February 25, 2015

The Working Consultant's Dilemma

If you have been a consultant for any length of time, working in the field with clients, you will almost certainly have come across the consultant’s dilemma.

If you are a consultant and your client wants to do something that you either know from personal experience or from conferences / papers on the topic, know just wont work, what do you do?

I guess you have three generic options;

  • Yes – the client is always right (even when they are wrong) so if that is what they want to do, it’s ok with you
  • No – dear client I know that it wont work and while there might be a remote possibility that it might just work here, why take the risk and waste time and effort, don’t do it
  • Yes, but – dear client that’s a great idea but have you considered these other options that have been proven to be successful in other organisations

As a consultant it can be very difficult to say ‘no’ to a client (everyone has a boss to answer to after all) and you would probably default to ‘yes but’ and do your very best to engage the client in considering alternatives but at the end of the discussion they may still wish to follow the original path.

This can be particularly challenging conversation if you are an internal consultant.
I have always taken the approach that my role is to provide 'best advice' to the client, if the client chooses not to accept that advice then that is their decision and they are perfectly entitled to do that.  It does mean however that in some instances you have to be prepared to part company with the client.

February 17, 2015

Knowledge Transfer Is A Cultural Change Activity

In many instances the transfer of knowledge between and expert (A) and a learner (B) is treated as a purely transactional interaction;

  • A knows about X,
  • A teaches B about X,
  • B then applies X

Having been involved in very many knowledge transfer projects I would like to suggest to you that they should be treated as a cultural change project and not a simple transactional one.

Let me use the following very simple, stereotypical example to create a very black and white illustration of why I think that.

Expert A will have become an expert in a single field and almost by default they will be accustomed to working in isolation or perhaps with a peer group of experts in related fields.  They are likely to be of mature years.  Their position and rewards are based on individual contribution.  Teaching or coaching is almost certainly not a skill they have used on their way to becoming an expert or one that they have been taught.

Learner B in many instances has less than five years of work experience post university.  Their lack of maturity can cause others, particularly more mature people, to assume that they are aggressive or arrogant.  They have grown up in a Google, Twitter, Facebook, smartphone environment, one in which they are permanently connected to the world via wifi or smartphone.

Given the differences between A and B, it would be unwise to assume that if we just put them together that knowledge will flow between them.

In order to ensure that knowledge does flow between A and B, we need to understand the different cultures from which they are coming and design (not hope for or leave to chance) a process that takes that into account and allows knowledge to flow.  We need to put the mental infrastructure in place between A and B to allow them to relate to each other and while they might not fully understand each other, they will allow the knowledge to flow.

Now I fully appreciate the above is a grossly over simplification of the human dynamics at play and I apologise for the black and white stereotypes used but I use them to illustrate what is a very complex situation but hopefully it will help you to relate to my assertion that knowledge transfer should be treated as a change project and not a simple transactional activity.

February 10, 2015

Integrity Challenge

Over the years I have attended a great number of formal dinners.  Sometimes it would be a charity seeking to raise funds, sometimes it would be a business award event, sometimes it would be the annual dinner.  The food has varied from plastic chicken to stunningly good and the speeches have varied from a cure for insomnia to funny and informative.  No matter what the reason for the dinner I always found the people that I was sitting next to were the highlight.

At one such dinner I was sitting next to a First Responder who was excellent company.  Towards the end of the evening they said to me that on one occasion their integrity had been challenged.  I found this to be a rather strange thing for them to say and I was paying great attention when they described how they attended one incident only to find rolls of bank notes scattered throughout the property.  It transpired that the owner was very elderly and he just left rolls of bank notes laying about the property.  The First Responder described how they were everywhere, on the floor, on the bed, under the bed, in cabinets, on top of the television, everywhere.  The story concluded with how easy it would have been to put one or more rolls of bank notes into a pocket and walk away.  I was assured that they hadn’t but it had obviously disturbed the story teller that just for that one or two seconds they had been tempted.

I thought no more about it until they turned to me and asked “Has you integrity ever been challenged in your job?”

It would have been very easy to instantly respond “No” but I decided to give it some thought before responding.

When I was ready I explained how when Knoco takes on a project for a client, we request that the client gives us an ‘apprentice’ who can shadow what we do and learn from us.  We explain what we are going to do and why we are taking that approach to the ‘apprentice’ and afterwards we hold a debrief to discuss any changes to the planned approach and what the ‘apprentice’ has learned from that intervention.  Our objective is to ensure that we deliver the optimum intervention on each occasion and never settle for 'good enough'.

Having someone shadow you and then question you as to what you did and why you took that approach ensures that what we do is constantly delivered to the highest levels of personal and professional integrity.  Transparency is ensured in this approach so I was able to answer the First Responder with confidence that our process is one of transparency which avoids sudden challenge situations.

Do you have a ‘apprentice’ who is monitoring what you do and how you do it?