3 Reasons Why Reading Flawless Consulting Is Not Enough

Yes, reading is fundamental. And as a valuable and essential method of learning, it does have its limitations, particularly when it comes to acquiring practical skills. Solely relying on reading to learn a skill can be as limiting as learning how to ride a bike by only reading an instruction manual. Mere words on a page won’t help you learn how to maintain balance, coordinate pedaling, steering, and braking, or anticipate obstacles. To avoid getting a flat tire when influencing others, here are 3 reasons why only reading Flawless Consulting is not enough to get your expertise used:

  1. Complex Skills: Consulting skills are intricate and multifaceted, requiring a combination of theoretical knowledge and practical experience. For instance, you may read about the many steps required of consultants within each Consulting Phase, but without actually practicing and honing these steps, you won’t become proficient. Which steps might you have forgotten? What’s possible in reviewing these helpful checklists and worksheets with your clients and asking for their agreement to experience them together?
  2. Lack of Practical Application: Reading alone doesn’t provide hands-on experience. Consulting skills require practice and real-world application to truly master them. Without practical experience, you may struggle to translate theoretical knowledge into real-world actions. For example, consultants often find it easy to ask clients for what they want but can’t imagine putting directly into words what they want from the client to make a project successful. It’s not until this vital skill is practiced that asking for what you want becomes fathomable. Did you know Designed Learning offers coaching and consulting to help you solve problems and impact relationships? How might a conversation with one of Designed Learning’s certified coaches help you implement what you’ve read?
  3. Social Interaction and Collaboration: Consulting skills involve connecting and collaborating with others. Reading alone may not adequately prepare you for real-world interactions that are essential for flawless consultation. When learning a skill, feedback is crucial for improvement. Reading doesn’t offer immediate feedback on your performance or help you identify and correct mistakes in real-time. Did you know that even before the book was published, author Peter Block designed Flawless Consulting as a workshop? It’s true! Our Flawless Consulting® workshop inspires mastery of the promises and phases of the renowned book with an interactive and powerful learning experience. Through use of case studies, role plays, and simulations, participants gain insight into their own individual consulting skills, try new behaviors, and test assumptions to see what impact changes may have on their results and satisfaction back on the job.

Engaging with a skill beyond reading, such as through practical application and experiential learning, can enhance your motivation and enthusiasm for learning. Reading alone might not provide the same level of motivation. Better to combine it with hands-on practice, real-world experience, and interactive learning methods to fully develop your consulting skills. Just like learning to ride a bike, Designed Learning’s solutions and services ensure your skills to have your expertise used, transform organizations, and build healthy partnerships will quickly come back to you when needed.

by JP Tier

Change the Conversation – Change the Culture

By Jeff Evans

“How do we change the culture?” It is a question I have been asked many times while facilitating Flawless Consulting workshops. The answer? “One conversation at a time.” 

Participants of Flawless find a lot of value in the tools and concepts we cover to be more collaborative and to get their expertise utilized. However, they share that a big barrier to collaborating is the culture- in particular, the behavior of upper management. I spent over 30 years inside large organizations, and I have felt the same way at times. I found myself thinking and saying, “I could be more collaborative if my boss and my clients let me.” For some reason, I felt I couldn’t change if they didn’t change. What I have learned is if I wait for others to change, at any level, I will be waiting a long time. I need to focus on my own behaviors and attitude about how I want to work and relate to others.  

Exchanging Wants

A key element and skill of Flawless Consulting is exchanging wants with the people I am trying to influence. This means getting curious about what the other person wants as well as being clear about what I want. Easier said than done in organizations where the culture values hierarchy, command, and control. When I am in a support role, trying to influence others with position, power, and authority, it can be easier to focus on their wants and ignore my own. When I do this, I am putting myself in a position to be an “order taker” or “pair-of-hands.” It seems that this is the role many managers want their people to take. “I’m the boss/client/leader; just do what I ask you to do.” This is the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) belief in many organizations.

It Takes Courage

The antidote to being a non-assertive order taker is to change the conversations you are having with your clients, bosses, and leaders. The first step is to get clear about what you want, and the second step is to have the courage and skills to ask. Ask yourself, “What do I want from this leader in order to do my best work?” We aren’t asking for what we want to be selfish. On the contrary, we want to do our best work for the organization. To do this, we have things we want from others.

Getting clear about what we want is the easier step of this process. The more difficult step is having the courage to ask, especially if the culture doesn’t support asking for things from upper management. Ask yourself, “What is the risk of asking for what I want?” Then ask, “What is the risk if I don’t?” Start having these conversations with the people where the relationship is strong. Don’t start with your most difficult relationship. You will build confidence and courage the more you try it. 

Will the culture of the entire organization change from this conversation? Probably not. However, the culture within your sphere of influence will begin to change when you change the conversations you are having. We are operating under a social contract based on command and control. It’s time to renegotiate the social contract. As more people in the organization move toward this collaborative conversation, the culture will begin to shift. Don’t wait for others to change the culture. Have the courage to change your conversations to create a culture of your own choosing.

Get the skills you need to get clear on your wants and help to inspire larger transformation and change within organizations and communities.

Partnership – Great goal; Insufficient word

As we work and live with others, the word partnership seems to be a common goal. We want to build business partnerships, partner better, and we want others to partner with us.  Partnership is a good word and a worthy goal. 

Questions I ask Myself

  • What does partnership look like?
  • Who do I want to partner with?
  • How do I achieve partnership?
  • What can I specifically do to build partnerships?

These questions seem easy to answer on the surface, but I find that the goal of partnership eludes me more often than I want. I have conversations with others, and we seem to want a partnership together, but most often, I don’t invest the time to understand and act on what partnership could look like.

For example, one of my former bosses asked me to help her organization build “strategic business partnerships” with their internal business partners. I loved the idea and started changing the way I interfaced with other leaders. First, I asked more questions. Also, I delayed my recommendations until I knew more about the issue they were facing. I worked to co-create possible solutions with them instead of quickly implementing their solutions or mine. It didn’t take long for one of these leaders to call my boss to complain that I wasn’t being cooperative and that I was delaying decisions.

My boss came to me and asked what I was doing. When I said I was trying to build “strategic business partnerships,” she said, “That is what we want, but don’t upset the clients. Just do what they ask you to do”. It’s clear my boss and I had different ideas on what these partnerships would look like.

Some Partnership Challenges

Building partnerships is not complex. In fact, it can be simple to understand. We create a common understanding of what we are going to do together (short-term or long-term) and we share what we want from each other and negotiate an agreement.

The challenge in building partnerships comes when I actually have the conversation. I may even avoid the conversation altogether. I get in my own way. My desire to be right, to minimize my risk, to be safe, and to gain a predictable outcome get in the way. There is also a sense of urgency to get things done and act. Unfortunately, nothing about partnerships is predictable or risk-free, and urgency is the enemy of quality – the quality of the outcome and the quality of the relationship.

So, What Do We Do?

There are many aspects to building partnerships. I have found the easiest and most beneficial is to minimize assumptions and vagueness in our language. When we ask for something we want, we need to be specific. I had a mentor years ago who told me to avoid “goodness” words. That statement itself is vague, so I asked, “What’s a goodness word?”. He said, “Goodness words describe things we want, and they are good (things like support, buy-in, partnership, respect, etc.), but they are not sufficient for a meaningful agreement.”

The antidote for the goodness word is to ask myself and share with you, “What does it look like?”. If you are giving me support, this is what you would be doing. If we are going to have a partnership, this is how we will treat each other. This is what respect looks like to me.

Asking these next-level questions takes time. I need to pause and get specific with myself and others. I assume you know what I mean, and I think I know what you mean. These assumptions are recipes for poor agreements. I am learning to share with others the behaviors I am looking for and to ask them what behaviors they want from me. Having this next level of conversation is a small investment in time that pays big dividends with agreements that last and partnerships that thrive.

 

Build better partnerships by putting your focus on relational skills with Flawless Consulting. Attend a workshop today. 

Trust in Whom?

Most of the time we talk about trust as if it has its own independent existence. We can build trust; we can destroy trust. This treats it like it is an aspect of relationship and based on how people behave with each other. Are we trustworthy… are they trustworthy? We talk of others violating our trust, often in the workplace it is management who gets more than their share of the blame. We expect leaders to be congruent, to walk their talk, and if they don’t, we think we have a “trust problem.” Or, if we are the leader, we are puzzled why the employees don’t trust us.

These frames trust as if it is determined by behavior. I want to offer another point of view.

Trust is more an expression of our own inner world, not an outside-in reaction to people and events as they affect us.

Trust is a State of Mind

Vaclav Havel from his “Politics of Hope” book writes about hope in a way that also applies to trust. Editing him slightly, he says, “I should say first that hope is above all a state of mind, not a state of the world. Either we have hope in us or we don’t; it is a dimension of the soul, and it’s not essentially dependent on some observation of the world or estimate of the situation.”

As with hope, trust may be something that we carry within us and is, in many ways, a projection of our own internal struggle onto those around us. If we distrust others, it is that we are asking them to carry a weight that we cannot bear within ourselves.

Trust is more an attitude about myself, an estimate of my own capacities. For example, if I do not trust management, a more accurate statement is that I am not happy with the way I act or I feel when I am around management. It is my response to their power that bothers me. My caution. My speaking in generalities. My quickness to back down in the face of an indifferent or controlling act on their part. My short-fused cynicism may be more the source of my distrust, than anything they do.

Distrust is too often a projection onto powerful others of our own ambivalence.

Anytime, Anywhere

If trust is my goal, then I must come to terms with my own shadow: the power I give to others, the denial of my own ambivalence about participation, the fact I do not walk my talk, have silenced my own voice, have left behind my own faith and innocence. Trust is the willingness to go public with all of who I am. If I could ever really believe this, (rather than write about it), then my “trust problem” might fade. Why we think it is the task of people in power to create a high trust environment, I no longer understand.

I can create a high trust environment any time I want. All I must realize is that I am creating the environment in which I live. We are afraid of being naïve and a fool if we continue to trust in the face of others’ betrayal. Well, what is so great about being strategic and clever? And what is so wrong about being a fool? Maybe being willing to be a fool is the exact means of creating the high trust world that we each long for.

If you want help creating a high-trust environment anytime you want, check out our newest program, Flawless Conversations: Building Trusting Relationships, to learn how.

Facing the Virtual World

We now work in a virtual and digital world, with all of its joys and sorrows. Technology is credited with bringing the world closer together, spreading democracy, changing the nature of business, supplying round-the-clock connectivity. Geography has been made irrelevant. It is mesmerizing to grasp the world in a handheld device, much smarter than we will ever be.

Here are some aspects of this life that Human Resource (HR) practitioners deal with every day:

  • Teams are made up of people who have never been in a room together. This gives rise to the question “How do we build a team that never or rarely meets face-to-face?”
  • The well-defined workweek is no more. People are online and in touch and reachable most of their waking hours. And expect you to follow suit. If you ask people to leave their cell phones at the door, 40 percent say that this is not possible.
  • We work at home. Our bedroom has become our office. Technology allows us to move our residence/office anywhere and have more control over our time.
  • Speed is a value in and of itself. If something is quicker, it is attractive. If we are quicker, we are attractive. Slow food is considered a revolution. Fast food, a value proposition.
  • Controlling costs is now the dominant value for most organizations, replacing the priority once given to the customer and the employee. Most every job and function (except top management) can be outsourced to reduce labor and benefit costs. Travel and training are cut on the rationale that current audio and video technology approximates the sights and sounds of being in the room together in real time.

The virtual world is sold on these features. More individual freedom. Work at home, learn at will, and control your own time. Get information you need on demand. Be a global citizen.

The challenge is to address the human and workplace consequences of the technological and cultural forces that constantly drive us toward speed, control, efficiency, and short-term results.

Organizations that will truly thrive over time are creating a future that transcends these pressures. They will focus making the choice to (1) act in service of the long run, and (2) act in service to those with little power. In this way they create an alternative narrative, one centered on creating high performance by putting the future in the hands of each member of an organization.

HR can help leaders transcend these pressures by developing leaders who give priority to building relationships between peers. Real relationships, not virtual ones. HR is a stance for leaders that gives more choices to people close to the work. HR is the realization that human values take priority over shareholder values. HR clients are all members of the organization, not just top management.

There are more important values than speed and scale and costs. Organizations are human systems first and technical processes second. Important learning requires face-to-face relationships where all learning is social.

Adapted from Stewardship: Choosing Service over Self-Interest, 2d ed. (San Francisco: Berrett-Kohler, 2013).

Moving Past Persistent Resistance

Years ago, I was partnering with our organization’s IT team to outfit a new computer lab. There were a lot of details to work out. I was approaching the project with the learner in mind. My IT counterpart was focused on minimizing the cables that would be crisscrossing the room. Unfortunately, my want for the learner was not lining up with his want for the scope of work needed to get the lab ready.

After a few conversations that seemed to go nowhere, I remember looking at my colleague and asking, “Is it that you can’t do it or that you don’t want to do?” He looked at me stunned and admitted, “I don’t want to.”

It was a real breakthrough moment in our work together. The resistance I was feeling was laid bare and we finally were able to work together to get the lab built. In the end, it looked a bit different for both of us, but it worked and worked well.

At the time, I didn’t realize that we were in the middle of a foundational part of consulting. We were contracting and admittedly not very well. We were stuck and I knew we were stuck because neither of us were willing to move away from what “I want” with little consideration for what the other person might want as well.

Thankfully, we did eventually move past our persistent resistance. The lesson learned however is that it didn’t happen by accident. I had to walk directly into the resistance and be prepared for what might happen. I’m not so sure I did it perfectly, but it was effective. Once I acknowledged the resistance, we were able to have productive and collaborative conversations so we could get the job done.

From that point forward our conversations changed. We started listening and stopped trying to have “my way be the only way.” It was not easy to do. I was the customer and I consistently had to battle the feeling that he should “just be doing what I want.” As I look back now, I realize that I wanted a pair of hands to do my bidding. It’s funny really, I’m no IT expert, but I certainly tried to play one. At the same time, he was doing very little to understand what I needed to do and why. There was little effort to understand the problem I was trying to solve. After all, he was the expert with all the answers, right?

The experience highlights the greatest challenge most of us face as internal consultants. And, make no mistake, you are consulting any time you must influence another person where you have no direct control. I had none with my IT counterpart and he had none with me. We were giving no thought to influencing the other. Instead, we were on the “do it my way” train. It’s a wonder the computer lab was ever finished.

Our relationship only started working when we started looking at it as a relationship. We shifted away from listing our demands to a conversation about what we both wanted from our work together and what we were willing to give the other to help make it successful. There was negotiation, but we became clearer in not only what we were trying to accomplish together but how we were going to do it. And I’m not just talking about the technical stuff. We also talked about the way we would communicate with each other, how best to respect the other person’s ideas and even how we would disagree moving forward.

It was never a match made in heaven, but we made it work. Chances are, you must make it work everyday at work too. When you do, ask if you’ve taken the time to contract with each other on the “what and how” of your collaboration? If you don’t know, there’s work to do. Ask the question, “So, what do you want from me?” and be prepared to share what you want from them too. Be simple, be direct and above all else, be real. You won’t always get what you want. Life is like that. But you will get further, faster when you both know how to show up for the other.

You Don’t Need An Expert. You Need a PARTNER.

When facing change, you don’t need an expert. You need partnership.

Your company probably looks at change with a mix of excitement and fear. And while you may want certain parts of your organization to change, it is scary to take on the actual responsibility of making it happen. It is much safer and easier to delegate the actual transformation to someone else. This typically is where consultants come into the picture. And why not? Experts are constantly touted as the only ones knowledgeable and powerful enough to lead.

But there is a catch.

Relinquishing responsibility to an expert breeds an unhealthy dependency. When problems inevitably come up again you won’t know how to confront them yourself.

There is also a problem for the consultant. If you’re the consultant, this tendency also makes your job harder. Removing the client from the problem-solving process makes it more likely the changes you recommend will be resisted.

So what is the way forward?

The Promise of Partnership

The answer is opting for partnership instead of relying on experts.

Experts merely seek to solve the problem. But partners bring change in a way that makes you take ownership not only for the solution but for the problem itself.

Partners effectively and compassionately dissolve unhealthy reliance on the expert. The result is that clients gain sufficient expertise to diagnose and solve future problems on their own.

But how does this partnership consulting work?

How to Make Pearls

A partner’s first task is to confront you with the true nature of your problems. Often you already know this, but you either don’t realize it, or you find it so hard to deal with that you struggle to admit it without provocation. This confrontation is often uncomfortable. But new wisdom cannot be formed without it.

The best analogy for this is how pearls are made. Two things are required to form these valuable prizes: sand and oysters. Sand gets into the oyster and rubs it the wrong way. The oyster reacts by trying to get rid of the irritant. But in the process, something beautiful and precious is formed.

Don’t get the impression that this is easy. Bringing any kind of meaningful change to an organization requires a high investment of emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and physical rigor. The culture and habits sustained in an organization are often ferociously rooted and feel “right” from the inside. And so the only way to shock the oyster out of its comfort is to throw a little sand in its shell.

Partnering consultants must first, therefore, bring the sober truth about the organization’s dysfunctions.

This is a painful process. But the reward is invaluable for the organization.

The Perils of Partnership

Just like making pearls, partnership is difficult to practice. First of all, it is hard to convince clients that they are getting their money’s worth. They often have a rigid expectation that they are bringing in an expert who will simply fix things and move on. On the other hand, it can be just as hard to convince consultants their task is anything but fixing things themselves. The secret here is to accept that as a partner you have to sacrifice that latent desire to take full credit for creating the solution. That’s not sexy, but it is ultimately better for both parties.

Another common pitfall is what is known as professional codependence. Just as clients can become dependent on the expert, the professional can become codependent on the client.

Professional codependence when the professional–consciously or not–begins to create client needs in order to prove their own worth and make ends meet.

One way that this manifests is when, rather than identifying opportunities for growth, consultants begin to see client needs as deficiencies. This is more than a labeling problem. This often leads to anticipating problems that don’t exist. Such a dynamic all but guarantees dependency because it presumes that the client lacks what they need to get rid of the deficiency. And even more than this, it then positions the expert as the only one who can determine whether the solution has been effective.

So how can you pursue partnership without the pitfalls?

Acting in Partnership

Developing partnership while avoiding dependencies on both sides is challenging. Let’s explore this challenge through the lens of parenting. To raise responsible adults, parents experience the tension, on the one hand, between protecting their children by sheltering them and telling them what to do…while on the on the other hand allowing their children to have self-discovery and learn on their own. Choosing partnership will often feel the same for the consultant.

It is essential to guard yourself against your client’s codependency even if this seems unloving at first. If not, you run the risk of getting lost in your expert role and short-circuiting the client’s growth and freedom.

Become Your Own Expert

Perhaps more than ever, society constantly reinforces the notion that experts are the only ones who can be trusted to solve your problems. But blindly signing over authority and action to experts only stunts your growth. You can’t learn how to think for yourself when you constantly rely on others to tell you what to think.

This doesn’t mean you will never need assistance. What it means is that you need to do the work to become your own expert even while you seek expertise from others. This is the promise of partnership.

How to Create “Organizational Cooperation” that Succeeds for Clients and Citizens

Pick your crisis: climate change, pandemics, political division, economic stagnation, international relations. When concerned members of society are faced with big obstacles, they cry out for like-minded groups to come together and effect a greater change. This clarion call urgently summons interdependent agencies together for meetings. The goal of this organizational cooperation is always to find ways of collaborating to solve the issue at hand. These meetings, these gatherings are innumerable.

So, why do people often complain and define the problem as one of little to no cooperation among organizations?

This complaint may hint at a classic consulting scenario that requires reframing.

If You Acted On This Definition

If you used the standard meeting model, you would invite the groups to talk and share their concerns, and ideas. Next, you would invite them to agree on common goals, shared projects, develop a cooperation strategy, work out a schedule of milestones, and decide on the next meeting date.

Reframing “Organizational Cooperation”

Here’s the thing: Communication and defining common goals are not the problem.

If these were the problem, they would have been solved already. The problem between groups is territory, territory, territory.

They each have defined their boundaries tightly around their organizational structures. They think their mission is to do a good job within those boundaries. As a result, progress toward resolving the issue is episodic, at best. For change to really happen, the reality is that each group will have to yield territory and control.

This is a sour pill to swallow. They must confront the question: “What are you willing to give up for the sake of the larger purpose?”

What things?

They have to be willing to give up projects, budgets, and a piece of their identity if anything beneficial is going to happen for their citizens or clients. This requires trust.

Trust is built from telling the truth and from acts of surrender.

There is no other way to build the relational capital necessary for organizations to partner successfully. Trust is the ONLY way.

Avoid the Risk of Motion and No Movement

One word of caution.

Don’t buy the medicine that better communication is all you’ll need to get a good start. It will be the start…one that leads to a lot of motion and no movement.

Instead, you need to first create a condition for making a partnering agreement: All organizations must make meaningful sacrifices to create trust. If they choose not to make this necessary sacrifice and perhaps lose something in the process, then you will become a puppet in their negotiation strategy. It would help if you take a firm stand on this point early in the conversations when you have the most leverage.

When it comes to organizational cooperation, refuse to settle for the thought that because a gathering occurred and words were exchanged that anything meaningful happened. Instead, reframe the nature of the gathering by focussing on the core issue of why barriers to true cooperation persist. Address “why” they’re protecting territory.

In this way, organizations can come to the table as partners ready to take ownership for what they will sacrifice for the greater good. The investment of each organization’s sacrifice will create the bonds of trust necessary to make a change.

To act within this frame:

  1. Recognize that the problem between groups is territory, territory, territory.
  2. Present the organizations with this question: “What are you willing to give up for the sake of the larger purpose?”
  3. Create the following condition of participation: All organizations must make meaningful sacrifices to create trust as the foundation of a partnering agreement.

The Three Consulting Roles: How to Stop Fixing and Start Collaborating

As a Human Resources (HR) or Support Services professional, you have expertise that is critical for the survival and growth of your organization. You have expertise, and you can offer it by playing anyone of three consulting roles at work.

Unfortunately, you may often find yourself being underutilized, overworked with transactional tasks, and being told to “fix” things and people. Is this true for you?

Do You Find Yourself Frustrated When…

  • Your leaders come to you at the last minute and tell you to implement something?
  • You aren’t involved early enough in the process to influence decisions and share your ideas?
  • Most of your day is spent putting out “fires” and expending energy on non-strategic issues?
  • You have so much more expertise to offer the organization, but they don’t appreciate it or even ask you for it?
  • You are asked to “handle” tough conversations, “problem” people, and fix them?

This is probably not the way you want to be treated. Instead, you want to have your expertise utilized, and be treated as a trusted advisor.

The issue is that others, including managers and clients, don’t know how to best utilize your expertise, so they default to the quickest option: tell you what to do.

But There Is Good News

You may be able to dislodge others from a default way of treating you at work. You can adjust your own approach by leveraging the three consulting roles to have your expertise better utilized.

But before you do, be aware that you may have unintentionally trained your leaders to treat you the way they do.

Here’s what I mean.

Many leaders, in the spirit of customer satisfaction, often operate with the mentality that “the customer is always right.” In this frame, they utilize you for “fixing” things and implementing their ideas in order to resolve problems.

Leaders then create conditions where you end up agreeing to do what clients tell you to do, even when it’s not the best thing for them or the organization. And if you attempt to push back or disagree with your clients, they get upset and even escalate a complaint to your boss.

There is a better way

You have the power and opportunity to change the conversations you are having with clients and the leaders in your organization. You can start by discussing the topic of how to best utilize your expertise by intentionally establishing the role you’ll play in the engagement.

We have found that HR and Support Service professionals can fall into three consulting roles.

The 3 Consulting Roles

The Three Consulting Roles

  1. Expert Role – They count on you to fix things with your expertise, and they don’t want you to be involved in the diagnosis or solution. “Make it go away” is their mantra.
  2. Pair of Hands Role – They come to you with their solution, and they want you to implement it. “Don’t ask questions, just get it done for me.” You end up being an “order taker” and implementing suboptimal solutions. Sometimes these solutions can cause harm to people and the organization.
  3. Collaborative Role – You share the responsibility and accountability with the leaders to diagnose and develop solutions. Your expertise is equally utilized along with their expertise.

Learn More

If you want to know which of the three consulting roles you and/or your teams are playing at work, then we invite you to take our free Role Orientation Quiz.

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.

Jeff Evans is a Vice President at Designed Learning and oversees delivery, product quality, and managing our team of international consultants. He’s been partnering with Designed Learning for over 25 years. He’s delivered training in more than ten countries to a diverse set of organizations and participants, including engineers, managers, manufacturing executives, healthcare professionals, human resources and IT.