Over the years I have heard consultants get a pretty bad rap. When I worked on the other side of the fence, I heard consultants described on occasions as ‘vultures’, ‘sharks’, ‘idiots’, ‘morons’ and everything in between. Ironically, the organisations which I worked in at the time had felt the need to bring them in order to get momentum and horsepower in areas where they were significantly lacking. On other occasions consultants were brought in to provide objectivity and impartiality.
I have only been a consultant for a relatively short time, and I chose the profession as it seemed like a logical choice which would enable me to support different organisations in achieving their goals, as well as entwine myself in varying and complex problems.
When we launched The Eighth Mile Consulting, we created a mantra and ethos of ‘good people, helping good people’ and made sure it translated in our service towards ‘positive projects and people only’. At the time we felt the need to do this in order to demonstrate some level of separation from what some people see as a ‘dirty’ word.
Since our launch we have kept true to our mantra and have supported only positive projects taking the form of social support projects, scholarship programs, Veteran services projects, leadership & professional development projects, medical projects, and more. It has been a roller coaster to say the least but here are some of the observations from a ‘bloody consultant’.
I hope that in providing some objective observations it might allow people to learn from some of the consistent friction areas experienced by many organisations
Be very wary of a ‘Yes’ culture
Just because your staff are telling you everything is alright; it doesn’t mean it’s true. In fact, no organisation I have ever worked in is without its faults. It is impossible to have a perfectly oiled system and operation. If you cannot find areas for improvement, then you aren’t looking hard enough, or your staff aren’t raising it to your attention.
If your staff are always telling you what you want to hear, and not what you need to hear then there might be some significant issues with trust or rapport in the team. Either:
- They don’t trust the information will be kept confidential and used for its intended purpose
- They think you will react adversely against them or another member of the team
- They believe its easier to just go along with whatever their manager or supervisor says than to raise issues.
There is a term I have picked up on my journey called ‘malicious compliance’ and it refers to a tendency for jaded staff to literally follow directions from their supervisors despite knowing that it will have significantly negative effects. When this occurs disastrous things happen, and what is worse is the leaders are left holding the ashes, not knowing how they could have stopped it. Rapport and respect are the weapons against evils like malicious compliance.
Many executives have called us in because they don’t feel they have a good understanding about an issue in the organisation. In this way consultants are gather in order to ground truth what is actually happening and provide truthful feedback for the executive or manager. This can be hard to deliver sometimes, as it takes a very courageous and well intentioned leader to open their doors to critique and objectivity. It also takes an equally courageous consultant to relay information that could be poorly received by their employer.
I have a lot of respect for those leaders and consultants willing to engage in open and honest conversation. It takes integrity, self awareness and professionalism to pull it off.
Plan to communicate
So many issues in the world are caused by miscommunication. In one of my previous articles I wrote that misinformation is worse than no information at all. At least with no information you can actively source data, but with misinformation it will corrupt your decision making and cause nightmares in your deliveries.
Many of the issues associated with the teams we work with are based around a distortion of information from the top to the bottom and back up again. There was a great scene in a Simpsons episode where Bart starts a rumor about another individual and by the time it gets to the end of a long line of people it has evolved into ‘purple monkey dishwasher’. Unfortunately this demonstration of information distortion is uncomfortably close to the truth for many organisations.
Here are some rules which I hope will serve some people in their attempt to tighten their communication:
- More touch points or crossover points always equates to more errors. Ask yourself how many gates are required in order to get this information where it needs to go. Can we cut it down, or streamline it?
- Translating information between systems and people dramatically increases the chances of errors.
- Ensure your communication clearly answers an organisational question or need. Don’t create or collect content for the sake of it.
- Too much information and no one will read it.
- Less is more. Brevity is key in communication and stands out like a sore thumb in todays saturated environment.
Leadership will make or break teams
No brainer right? Wrong. I have been very fortunate to be mentored throughout my whole life by very capable and influential leaders. What I thought was intuitive and obvious is not. Leadership is learnt by seeing others and adapting it into a methodology that suits the individual and the circumstance.
People need to be trained and mentored if they are to become better at leading and managing teams. Worse yet, some people will have to be trained to drop bad or toxic habits. Unfortunately for people like myself, we cannot change someone else’s mind. All we can do is provide additional information and context that might lead them to another conclusion.
If your organisation genuinely wants leaders it needs to invest in them. This means (as a minimum):
- Executive and senior management buy-in
- A strategy that they can understand and align to
One key mistake I see routinely is that people are promoted, or worse yet forced into leadership roles due to their tenure in an organisation. This is dangerous, particularly in technical or specialist streams. Someone might not want to be in a leadership role, or might not be suited to it. This opens a can of worms that can be very difficult to put a lid back on.
Luckily for me and my team, we love helping other organisations with leadership and management training. There is nothing more satisfying than supporting someone else to a point where they can support others.
Strategy reinforced by systems and processes allows you to scale
There is significant pressure placed on organisations who have scaled too quickly and are now forced into becoming reactionary and responsive to their operating environments. Their staff regularly feel like they are behind the eight ball (no pun intended). Over time this develops animosity against their teams and their profession. Scaling properly takes planning and preparation if it is to be done right. It also takes a concerted and deliberate effort in order to decentralise certain roles and responsibilities to other staff or capabilities. One person cannot do it all effectively.
Scaling a business should be leveraged off a unified strategy which can act as a compass during the confusion. When things get crazy and the operating environment becomes more complex, our staff need an agreed direction to head, as well as sanity check their decisions.
Companies that ignore the importance of a well communicated strategy do so at their own peril. Consultants are often well positioned to assist companies in developing a strategy as they are able to cross reference against market trends and other companies.
Resilience is not a buzzword
Resilience is a serious issue in today’s society. With ever increasing psychological issues influencing our workspaces, it is becoming more relevant than ever to have teams that are robust, focused and unified. Without going in to my personal beliefs as to why this is occurring, I think we can all agree that a resilient team is often a key determiner in improving our chances of success.
Companies that invest in formal resilience training perform better overall, as they see benefits in their staff retention, leadership and their ability to respond to change. Companies that don’t take this seriously experience highly transient workforces, poor reputation, and numerous incomplete projects.
Change takes courage and commitment
The world is going to change whether you like it or not. The difference is whether you are leading it, or being led by it. Companies considering large-scale changes (structural, technological, product delivery, etc) need to seriously assess the implications on their staff, clients, profile and operational delivery. Being quick moving and agile is great providing you have a framework and team built to support such actions. Move too quickly and you will leave a wake of destruction in your path.
Good change management relies on strategic alignment, development of a ‘need’ (combined with an agreed sense of urgency), clear methods of communication, and responsible/accountable people who play a strong stakeholder game. Too light in some of these areas and the implications can be terrible.
Don’t wait until it’s too late
Many organisations wait until the damage is done in order to bring in consultants to support their work. This can be a tough gig for consultants as they are asked to achieve seemingly impossible results and are then chastised when it is not delivered. I believe this reflects poorly on the consultant in many instances, as they have not fully expectation managed their client and have then subsequently under-delivered. But in any case, we can probably agree that if issues are addressed early than we have an infinitely better chance of fixing it before it becomes a true detriment.
The key capability a consultant brings is objectivity, providing they are courageous enough to tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear – refer to my first point about ‘yes’ cultures. Having someone approach the problem without the same biases and internal politics can be the difference between bad, good and expert.
I love being a consultant! I love being held accountable for my work, and my team’s work. Our consultants at The Eighth Mile Consulting are focused, professional and experienced and it makes my job of managing the brand a breeze.
There is no more satisfying feeling that supporting a positive project or initiative and seeing it through to delivery. Our measure of success is when we get called in to the next positive project, based on the success of the previous one.
I hope these observations serve others well. Remember, it is just one man’s opinions…
If you are ever think you might need an objective and friendly hand on something. Give us a call. We are always here to help.