All The Consulting World’s A Stage

stage2

“Great consultants are as much actors as they are fonts of knowledge.” The founder of the consulting firm I had just joined delivered these words to me after my first week on the job. I was initially taken aback. A number of questions rushed to my head. Wasn’t I just hired because of my skills and abilities? Didn’t my years of on-the-ground experience mean anything? And perhaps most importantly, since my mission is to transform organizations, what in the heck does theater have to do with my consulting practice?

The answers to these questions revealed themselves to me as I reflected on my initial experiences with my first client. I had gone through all the motions of being a good external consultant. I jumped on a plane as the sun was coming up Monday morning and flew to the client site. As soon as I arrived, I began to learn about the project and culture as quickly as possible. I worked night and day all week to figure out how I could best help this client.

And now over a glass of wine back at the airport Thursday night, my new boss was telling me that our work had as much in common with a theater production of Guys and Dolls than it did with providing deep insights to help the organization transform. Could this really be true?

In some ways, the answer is: Yes! The only justification for flying in highly paid consultants each week is to shake up business as usual. And we all know that the best way to impact fellow human beings is to reach them on an emotional, as well as logical level.

I came to understand that I had great content. However, I needed a more compelling persona. Borrowing an acting analogy, I was coming across a bit like the actor Harrison Ford with too much flat line delivery. My boss was asking me to be more Ryan Gosling with a bit more style and flair.

Now, I faced the challenge of figuring out how to make a bigger splash. I carried out the following steps:

  1. Telling Compelling Stories

“Stories for business have a practical purpose. They should gain or strengthen the trust of the intended audience(s) and, with this achieved, to inform, persuade, and even inspire them.” [Janis Forman, Storytelling in Business (2013), Stanford Business Book, p. 23.]

The first thing I did was turn some of my dry content into stories to grab the attention of my clients.

For example, I was helping a client develop a new mission statement. My goal was to get the leaders to understand the impact of crafting a powerful purpose. I told the real-life story of how the mission of a nonprofit in the health field had helped a family member identify a mystery medical condition that they had suffered with for years. Finding a diagnosis was a life changing event.

After telling the story I noticed that the leadership team was more engaged than usual. They were clearly impacted by the story. In fact, one tough, former military VP who had said little during my previous sessions had tears in his eyes.

I glanced over at my boss and he was smiling. Clearly, I had hit the mark!

  1. Finding Ways to Connect Personally

Theater touches us on an emotional level. Similarly, I sought out opportunities to interact with my clients on a more personal level. As consultants we are dropped into an organization for a limited period of time. It is easy for us to stick to the work at hand versus forming deep interpersonal relationships.

Peter Block (Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used, 2011, Jossey-Bass) points out that we have the potential to more fully bring of ourselves to our consulting gigs:

“A unique and beguiling aspect of doing consulting is that your own self is involved in the process to a much greater extent than if you were applying your expertise in some other way. Your reactions to a client, your feelings during discussions, your ability to solicit feedback from the client – all are important dimensions to consultation” [p. 13].

Block correctly points out the importance of a strong relationship between you and your client. And nothing cements a relationship like having a personal connection.

I applied this with a client by introducing opportunities on our agendas to talk about what our work means to us personally. These conversations allowed me to learn more about my clients’ backgrounds, values and aspirations. At the same time, they learned more about me.

This was win-win. The personal discussions which were part of our agenda led us all to be more engaged and invested. As a result, we had more impact and enjoyed the process more.

  1. Leading with Content – Don’t Over Do This!

The above theatrical tactics for connecting with clients on emotional and personal levels are powerful. However, we still need to infuse our skills, knowledge and abilities to transform the organization. As consultants we are primarily hired for our expertise and not our wit, nor fashion sense. The message here is clear. Your main focus is on accomplishing business goals. At the same time, do not be afraid to throw in some theater for maximum impact.

Over fifty years ago the academic Marshall McLuhan coined the expression “The medium is the message”. Perhaps McLuhan was correct and we should pay more attention to the vehicles we use to communicate our big ideas.

This blog does not reflect the views of my employer.

#Reinvent Yourself At Work Like the #TryGuys

the try guys

The @TryGuys are four #millenials who have created a media frenzy out of simply trying new things. These millennials are creators of a comedy documentary series that shows them getting outside of their comfort zone. They try just about anything, from watching baby twins for a day to dog sledding in Alaska.  In the process, they have gained over 17 million subscribers on YouTube [https://bit.ly/2EQCUXA]. Also, throw in a blog [#tryguys], a podcast [https://bit.ly/2F6vC29] and even a self-help book [https://amzn.to/39fpiDh].

Why are the Try Guys so popular? The Try Guys highlight the fact that they are not the “Success Guys” for a reason. They do not master any of the tasks they take on, but that is not the point. Try Guy Keith Habersberger says:

“By going in and simply trying and failing or doing OK, being open to a new experience and broadening your horizons just makes you a better person. We have seen it. We have become smarter, more emotional sensitive people as we have grown and tried the 200 things we’ve tried.” [https://bit.ly/2Qm4a5C]

So how can we model the Try Guys and jump into new things in our organizations? Here are three ideas:

  1. Try New Approaches To Solve Problems

We tend to come at challenges with the same methods that we have relied of for years. Presented with the same problem, I have observed the following

  • Leadership development professionals suggest coaching.
  • Process gurus dive into Lean Six Sigma.
  • Culture consultants look to the behavioral soft stuff.
  • The list goes on…

While this may not be surprising, embracing new approaches can be a challenge. Look to a methodology that you have never applied and try it!

  1. Try Working In New Areas

We tend to become experts within specific businesses and departments. Some of us are connoisseurs in health care or retail. Others of us are wizards in Information Technology or Sales Departments.

Try working with a business or department that is completely new to you. Over the past few years I have applied my expertise to new segments like agribusiness. I have supported new departments such as Health and Safety.

The new areas I have jumped into have provided me with innovative insights and creative outcomes that I could have never imagined. Not to mention how much working with new people, products and technology has been a much needed “shot in the arm” for my practice.

  1. Try Getting Out of the Office

We tend to burn through a great deal of office time coming up with big thoughts. There is an academic bent to our work as we think through organizational challenges and solutions. However, if we spend too much time holed up in our offices we lose touch with what is really happening in our organizations.

Going to our workplace job sites can open our eyes to the most needed and practical organizational solutions. For example, the Health and Safety department I began working with led me to the shop floor at a number of plants.  As a result, I saw some fundamental aspects of our business. Why? Because I experienced these things first hand!

Perhaps the biggest lesson from the Try Guys that we can apply to our organizations is basic and yet powerful. The Try Guys would tell you to simply jump in and try these new approaches!

Note: This blog does not reflect the views of my employer.

A New Year’s Resolution for #Leaders and #Teams: Who Are We?

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A #NewYear’s resolution: Connecting in a deeper manner with your work team. We spend a great deal of time together being #productive. Let’s answer the question: “Who are we?”

At my father’s retirement ceremony as a college president, the local reigning politician concluded his remarks with a heartfelt statement. He indicated that if he were selecting someone to spend a week with in a fishing boat catching walleye, it would be my dad. In this rural northern Minnesota town this was the ultimate compliment!

This story gets at how important it is for us to spend time with colleagues that we know and like.  When teams are formed, they first naturally want to know what they are supposed to accomplish together. This is why the question that a team naturally asks itself is: “Who are we?”

Once their reason for being together has been answered, the next question is who is sitting next to me? Who are the people that I am about to take this journey with?  Just like the northern Minnesota folks who want to know who they will be spending a significant amount of time with in a boat, team members want to know more about their peers who they will rely on to work together as a team.

There are many packaged surveys and assessment tools that one can purchase in order to learn more about your team members. For example, I have led teams in completing and processing assessment instruments such as the Myers Briggs [https://www.themyersbriggs.com/, 2018], which indicates various psychological preferences of how people perceive the world and make decisions.

Instruments such as the Myers Briggs can be an effective way for teams to learn in-depth how they can better leverage each other. However, there is a financial cost for each team member who completes the tool. In addition, it typically takes a minimum of a half day to help the team process the instrument results.

For these reasons I have at times opted for a lower cost, quicker solution to help team members get to know one another. I simply ask them questions that will allow them to get to know one another better personally and professionally. I find that the time that team members spend getting to know about each others’ backgrounds, motivations, working styles and passions in life translates into better teams.

There is really no magic here, but following is a sample slate of questions:

  • Information about your background – career path, etc..
  • What do you like most about your city?
  • What do you like best about their work?
  • What are your favorite hobbies?
  • What did you do before you started working here? Not just jobs you held, but career path and aspirations?
  • What motivates you personally? What motivates you professionally? What gets you jumping out of bed in the morning “before” the alarm clock goes off?
  • Tell me about your family?
  • What thing in your life (outside of work) do you have a passion for? Do you have a career goal they would share with others?
  • Where’d you go to school how did you end up working here?
  • Why do you do what you do for a living? And why does your department do what it does?
  • Please let us know a bit about your education and work experience?.
  • What’s your favorite way to keep up on professional trends and best practices? [Conferences? Publications? Training? Podcasts? Etc.]

I have made this exercise a little more interesting for the participants by turning it into a “Crumple and Toss” activity. Each team member carries out the following steps, which results in the exercise being more dynamic and introduces an element of fun:

  • Step A: Participants select a question that has been crumpled and tossed in a hat.
  • Step B: They can answer that question or select a new question until they pick one they like, limiting answers to two minutes or less.
  • Step C: Crumple the question back up and toss it into the middle of the table. Providing a forum for team members to ask each other questions to get to know one another is simple to carry out and the positive results for team members is significant. I have had many teams indicate that the personal relationships among them is one of the reasons they can point at to explain their success. This simple exercise is a great New Year’s resolution which started them on that path.

When I began in this field I assumed that team members would naturally get too know one another. I thought they would be asking each other these types of questions from day one. However, I have learned that most employees on teams go right to accomplishing the tasks at hand.

Providing a forum for team members to ask each other questions to get to know one another is a great New Year’s resolution.  It is simple to carry out and the positive results for team members is significant. I have had many teams indicate that the personal relationships among them is one of the reasons they can point at to explain their success. This simple exercise started them on that path.

This blog does not represent the views of my employer.

 

A Creative Method For Developing Innovative Solutions: Magic Tool Box

toolbox

It can be helpful to use analogies to inspire new ideas.  I have leveraged a brainstorming tool for years called the Magic Tool Box.  In this exercise one uses a box full of tools as a metaphor for solving the problem at hand.  The objective is to spur new thinking.

I leveraged this brainstorming exercise with a group of journalists who were stationed at locations around the world.  They explored using a Swiss Army knife that was magical and could capture interview content, as well as still images and video.  It spurred the journalists to come up with approaches whereby they would capture more than just print copy as a result of their interviews.  This was before the iPhone was used to capture photos and video.

I want to make it perfectly clear that I am not saying that I am Al Gore and claiming that I invented the Internet!  I am simply pointing out that this exercise allowed the journalists to imagine doing innovative work via tools that were not even invented at the time.  Generating this kind of out of the box thinking is the greatest value of this exercise.

Below are the steps to facilitate this exercise:

  • The facilitator provides a focus statement or problem related to the area being brainstormed.
    • The problem statement is related to the area being brainstormed. For example, our challenge may be that due to a new technology system our team members are drifting apart and not collaborating.
    • The magic tools in the tool box can be items such as: Magic drill, saw, hammer, duct tape, screw driver, tape measure, glue, etc.
  • Think of uses for a wide variety of “magic tools”
    • This is where you ask the group to use their imagination. For example, ask yourself: If we had a magic hammer, what would we use it to do?
    • Come up with ways we can use the magic tool to resolve the problem that has been articulated.
    • For example, one could leverage the magic tool box to address the problem of a team being stuck in silos and not working well together. One could use duct tape to wrap it around all the team members in order to bring everyone together again.
  • Explore the results for inspiration
    • We have fantasy solutions from step two that would not work in the real world. However, these make believe ideas may lead to insights that are practical.
    • Look at the responses and explore what kind of feelings and images are arising. Look for actions and goals that make sense and could be applied in the real world.
    • For example, while it is not practical to use duct tape to wrangle everyone into a more cohesive group, an initiative or event to bring people together may be a practical solution.

This exercise can clearly help our organizations think in new ways.  Spurring this kind of creative thinking is a true contribution that we can bring to the table.

Adapted from Alexander Hiam, Manager’s Pocket Guide to Creativity, 1998

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No more Drivel! Give us the Practical and Useful.

drivel

There is no substitute for business advice which is practical and useful. Yes, I am talking about suggestions which actually work. … As in make things better in the real world! Drivel, on the other hand, is defined as “silly nonsense”. Unfortunately there is a lot of these unhelpful opinions flying around our field of organizational development.

At its best, management tips and techniques have allowed me to face numerous organizational challenges and provided a clear, successful solution. When one is in the middle of a structure, process or people challenge it can be difficult get to above the chaos and envision a path forward. Yes, management thinkers really can be your best friends.

However, this is not always the case. I have observed that management thinking tends to fall into three buckets:

Bucket 1: Interesting, But Not Practical: Much of the academic work around management offers up clever concepts around leading others that have limited practical application. These are the types of management ideas that are fascinating to think about. However, you are left asking yourself “What would I do with this idea as I stand before my team Monday morning?”

From my experience, leadership styles provide an example of a theory without apparent application. Leadership styles essentially categorize types of leaders as being dictatorial, authoritarian, consultative or participative. Great! So let’s assume that you want your style of leadership to be more participative.   What actions do you take and what do you tell your team in order to create a participative environment?

These management theories often answer the “What” without ever addressing the “How”. In other words, this work often times offers conceptual statements about what is means to be a manager without providing advice on how to be a manager.   The theory is interesting, but, is not going to help you be a better manager.

Bucket 2: Practical, But Not Useful: The academic management thinking in this bucket offers you some practical ideas for how to manage your team. However, when you carry out these ideas in your organization you find that they are met with confusion and poor results. These are the types of ideas where you are left saying “Well, it looked good on paper!”

An example of practical but not useful management thinking is the business reengineering craze that many organizations adopted a decade ago. Reengineering called for reinventing the way work was done via the redesign of business processes and workflows. However, this practical approach resulted in negative consequences in the end.   Too often the effort resulted in corporate down sizing without better results. It did not take employees long to realize that it is was not in their best interest to volunteer for a reengineering effort! [Tony Carter, 1999, https://www.amazon.com/Aftermath-Reengineering-Downsizing-Corporate-Performance/dp/0789007207]

It is easy to identify the management theories in this bucket. This is because when you introduce these ideas they are oftentimes met with confusion and skepticism by your team. They clearly do not resonate with the employees who do the actual work. When you roll out these ideas many of your employees ignore your advice since they suspect it will fail. Those employees who do infuse this approach into their work get poor results. These ideas are quickly abandoned.

Bucket 3: Practical and Useful:   As is the case in so many areas of life, we have lots of opinions but very little wisdom.   Once we have shed the management ideas in buckets 1 and 2, we are left with a few practical and useful management ideas. The good news for you is that there is now less to learn since we are down to a handful of management approaches.

The practical approaches and tools in this bucket are made up of organizational interventions that can transform human behavior on a regular basis. They simply address complex aspects of work including structure, processes and people practices.

Below are some examples of practical and useful management thinking that I have benefitted from over the years:

  • Structure: Jay Galbraith’s emphasis on leveraging design principles in the creation of organizational structure helps ensure that the design accomplishes the desired outcomes. The principles are statements about what the design should provide.  These principles guide the design process, provide criteria for making trade off decisions and keep all parties focused on creating the same outcome.  This organizational design methodology has allowed me to take a dozen independent marketing groups within a Fortune 100 company and align them for quick response to customer demands and other unexpected challenges. [http://www.jaygalbraith.com]
  • Processes: Edward Deming’s Plan-Do-Check-Act [PCDA] continuous improvement circle has provided the framework for managing improvement projects.  The method helps employees stay focused on data collection and analysis driving them towards identifying and solving root cause.  Outcomes of leveraging this method include savings millions of dollars, along with better quality products and services.  [http://asq.org/learn-about-quality/project-planning-tools/overview/pdca-cycle.html]
  • People: ‘Start/Stop/Continue’ is a straight-forward group exercise that any manager can easily introduce. The approach can help groups move from strategy to execution and lead to increased effectiveness and efficiency. As the name suggests, the goal is to get employees to brainstorm programs, activities and processes that should be started, stopped and continued.  I have had employees report back that this simple exercise has been transformative in terms of helping them improve and align their work. [https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/SKS-process.htm]There is a huge volume of management thinking to wade through before finding advice which is practical and useful. Mission accomplished if this blog helps raise awareness on the importance of crafting management thought which helps practitioners in the real world.

This blog does not reflect the views of my employer.

Am I On Track With My Professional Purpose? [“Start With Why”]

“The two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.”—-Mark Twain

Mark Twain offers up the profound idea that our primary mission in life is discovering why we are here. Once we have a driving reason for getting up each and every morning our life simply becomes wonderful! While we can all agree that finding our professional purpose in life is a good thing, the difficult part is figuring out how.

For example, unearthing why we lead, why we do organizational development or why we do any chosen profession is not as easy as opening up a fortune cookie. Rooting out our core professional purpose takes a great deal of lived experience and self-reflection.

In fact, #SimonSinek [www.StartWithWhy.com/WhyU] has created a cottage industry around the importance of finding what he calls your “Start With Why” statement in order to answer the question: Why you do what you do in your professional life?

Sinek and other have convinced us that is it valuable to know our why statement. However, how do we know if we are on the path to “why” enlightenment? Without cues to help guide us towards finding our professional purpose, the task can become daunting.

As a result, I offer up a few key signs that you are digging deep enough to figure out your professional purpose:

  • You are energized, excited by the statement

When I read my “why” statement I actually get emotional at times.   I cannot imagine doing any other type of work since helping others succeed via organizational development is just so darn rewarding.

“To provide employees with voice for more productivity and fulfillment. “

You believe that the world would be a significantly better place if your why statement became true. Your purpose is the reason you get out of bed in the morning. It excites you to know that you get to work on this amazing mission all day and positively impact those around you.

  • Your why statement will not change fundamentally

You cannot envision your why statement ever changing – you are that committed to it. Your ideal job would be spending all your time making your why statement come true.

For many of us doing mission driven work such as organization development is a calling. I find myself describing my work to improve organizations in a manner similar to how clergy describe being called to their religious positions. The work is such a perfect fit with my need to help others via organization that I forget that choice is even an option. This profession is a win-win so why not continue forever!

  • You can relate to the words in your “why” statement, they are real to you

You can cite examples where you have “lived” the statement. You have carried out your purpose in your personal and professional life. I have held many organization development positions, however, a common thread across these gigs is that I always help employees be more efficient and happier in their roles.

In addition, I have helped give “voice” to my son who initially had a medical issue which made speech a difficult task. The irony is that not only did he recover from this childhood challenge, he went on to excel in speech, winning the state speech tournament in high school. I have clearly literally lived this why statement!

If you answered no to the above cues, then you simply have more work in front of you. Dedicate time to reflect on your professional experiences in order to figure out what is gratifying and energizing about your work. Then, your path becomes one of amplifying this message to those you are partnering with.

The content reflected in this blog does not reflect the opinions of my employer.

 

The Importance of Peers In Our Organization Development Work

“We have all known the long loneliness, and we have found that the answer is community.”

Dorothy Day

As #OrganizationDevelopment (OD) professionals working with peers is one of the most important factors leading to our success.  Helping our organizations succeed is a team sport and the ideas and support we receive from our fellow OD colleagues is invaluable.  I have been a sole provider of OD consulting at several organizations.  The freedom to design and deliver interventions that I deem to be the best is empowering.  However, I will take an OD partner to collaborate with any day.

As we start our careers, most of us learn the field of OD from our peers.  This was certainly the case of my career path.  I learned a great deal about the theories of organizations in my Doctorate program.  However, I became adept at actually doing OD work early in my career by spending countless hours with my OD teams discussing business challenges, designing solutions and co-leading interventions.  The powerful and unique viewpoints and techniques that each of us brought to the table was my true school of OD.

I focused on industrial organizational design as part of my academic program and early application work.  My peers steeped in the psychological world of OD opened up for me the importance of coaching, teams and culture.  Working with talented colleagues I observed first-hand how to navigate the “soft” side of our work.  I learned a great deal from them and it motivated me to become a well-rounded consultant just as prepared to take on an organizational design or process project, as a teaming or culture challenge.

Once we have found our footing as an OD professional, we are looking to hone our ability to provide even more impactful work.  At this stage in our careers there is no substitute for the clashing of ideas that professionals steeped in various aspects of organization provides.  I can clearly recall a heated discussion where each member of our OD team saw a business problem from a completely different perspective.  Each of us made a case that the root cause of the problem at hand stemmed from people, process, structure and even technology challenges!  In the end, our solution encapsulated each of these aspects of organization and was much more effective than addressing a single root cause.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that in addition to success, OD colleagues provide a deep level of satisfaction in carrying out our work.  I experience this on a daily basis with my current OD peers.    Together we share the highlights when things go well with a client, as well support each other through the challenges and disappointments.

As OD consultants we help our clients work through challenges.  But who helps us when we run up against road blocks?  The answer is simple, it is our peers who provide us with the community that allows us to carry out powerful, fulfilling work.

As OD consultants we help our clients work through challenges.  But who helps us when we run up against road blocks?  The answer is clearly our peers.  At a recent MN Organizational Development Network (http://www.mnodn.org)  meeting some of the founders of the OD practice in the 1970s cited the community of practitioners as being one of the keys to putting our field on the map.  That has not changed over time. It is our peers who provide us with the community that allows us to carry out powerful, fulfilling work.

Note: The content of this blog does not reflect the views of my employer.