The Power of Small Groups

In this short video, Peter explains that when diversity of thinking and dissent are given space in small groups, commitments are made without barter and the gifts of each person and our community are acknowledged and valued. As a result, power is produced within the small group. The power of small groups cannot be overemphasized. Large-sale transformation occurs when enough small groups shift in harmony toward the larger scale.

Let’s Take It Slow

Two things are required: time and space. Peter explains that time is subjective and therefore we cannot, and should not, be controlled by it. In Flawless Consulting, Peter says that lack of time, space and money is often used as an excuse by managers who do not want to do a project.

Lack of motivation is really the problem. “If they want to do your project,” he says, “they will find a way.”

It’s All Implementation

Implementation implies that first an idea needs to be formulated, then a decision is made and afterward the actual can work begin. However, this is not the case. Every step-discovery, planning, contracting and engaging people-is all a part of the implementation process. The main focus of implementation should be to bring people together to create and plan how to make something work. Implementation does not actually begin until the people who do the work decide whether they are going to make real changes or simply go through the motions.

Rethinking Compensation

This post on how growth undermines service is the third in our series that looks at what interferes with our capacity to serve, even in the face of our best intentions. It speaks to the industry as a whole, though both internal and external consultants will recognize the tensions between doing what is popular out of the words of top management and providing genuine service to a client. Future posts will get into other complexities that undermine our best efforts. Winding up the series will be some thoughts on what to do.

The growing marketplace for consulting services intensifies the complexities around the commercialization of our profession. For example, in the large accounting firms, consulting services used to be a second cousin—something done because the client demanded it or the consultants themselves got restless doing the more routine financial work they had been doing too long. The large consulting companies were primarily experts in a particular aspect of business, such as marketing, regulatory requirements, or technical innovation. Services aimed at and changing organization culture were not really on their radar screen.

Much of the growth of consulting has been riding the wave of the technology explosion combined with the trend toward downsizing. Most large organizations have found it more profitable to shrink and merge and outsource jobs. This creates the challenge of having fewer people doing more work, and the consulting industry has been the beneficiary of this movement.

The demand for consulting services has also grown because of the interest in quality improvement, better customer service, and changing cultures toward more engaged workplaces. All of these goals are worthy, but what I want to explore is how the commercialization of our services ended up subverting their intent.

Reengineering is a good example of an area of practice that had power and relevance. Its intent was inarguable but something shifted when the idea became commercialized and popular. Reengineering became the rage and consulting firms began to make promises that were unsustainable. After a good run, the work fell of its own weight.

The reengineering craze reached a point where whatever change we had in mind was called reengineering. Every department thought it was reengineering itself. The energy was more about becoming modern than becoming better. Reengineering became synonymous with restructuring and was sold by the large accounting and consulting firms with promises of a 30 to 50 percent return on the investment.

The dark side of reengineering, which threatened the whole profession, is that the promises made to sell the work either were never fulfilled or could finally be achieved only by eliminating jobs on a wide scale. The goal of restructuring the work process for the sake of the customer was more often than not unrealized. In fact, many of the users of reengineering began to reverse their efforts because they found the concept unworkable.

Reengineering,  like the more current desire to be lean and agile,  is a good example of two larger consulting complexities: how consultants take advantage of what is in vogue and how we pursue covert purposes.

When an idea is fashionable it becomes, almost by definition, a cosmetic solution. When we offer a service primarily because clients want it, we have chosen commerce over care. If we were strictly a business you might say, What’s the problem? The customer is always right. We only gave them what they asked for. Being also a service function, though, means that something more is due to the client.

 When we offer a service primarily because clients want it, we have chosen commerce over care.

The other consulting complexity exemplified by reengineering is a form of double-dealing––for example when force reductions are packaged as organization improvement. Who could argue with restructuring for the sake of the customer? Organizations went through a long process of interviews, redesign teams, and extensive selling and training for the new system when the real net result of the effort was the elimination of jobs with little real change in function or culture.

Clients have a right to expect us to decide whether what the client is willing to buy will deliver what the client really needs. If the client asks for a service that will not help, or may even be harmful, then when do we say no and turn away the work? It is a tough thing to do, especially for internal consultants. Clients also have a right to expect us to speak and act authentically. If our work is packaged and sold as something it is not, we betray trust and set the client on a path to harmful results.


I’m Here to Fix You

Trust and connectedness are necessary to a successful contract. In the Flawless Consulting Public Workshops, participants are introduced to the concept of a consultant’s “roles.” Peter presents three common roles played by consultants: Expert, pair-of-hands and collaborative. Each have their strengths and weaknesses, but collaboration is the ultimate goal. Getting to know the client’s problems and working in a collaborative role with them is the key to a successful, long-term contract.

Am I Too Pushy?

Do you ever ask yourself, “Am I too Pushy?” Well, authentic behavior means you put into words the resistance you face during a project. This is the most powerful thing you can do to gain the trust and commitment you are looking for. There is a tendency for us to look for ways of being clever with people. We agonize over ways of presenting our ideas – phrasing the project so it sounds more appealing than it may be. People know when we try to maneuver them, and when it happens, they trust us a little less.

Change Agents

Peter encourages us to change the narrative — not people. The concept of a “change agent” is arrogant, says Peter. Instead of saying “I’m here to change them,” we can say, “I’m here to change the conversation with people about their intentions.” In any conversation aimed to change the narrative, you’re doing two things: giving support to the organization and then confronting it. Peter says the support statement often is a simple acknowledgement that you hear what the client is saying; it means you have listened. The confront statement then identifies the difference between how you see a situation and how the client sees the situation.

Presenting Problems

The first thing you should do is focus on your client, not the problem. Your client knows more about his or her company than you do, so they probably have a better solution. What you should focus on is working through the contracting steps of Flawless Consulting to lay a groundwork of mutual trust. Then, address the problem. Developing a strong partnership with your client is essential. It creates a space where lasting solutions can be found.

Restore Faith

Faith in my ______ is the future (fill in the blank). Starting down an unpredictable path is tough. Asking a client to let go of the predictions and expectations of a project may seem unrealistic. But when a client is able to place trust or faith, in the consultant’s hands, this creates a sustainable world. In this video, Peter recommends avoiding the question, “Do you think we are making progress?” and instead asking, “What would restore your faith?”