Give advice right away, or explore the environment and think through a course of action?
In a conversation with a colleague, also a management consultant, we broached the subject of starting a consulting project during the sales phase. Each of us preferred a different approach. So I would be interested to know which option you would lean towards.
Organization is a bureaucratic structure. Rules change subtly over time, depending on which management school is currently trending. Any dysfunctionality can often be spotted in the initial sales meeting.
The consultant has practice in looking for these anomalies and suggesting solutions. The more organizations and industries he has been through, the more effective he is at it. Hence my question. How to behave?
1 — Start giving advice right away?
During the very initial meeting consultant show and describes the problems, possible solutions, and suggests a follow-up steps. Understandably, free of charge. The client gets a guide that he can implement himself. No need to order anything. The practice is common, many consultants do this. It can also be found in the literature.
This approach is based on the assumption that knowledge is today a readily available commodity. Instead, it is an implementation that is challenging. The consultant sees the symptoms and assigns causes (best practices), as he has seen many organizations and observed how they work.
Companies are similar to each other, in structure, processes, or people. Although many managers are convinced of the uniqueness of their enterprise, I have seen just minimum of such cases. It’s not that hard to suggest a solution, which bring small improvement. If the client gets things for free, he may be more willing to purchase a variety of training, consulting, mentoring, or coaching.
The clients appreciate predictability and “guarantee”, because — “I bought X activities, so I get Y result”. If not, then the consultant is a bad liar.
This option strives for conformity to a chosen school of management, framework, or theory, implemented by a plan for a year ahead. It does not strive for uniqueness and innovation.
2 — Explore the environment and rethink the process?
I need to validate problems I see at the first meeting. So I lead the client to start an initial assessment to understand observed problems and get some context. The real problems and those declared by management rarely coincide.
An organization is a complex adaptive system. It carries the DNA of the founder or manager, thus differentiation. I want to preserve this DNA when designing changes, even if the organization does not have a defined goals. Surrounding environment also contributes.
The solution I propose should significantly disrupt the status quo, activate human capital, and move organization radically forward. It’s never just about process. It includes changing the culture, leadership, strategy, or structure. There is no one-size-fits-all solution; one cannot blindly implement a framework. The structure follows strategy, according to agreed underlying vision.
Knowledge is not a commodity here. Acquiring it costs energy and money. Google as a source of information will not help in “I don’t know that I don’t know” situations.
A common mistake organizations do is designing a solution for free, using expensive and unique know-how. Revenue is then from “work in wages” in the subsequent implementation. The customers compares then hourly rates from multiple vendors to push prices. In the construction industry, a project costs high % of the entire construction, particularly if the construction is innovative and prestigious.
Doing assessment is a paid work. Its output is a review report and delivers value. It allows us deep dive the problems, align the stakeholders, and invite them to collaborate on design & changes. It set priorities and enables discussion. Designing challenges all for out-of-the-box thinking and radical innovation. It is definitely not pre-sales, as some of the clients sometimes perceive it to be.
Which approach sounds more appealing to your preference? Write your comments below.
About the author: Michal Vallo dedicates to building human learning organizations as a precondition for Agile adoption. He shares his experience with HR departments and managers who are in desperate need of radical innovation. He has experience from both sides, which led him to create better recruitment practices and the course Agile Recruiter. Michal helps managers to understand agile techniques, benefit from their adoption and consequently radically improve organizational performance. Feel free to contact him if you need help with your HR department or agilization of your organization.