, six step models, catchy jargon, or a nifty new template. Clients if they come from serious companies, have lives that are amply complicated already. Our job is to simplify complexity, help produce value out of the static…not add more of it.

2) Do your homework relentlessly. No matter how well you think you know that company or individual, prep for all key meetings, coaching conversations and the like, so a minimum amount of the time that is supposed to be earmarked for delivering value is spent catching you up or just giving you information you could have imbibed and thought about well in advance. Hit the ground running and chalk up as much progress via each interaction as possible.

3) Commit to the client’s success, not your comfort level or peace of mind. Clients respect courage and people who help them see and face things they otherwise might not have. What percentage of the time you spend with your clients is in this zone, rather than politically correct acquiescence or amiable tautologies that may provide some therapeutic reprieve or the equivalent of quinine water to their temples, without actually confronting challenges to tangibly advancing their goals and interests?

4) Be able to defuse ire, irritation and misunderstandings. If you’re going to implement number (3), you will often set off sparks. Be able to calmly reframe the situation, and hang in there with them until the truly intended message makes it across. Your client says, “You keep telling me how I’m being ineffective as a coach. What about my people? Don’t they have any responsibility?” You: “They do, and we’ll define effective coaching on your part as effectively getting them to take that responsibility, rather than making your own life unnecessarily harder. Can we focus on that opportunity?” A smart client will get over bristling and realize there’s real value here.

5)  Make sure “success” is defined as business value not “project completion”. You can satisfy the statutory requirements of “project success” and deliver no real ROI. The client won’t be able to quibble, but they’ll never hire you again. Ensure business value is tracked constantly, barriers to achieving it are tackled in real-time and pathways to raising the bar on it are innovated and exploited as a signature of your work.

6) Be impeccable with commitments, assiduously timely with promised responses, unambiguous in communication, easy to contact and to be connected to, non-defensively open to course-correction (again as long as it relates to business value) and a world-class listener (if they don’t get your prime attention, they will be highly dubious as to whether they’re getting the best of your expertise either).

7) Deliver unanticipated value, but value relevant to them, as you get to know them. Then you can offer a real value add, not cosmetic “bonuses” that no one wants and which you can mindlessly dish out telling yourself you’re doing so much for them. Be gracious, be generous — but first be humble enough to be curious and genuine enough to be empathic.

8) Don’t just jump to attention and do everything asked of you. Be a true advisor and help them think through what they’re requesting to ensure it will get them the value they anticipate. Your judgment is a critical part of the value you offer. Don’t do this in a haughty way, shooting down their ideas. But do it in a collegiate manner, helping clients check assumptions, ensure data is valid, that we’re not prematurely falling in love with the first idea we have, and then execute what’s agreed with passion and professionalism. Saying later, “You asked me to do this,” won’t help if the action taken is counterproductive. We had best be there to help our clients get the best help from us they possibly can. They probably already have enough stooges in house.

9) Be an object of interest. Clients want to engage with people they enjoy, respect, possibly even admire in some ways. If you’re a fascinating person, people will feel they get stimulus from their time with you, outside the professional engagement. That personalizes the interaction and provides the ultimate basis for rapport. You can’t partner with someone you never get to know. You won’t want to partner with someone who seems drab or one-dimensional. After all, the client may fear your advice and assistance may be as monochromatic as you seem to be. Flex your personality — not arrogantly, but openly and invitationally.

Run through these nine client engagement health checks. Assuming you’re a competent professional who can add client value, these nine differentiators will allow you to scale the commanding heights of client value…by going up the client hierarchy of value. HJ Heinz opined that if we do common things uncommonly well, we will succeed. These are uncommon things alas — do them uncommonly well, and you’ll occupy your own category with your clients — a special and rarefied one in which you each support each other’s success.

Make Sure Something’s Missing!

Dee Hock, founder of the “charodic” (the fusion of chaos and order as Mr. Hock so insightfully observed) Visa corporation, observed that the trick is not how to get new ideas in but rather how to get the old ideas out.

We’ll find this predominates everywhere. Look at Iran and the new ideas are bursting to express themselves, but the old ideas tenaciously cling on. Look at the problems between Israel and the Palestinians and you’ll see again the challenge is not a paucity of new ideas, it’s the dogmatic fixation on old definitions, paradigms, boundaries and conceptions that have to be tackled.

Carl Jung once pointed out that any real problem can’t be solved, it can only be outgrown. Then you don’t consider it a sacrifice, you just draw new rules of engagement. Then President de Klerk of South Africa said when apartheid was effectively defeated at the polls, “Today the South African people transcended themselves.”

A recent book, IN PURSUIT OF ELEGANCE, argues that what we leave out is as important, if not more so, than what we leave in. The author refers to the darkening of the screen in the pivotal last few minutes of the SOPRANO’s final episode: vexing, infuriating, titillating and irresistible. Toyota has long been studied for its principles of lean production and team and individual empowerment on the line — but it is as instructive to study all the things Toyota doesn’t do, that more ponderous and less effective competitors are addicted to.

Consultants beware! How many consulting firms tout endless product offerings: strategy, change management, organizational redesign, leadership development, employee relations, world peace and the kitchen sink. If the Elegance book is right, then we need instead a different sweet spot: simplicity — albeit concepts that are both simple and powerful. We should look for and infuse what we do with that power, not substitute for it by proliferating seemingly encyclopedic offerings.

Lao Tzu is evoked (he often is, being so inscrutable, his highly elegant, simple and compelling elegy to the Tao is timeless and adaptable to numerous interpretations) in pointing out that the hole at the center of the wheel matters more than any individual spoke. The space between the walls makes the home, the gaps between the notes make the music. It’s not just what is present, it’s what is absent. It’s the breathing room we have to create for ourselves, our services and our offerings that so often matters most. And if we can shed the peripherals (careful: one person’s peripherals are another person’s poetry), we can spotlight what’s essential. We can find and offer our passion and our genius, not an attic laden with ubiquitous  jargon and piles of second-hand consulting gewgaws.

A consultant without that essential simplicity can hardly be a credible advisor or coach in helping a business leader seeking something like that for themselves. It took us a long time at Sensei to realize that we excelled at locating the link between strategic business results and human performance — that engaging leaders and teams to deliver such results in global contexts was our particular strength. All the other things could be jettisoned.

So review your business, your marketing, your life. Absolutely make sure they express what matters most to you. But also make sure enough is missing. Make sure you de-clutter your business, your marketing and your life. Decide what you will not do and redirect that energy into creating the future.

And if certain old ideas continue to battle for dominance, stop fighting. Work on growing up  instead, and therefore “out”.

How? Ah, therein lies the the rub. But a great way to begin is to start living the new ideas (even if the old ones are still clinging on), live with the contradiction for awhile if you must, and then let the superior, the saner value win. It’ll be that much easier if there’s more space…in your day, priorities and life. When too much is afoot we hit our default switch. When we have some breathing room, we more readily set off in fresh directions — those more likely to get us where we wish to go.

The Waste of Training

We can see that organizations, made up as they are of people who find change no more appetizing than most of us do, will go to great lengths to look for panaceas and band-aids, rather than grapple with real issues of human change and growth.

When what faces bosses seems cerebral, analytical, diagnostic, detached from the leaders they personally are, they are quite happy to go for consulting solutions. They will look for firms with pedigrees, fixate on theoretical models that are conceptually compelling and leave the sordid matter of “implementation” for later.

When what faces them has to do with people, how they act and interact, their skills and what they are capable of delivering, the most common approach is either to exhort them at Conferences, or subject them to “workshops”. These workshops are often selected by HR on “methodology” grounds, and they look for consultants who are congenial to them — who wouldn’t have the temerity to suggest the Emperor has no clothes — so to speak.

Then running these workshops provides a seemingly “heroic” demonstration of remedial action, even though the precise business aims these workshops are meant to address are rarely spelled out — nor is there much accountability from senior leaders to coach application when their direct reports return to them. Part of the reason for this is, that in order to coach application credibly, leaders would have to model the way — at least to some extent.

When we decouple adaptive problems from senior leadership behavior, then we look to training as a sort of vaccination. And this way, under the guise of “development”, large amounts of money are expended without much by way of tracking. If we measure anything it may be the popularity with the audience of the deliverer and perhaps workshop effectiveness as an isolated event. The workshop is evaluated as a performance and whether it was found stimulating at that time and place.

Training instead needs to evolve into a form of true consulting. That is to say it should only be undertaken to advance strategic business objectives, which of course can include developing leaders at all levels. But then evaluation has to be built into the design.

Then we have to spell out the type of leaders needed by the organization taking that example, how they will be evaluated, how we will know if we have them, the relevance of such leadership to business success as well as individual progress… all this has to be settled in advance. Whoever is nominating the person has to work with them at the outset to create buy-in, establish relevance, and ensure there is some shared expectation of what will occur as a result of the training. An action-plan then should be generated in the immediate aftermath and diligently tracked. And only then, based on the results achieved, the training or other input should be assessed, re-calibrated, enhanced, or ditched. How enjoyable it was, the quality of delivery performance, are relative peripherals and should not take center-stage.

The above seems highly time and energy intensive. It is! And so it should be part of a continuum of efforts to engage and develop our leaders and teams as they seek to add strategic business value to organizational assets.

David Maister rightly suggests that first the systems of  a company have to be in place to underwrite whatever the training is preparing people for, the organization has to duly motivate people to take full advantage of the training by establishing its strategic importance, knowledge has to be provided of what it is participants are to do as a result, and then and only then can the development of skills have any chance of not only taking place, but also taking hold.

Moreover, for it to be called “training” in any common sense usage of the word, the session has to be high on practice, application, coaching, feedback and feedforward (future-based performance goals) and a chance to be assessed and improve from an initial base-line. This may require not an “event” but a real “process”.

If we truly wish to be cost-effective during a difficult period, we should remove generic training budgets. We should separate training as Paul Kearns has suggested into those things people have to learn for their role or position, and things they should learn to truly fulfill the potential of their role or position or as part of their citizenship requirements in that organization.

Anything else, the “nice to do” items, can be postponed, or carefully provided as incentives or at least as frosting on the overall development effort. And then those things people in the organization DO need to know and those things they should know, particularly non-technical abilities required of leaders as they move into successive roles (how to manage people, understanding the difference between strategy and tactics, getting teams to work effectively, process improvement, guiding innovation, delivering projects, selling ideas or actual products or services, coaching and mentoring others who report to them, etc) should be linked to some line of sight business improvement. And then all interventions should be designed accordingly, require significant line manager or boss-engagement, and whenever possible be undertaken with the very people the person will have to deliver this with (rather than a random assemblage of people who have never, and may never, see each other in action in this regard).

Shockingly different? Possibly.  But if so, it’s only because it’s shockingly sane, sensible, practical, amenable to ROI, and only when these conditions are met, really valuable.

Choose Profitable Hallucinations

The word “hallucination” doesn’t usually conjure up positive associations. But when I first started out in the field of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), I learned that most of what we call “reality” is our hallucination…i.e. our projection, or interpretation imposed on what we experience. In other words we perceive “x”, and then we add our subjective take on it to transform it into “my x. We therefore customize what we experience to our chosen perceptions. And by choosing how we package our perceptions, we also to a large extent, select our responses and responsiveness.

Some research indicates that if you do a predictive competition between optimists and pessimists, you find an interesting anomaly. Pessimists are right more often than optimists — Murphy assures that things go wrong more reliably than they go right. Entropy, natural decay is built into the fabric of life, evolution requires energy. But fascinatingly, despite that, optimists tend to be more successful.

Why? They hallucinate better! In other words, even setbacks become “milestones” or “learnings”. There is the famous anecdote about the almost one thousand “failures” by Thomas Edison en route to inventing the incandescent light bulb. He is reported to have replied when asked if he was discouraged, “What failure? I discovered one more way not to invent the light bulb! That’s progress!” Well, it’s certainly a far more effective hallucination or “frame” to adopt given the iterative and uncertain reality of so much progress and innovation.

George Bernard Shaw, the great playwright, pointed out that reasonable people adapt their dreams to reality, whereas unreasonable people seek to get reality to adapt to their dreams. All progress he therefore concluded, depends on unreasonable people. In other words, those who hallucinate more audaciously and then are willing to act as audaciously to manifest what they imagine.

Companies no less than individuals have to decide what frames to use. You can look at the debris of destroyed companies during this extended financial suicide we’ve experienced in global financial markets and decide to retreat behind corporate bunkers, slashing all discretionary expenses, freezing all benefits, and going to the corporate equivalent of war footing. Or we can decide to clean up our act in wasteful areas yes, but also to prioritize key innovations, to deepen customer insight and loyalty, to improve our talent bench strength, to amplify engagement to get our teams to fight for productive gains, to reward more judiciously but to do so meaningfully where merited, and to see how we can emerge more competitive rather than bereft of vision or capability or future-creating potential. This isn’t a matter of “truth”, but of the frame we place on crisis, the hallucination we opt for.

Unreasonable people tell their countrymen in the midst of an historic economic meltdown, all we have to fear is fear itself. Unreasonable people look at the tide of Nazi victories and tell their embattled island, “we shall never surrender”. Unreasonable people looking at Russian space technology superiority throw a gauntlet down to put a man on the moon safely in a decade. Unreasonable people stand up at a time one hundred years after a Civil War failed to effectively remove segregation and unforgettably emote, “I have a dream!” Unreasonable people take their learnings in a calligraphy class and create wide-scale innovations in computer fonts (as Steve Jobs did). Unreasonable people believe micro-enterprise is a viable option for the once destitute as a mode of both dignity and pragmatic empowerment (as Nobel-prize winner Muhammed Yunus did through his Grameen Bank in Bangladesh).

So let’s choose profitable hallucinations for our clients, for our companies, for our lives. No matter what we face, we need to face the obstacles with the eyes of possibility. Why? Why not? Possibility is the fossil fuel for entrepreneurship, imagination, drive, creativity.

Chris Gardner, whose story we became familiar with through his best-selling book and Will Smith’s portrayal of him in a laudable movie, was homeless for a time while being a single dad, before transforming his circumstances, building a company, significant personal wealth, and a rich life. His new book sums up the best possible hallucination, start from where you are. But start as you mean to go on…committed to finding your next step towards reasonable or even unreasonable progress. And treat everything as “feedback” and “learning” along the way. You may not be right (whatever that means), but you will certainly succeed far more often.

At every juncture, ask,  “What is the most profitable, productive hallucination I can choose?”

And then lead, live, collaborate and innovate to make that hallucination REAL!

Choose How You Tell Time

In the award-winning play RENT, a key song is entitled SEASONS OF LOVE. The question it asks is “How do you measure a year in the life of a woman or a man?” Not surprisingly, the answer it offers is, “Measure your life in love.” Not bad advice.

As Consultants, we have to also decide how to measure our lives and tell time. I recently shared with numerous friends that we spent two and a half weeks on the road (a brief trip for me), between Dubai, Singapore and Thailand. They rolled their eyes and said, “Wow, that must have been tiring.” Really? That’s not how my wife (who is also my business partner) and I were telling time or keeping score.

For me, the two and a half weeks are remembered as follows:

1) A day in Dubai to break the journey, meet our clients at Raffles Dubai, and spend time with two of our team, coaching and preparing them for some major projects ahead.

2) Three action-packed days in Singapore between doing project reviews with Raffles Singapore, helping a key global client do a leadership hand-over from an iconic leader to a new leader charged with carrying forward their impressive trajectory of success, and doing a set of interviews for an upcoming talk.

3) A blissful week-end in Bangkok at the legendary Oriental Hotel, catching up with a past colleague for a superb lunch overlooking the Chao Praya (The River of Kings), and meeting with the also legendary Kurt Wachtveitl as he prepares to leave the helm of the Oriental after 42 years. Kurt is a dear friend, has been a wonderful host over so many special years and we’re looking forward to both retaining contact and perhaps undertaking some hospitality projects together after he enjoys a well earned sabbatical. Kurt at 70 has the energy, drive and imagination that we should all aspire to.

4) Back in Singapore to have a splendid dinner with some global clients who were in town, another set of project review meetings with Raffles Singapore, a presentation to the annual HR Summit in Singapore, an interview on Singapore TV (the clip will be posted shortly on our website) for a morning business program, two sets of meetings relative to an exciting upcoming opportunity in Vietnam, and visiting the new restaurant opened by the former Chef at the Raffles Grill, “The French Kitchen”. We’re delighted Jean Charles has gotten off to such a wonderful start. In the vernacular of Vulcans (on our mind, as we also caught the opening of the impressive Star Trek prequel in Singapore), may the restaurant “live long and prosper.”

5) Back in Dubai for 24 hours, to deliver a speech for the Entrepreneur’s Organization, who had their first attempt to hold a session on a week-end. A packed house, business leaders and their spouses, a valuable and successful occasion all around.

6) Back home to New York last Sunday…in time to make it to Rosa Mexicano for our usual Sunday night dinner.

So to me, it’s two and a half weeks of client engagement, catching up with friends, building our brand, seeding future opportunities, while having great fun. Tiring? How about deeply satisfying?

We tell the stories we choose (i.e one of jet lag and fatigue or of stimulus, great fun and abundant opportunity). Thereby, we pick our frames, and then we pick our “ROE” (return on energy), our responses, and our results accordingly.

Measure your life in the value you extract from your experiences and the value you offer those experiences in return.

A Difference in Kind

I was offering a session to prepare people in local markets in South Asia for global ‘prime-time’ in the consulting arena. Our session was to teach them about many of the precepts Alan and I write about in “The Global Consultant”.

Some were concerned at the price indicating they had heard of a cheaper workshop in Hong Kong that taught coaching skills, offered certification and support.

I was a bit mystified at why that was even relevant to share.

So someone creates their own curriculum, then certifies people in it, and makes a virtue out of that fact? Those attracted by it clearly aren’t able or willing to create their own brand, but want legitimacy by association. And what does “support” mean? We were offering  follow-up mentoring and coaching via phone and email for six months , relative to applying the field-tested concepts that will be taught.

I cannot understand either how someone could compare a session taught by a global consultant with six international offices, four books, 30 articles, 17 years of experience, and some of the world’s leading companies as clients, a session about creating a brand, selling across borders, creating presence despite distance, reducing labor intensity, building rapport with top-level economic buyers, delivering a real ROI from every interaction, improving vitality and effectiveness, and much more with a ‘coaching certification’?

And not to be arrogant, if that’s truly what they wanted, surely they realize these are two different undertakings with two different aims? There is a difference in kind here.

This is relevant only to highlight the real need in consulting. Clients often make specious assumptions because they’re too close to a problem. Or they may be inadvertently clinging to an unchallenged paradigm.  This respondent was making some embedded assumptions about the source of  ‘value’, which interfered with their ability to understand something on its own merits.

Our job as success coaches and trusted advisers is to get our clients to dig deeper than surface similarities and appearances, to shake up ossified assumptions, and make sure skim milk isn’t masquerading as cream…in their businesses or lives.

When we evaluate things, let’s do it on the basis of 1)  the outcomes we are after, 2)  the relevance of what is being offered to those outcomes,  3) the integrity and credibility of each offer relative to the outcomes in question  and 4) the clarity of game-plan each option lays out relative to gaining the desired benefits. That way, a ‘train the trainer’ course won’t be confused with a ‘coaching certification’ won’t be conflated with a ‘master class on building a global consulting practice’.

More critically, by honing this faculty, you’ll help your clients make better choices. You’ll dissipate the fog of encroaching confusion and shine a spotlight of illuminating clarity and incisive insight in helping them define and move towards the outcomes they want.

They couldn’t ask for more from you.

And if you provide it, you won’t have to ask for more business from them — it’ll come naturally and abundantly your way.


Companies are to some extent a series of conversations that either take place, or don’t.

We created the concept of Leadership Journeys to allow leadership teams to travel together, experience a locale and culture together, and engage in conversations that needed to take place, but for whatever reason, weren’t.

In a radical (read ‘root’) experience of this type, when filters are removed, Blackberries silenced, and a choice made to spend time and money despite the recessionary doom and gloom, it’s amazing how quickly, courageously and directly people can engage.

In this recent Journey that took place through Oxfordshire and the Cotswolds, these leaders looked at three key themes for them: Big Hits needed to win in 2009; how to collaborate effectively globally and regionally; how to improve the quality of execution in the market. It was a no holds barred set of exchanges, in which feelings, ideas, priorities and paradigms were ventilated and exchanged, and blinkers, biases and prejudices were confronted, and to a large extent transcended.

Help your clients identify the key conversations that need to take place — which if engaged in creatively, boldly and openly could be potentially transformational. Until these conversations happen, and until they are anchored in relationships capable of taking the implications of the conversations forward, all the exhortations, analytics, Power Point charts, and cerebral verities in the world won’t amount to a proverbial hill of beans. Our future is largely shaped by how well we relate to key stakeholders, and how successfully we leverage our collective abilities. At the epicenter of both are critical, radical conversations.

This team left committed to demonstrate the credibility of their commitments. They went from Journey into key action planning Board Meeting. What a week for them! And now when they head out to deliver what they’ve co-created and committed to, they know their team-members will have their backs, and they know where they are leading TO! By itself, these two things, in leadership and in life, are always more than half of any battle worth fighting.

The pictures capture some of the stunning sights along the way. The first is a Pub called The Trout, made famous by numerous episodes of Inspector Morse filming there, and allegedly by Lewis Caroll apparently having done some of his ‘Alice in Wonderland’ writing on the small island opposite the pub. The second is the Radcliffe Camera in Oxford, a centerpiece of Radcliffe Square and the University, one of the key libraries there (among the earlierst circular libraries in English architecture, replete with Corinthian columns). The third is Broadway Tower, a Folly overlooking the town of Broadway in the Cotswolds. A ‘folly’ in this sense is architecturally something built purely for decoration, with no practical purpose like housing, or fortification, or otherwise. This one is at the second highest spot in the Cotswolds and was built in the late 18th century by Lady Coventry who wanted to see if a beacon at the top of this hill could be seen from her house (whimsy if not folly indeed!). The final photo is of the lovely walk we took from the Tower to the town of Broadway along the famous Cotswold Way.

Back To The Beatles

A few mornings ago a TV commentator mentioned that when he was young he was an avid Beatles fan. And when he had his heart set on a particular Beatles Album, it became a matter for great anticipation…excitement though tempered inevitably with a need for patience. If  he did his homework well for a time, was exemplary with chores, his parents might as a ‘treat’ get him this album. When they did, it was a major event, it was hugely special, and he was elated!

He contrasted that to today. When his own kids ask for a DVD, without thought (until recently anyway) out came some money. If they wanted to download some music, out came a credit card. Christmas is wracked with commercialism…it takes a tow truck in some homes to deliver all the ‘gifts’.

In the corporate sphere, many companies in the downturn are saying they will ‘buy in’ consulting expertise, but refuse any more to have hordes of consultants in to be surrogate project managers, or to hold a manager’s hands while they implement. It’s an understandable distinction and a lot smarter than across the board, indiscriminate reductions which don’t look at value in the slightest.

In a sense our consulting interventions have to become more like the Beatles album rather than the mindless consumerism of today. Clients really should carefully select the outcomes they want, co-create with a consulting partner an approach they really anticipate implementing, for truly measurable value they know will make a real impact to their business. They may have to budget other things more carefully, they may wish to ensure that they are getting a premium product, not a repackaged ersatz knock-off with nicks and scrapes, and poor sound quality.

And if we on this basis create a real fan base, we’ll be much better placed to ride out any downturns. Leaders will still need to be coached, to get advice in areas that are vital to their business, to have crucial leadership teams aligned and focused, to connect better with their customers, to keep key talent engaged, and more. They may defer some work, but not forever.

And if they choose more judiciously, and we can work to appeal emotionally as well as pragmatically when the choice is made — really commit to their success (rather than our own methodology or our own Pavlovian reaction to any scintilla of interest from them no matter how remote or frankly ill conceived from the client’s perspective), then our ‘albums’ will be bought over and over, our music shared with everyone else they know and respect, and we’ll build an enduring practice that reflects that.

The day of the intemperate purchase may be over…purveyors of real value will end up prospering and benefiting — in consulting as in all else.