… consulting, at least the way we used to think about it.
Consultants love to talk about transformation and disruption of everything. Interestingly enough, I don’t hear pretty much about the transformation of our own business and practices.
It is time to reconsider own practices, why? Because they were created within a paradigm of relative stability and growth and are based on outdated beliefs such as:
- The future is predictable based on past data, and experience is transferable.
- There are people who know more (the consultants) than others (the clients).
- Consulting is in the business of delivering answers and solutions that help to enhance and grow the business.
- Linear thinking: you set goals and then you create a strategy & ways to reach those goals.
- You pay others to solve your problems.
- Some of the Consulting models still in use were created in the early sixties (e.g. The Change Curve, Portfolio Analysis)
- The ultimate purpose of every organization is to grow in terms of size, sales and profits and deliver value to its share- and stakeholders.
- Change Management, that suggests a clear distinction between stability and change. (At University they used to teach the following change model called: unfreeze – change – freeze, can you believe it? And many people still think this is how the world works).
So what is different now?
- Today’s challenges have changed as we are not living in a world of linear growth or change, but in a world that is morphing rather than changing or growing.
- Disruption instead of change: change is a concept that projects the future from the past. This does not work in a world that is subject to disruption.
- Insecurity: We are all confronted with new break-through developments every day, we have no idea what is happening and why, and most of the times we cannot predict or design the future in a linear way. This is not new, but the speed and volatility are huge factors bringing a high level of insecurity to the game.
- Stability becomes a risk: stable and fixed structures are extremely vulnerable in a morphing environment, like bulky buildings in an earthquake zone.
- Many tools we all grew up with are useless now. The paradigm of “understanding, analyzing and predicting” isn’t working any more.
The emperor has no clothes!
Currently we are playing the game of pretending to know instead of accepting we don’t know. Consultants are still struggling to meet expectations and deliver solutions. Overwhelmed managers still hope that someone else will be able to deliver answers. Not to the best of their clients and their own practices. Who wants to admit that he or she doesn’t know anything? Rather continue with pointless and meaningless consultant-driven projects, leaving behind a disappointed and cynical workforce.
The future of consulting is to help clients navigate the unknown:
- Questioning everything we knew and thought we knew and start from a new, empty place instead of guessing and pretending.
- Developing new practices to navigate territories that are new, unknown and undefined (Listening, asking questions..)
- Cultivating an open mind that gives access to the huge arena of everything we don’t even know, that we don’t know.
- Acknowledge that creativity and innovation lives beyond what we already know. And the only way we get there is to let lose of control.
- Leaving behind old concepts and assumptions if not useful anymore.
- Gaining a sense of security and stability not from a fixed world but from the trust in the own capacities to navigate a morphing world.
Consultants need to go first and start leaving behind own assumptions and practices in their own field. The new skill-set is not about analyzing and knowing but about being curious, open-minded paired with a high sense of awareness.
It can get hard: Starting consulting without consulting will leave you with disappointed (prospective) clients and losing pitches and proposals.
We had to learn to distinct between what we know and what we don’t know and to learn how to provide trust by asking questions instead of delivering solutions. We had to leave safe territories. This needed boldness and courage and taking risks. But no risk no fun.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
The only way to get started is to start, this is how it worked for us:
A few years ago we were invited to present our approach for a project on “Empowerment”. We had no idea what this meant for that specific client and they obviously did not know either, that’s why they asked in consultants.
We chose a new approach for the pitch with a high chance to be kicked out right away. It went something like this:
“We don’t know what Empowerment means for you. You don’t know what Empowerment means for you either. Let’s find out together. What we DO know though is the following: whatever change you want to happen will demand the full commitment from you, the Management Team. You will need to drive the process in a way that you are the first ones to go about any change, be it behaviour, be it your mindset, be it the way you work together. Because you are the Leaders and leading means to go first on everything you demand from others. We will help to get this process going and we will be at your side supporting you along the way.
This was the feedback we got: “Your pitch was very surprising and different. All other proposals delivered a definition, models, concepts, answers. You didn’t give us anything specific. But you know what? You are right: we have been through many consulting processes like that and we know it doesn’t work like this, although we wished it would. It would be more comfortable. We know that we will have to do the work ourselves, otherwise it will not stick or create any difference for us. We decided we want to work with you”.
And it worked. The organization has transformed itself under the lead of a committed, bold and courageous Leadership Team into a powerful place, that people love to work in and clients love to work with.)
Stay tuned for my next post: “How to change people behaviour, by not trying to change their behaviour”.. but by changing their perception