What Time is It?
Some time ago, while sitting through a seemingly endless management meeting, my coworker Pat asked if he could borrow my watch. It seemed like an odd request; but since he wasn’t likely to steal it, I said “Sure”. With my watch in his hand, he asked me if I wanted to know what time it was. Once again odd – but I played along. “OK.” Of course, he told me – with a grin. “Now”, he continued, “you know how a consultant works.”
The inference that all consultants simply tell you what you should already know is not uncommon. Actually, there is some truth to the notion; but there may be good reasons why this shouldn’t matter. Yes, indeed, consultants have value. I am vested in the idea – being one myself.
You need to sell an idea.
Let’s say you have an entrenched management committee. Maybe a “show me” kinda boss. The worst – the Board of Trustees won’t let you move without some proof of your claimed predicament. Call in the C-avalry! The “C” is for Consultant.
The good ones come with no agenda, and typically they’re as thorough as the situation warrants. While some may silently quote Sally Field* as they have their advice ignored, they’re usually pretty dispassionate as observations are recorded and recommendations are made. They know that a “one size fits all” attitude rarely sells, but can cite what peers, competitors, and comparable organizations are likely to do under similar circumstances.
Maybe you don’t know what you think you know
How can you be sure?
Of course, you’re smart. How else would you have gotten to where you are? I hope that the Peter Principle** doesn’t apply to your situation, but that doesn’t mean that you are completely conversant in the issues that fall into your realm. Just because you know how to build a great kitchen doesn't mean you're a good cook.
If you can admit your limitations, you have a good mental head start on bringing in the expertise you may lack. The first place to look for that expertise may very well be within your organization (You’ve enabled competence – Right?); but failing that, you can turn to a consultant.
Maybe you simply just don't know
Ed Koch, perhaps, had the right approach.*** While he might have been pandering (probably), the concept is valid. Even if you think things are doing fine in “cruise mode”, it doesn’t hurt to get a check-up. Are you as efficient as possible? Could you do more with less? Can quality levels be raised? Are you headed over a cliff, but don’t realize it?
Whether there’s a nagging feeling gnawing at you, or you compulsively require perfection, there are many reasons why the view of an outsider has value.
Maybe you’re too “smart” for your own good
Put another way: “You might not know what you think you know.”
For this, the work-out gets somewhat thornier. Are you humble enough to admit your fallibility? Has someone had the courage to tell you that you’re all wet? (or, at least, a little damp?) The kernel of self-doubt may be enough to prompt looking for the outside opinion.
Another common occurrence is that the retained consultant gets the assignment for the reasons cited above, but then presents findings that contradict many of your preconceptions. How awkward. The fact that this happens as often as it does might give you reason to be cautious with your conclusions. Consultants can help with extra “smarts”.
Or, you just don’t have the time
There are only so many hours in the day. Go ahead, hire the help. When they’re done, they are then asked to go away. But you have what you need in the meantime. Good deal, huh?
Perhaps, about now, you’re thinking “You can stop, I get it!” Let’s find the darned consultant already. Here’s what to do:
Friends, coworkers, peers, competitors, industry leaders, professional association members – they’re all candidates for solicitation.
- Define the assignment.
- Ask for recommendations, and then ask again.
- Make a short list.
Once you have the “exact time” given to you, it always warrants review. Be sure you understand the content of the consultant’s work; and, importantly, be sure that it fits the quirks of your organization.
To the extent that selling the idea is needed, you’ll now have the ally who can help you close the deal. That alone is good justification for the effort.
Nevertheless, selling the idea should not have been all that was on your mind. In order to improve the organization you have to implement. A no-brainer, I suspect.
NOW, WHAT TIME IS IT?
If you have a reliable clock or watch, you should know.
If you’re not sure, talk to my friend Pat. He’ll show you how to share your watch. Maybe this time, though, it won’t be done with hesitation or cynicism.
* “Stupid is as stupid does”, from Forrest Gump.
** “Every employee will rise or get promoted to his or her level of incompetence”, Investopedia.com.
*** “How’m I doin?”, from every street in New York.
Missed earlier newsletters? Find them here:
March 2013 “Acey Deucey?”
January 2013 “A Swamp Full of Alligators”
October 2012 “Plan to Live Forever, Part Deux”
July 2012 “A Midsummer Dream”
May 2012 “Are you Virtually Working?”
March 2012 “Your Huddled Masses”
January 2012 “Observing Observations”
October 2011 “I Want What I Want”
August 2011 “A Beach Read”
May 2011 “NeoLuddite or Technophile?”
March 2011 “Do Your Silos Leak?”
January 2011 “Plan to Live Forever!”
November 2010 “May I Have A Plan, Master?”
September 2010 “How do we choose?”
July 2010 “Good People Behaving Badly”
May 2010 “LEED: LEADing or Dead Weight?”
March 2010 “Why does it cost so much?”
January 2010 “Design/Builders show us your softer side.”
November 2009 “What the Facilities?”
September 2009 “Why Do Architects Make Good Owner’s Reps?”