Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Collaborate for Better Results

I work as a consultant. It is difficult for me to find just the right adjective to pinpoint what type of consultant, as in a management consultant, or a business consultant, or an IT consultant. I am okay with that. In fact, I think the ambiguity of it all is a great barometer for finding the type of client that I want to work with. If the person I am talking to does not have the mental patience or the listening skills for me to fill the blank, it is just as well in my book because I don’t get on well with people whose whole world has to fit rigidly and neatly in little mental categories and boxes.

Last night I was filling out the bio portion for a conference presentation. I put “innovation consultant” because that is what I am most interested in right now, and that is what I think is needed most right now as all types of businesses figure ways to align to the New Normal of our economy.

I was in New York a few months ago. At the place I stayed, The Pod Hotel, I made all of the reservations by email. No talking to anyone, no repeating all my info a few times, no waiting as the checking of dates etc happened on their end. I sent in a room request, my dates, my non-smoking preference, my ETA, and in a few hours, I was welcomed as a soon-to-be guest. As a former boutique hotel owner, I was wowed because I could imagine the freedom that this email reservation system created for the hotel and their employees not having to be slave to the phone, yet still not missing business. This was a small innovation, inexpensive, yet radical in its disruption to hotel reservations system as we know them.

Consultants get a bad rap. I am sure some of it is justified. But, some of it is hubris and short-sightedness. Some people are DIY at heart, even if their DIY effort yield a lesser result. They cannot cede control. This is a type of hubris that is hurtful to self and to system.

There are some excellent reasons to work with a consultant especially if you are considering change and innovation as a competitive necessity. Consultants are detached from the politics and emotional baggage of your system. They can see through the “if we make that change, Susan will have her feelings hurt.” Building systems in deference to people who won’t or can’t adapt is not only bad business, I think it is irresponsible and unethical, placing all the rest of the stakeholders’ needs and desires and aspirations as a lesser priority.

Consultants are not comforted by the status quo and complacency in your system. They are not deriving their sense of identity and security from maintaining the same protocol as some of the internal people are.

What consultants can do is help the pathways for communication and service delivery develop strongly and effectively and for the human element to adapt to support and enhance those pathways. Consultants cans see things that everyone else cannot see because it has been part of the backdrop for so long. These things can be negative things like the first impression an area makes on the senses (sight, smell, touch, hearing..) and positive things like the stories that are in the midst of what you do and the heroism with which you do it. Consultants can push the limits of discussion that go on in all areas of your endeavor because their questioning is free from power politics and not harnessed by social mitigation. This can have many expansive effects including more elevated and focused dialogues, new insights, less delusional escapism, less guarding of the status quo.

Consultants can also have more expertise in a specified domain like innovation or knowledge-sharing or systems which you might need but does not reside in the talent within your system.

Consultants can make great ad hoc members to your strategic thinking teams. I love working with leaders and managers to influence and enhance their thinking because through them, the whole system can be stimulated. If the leader and the manager are not open to expanding, the best consultant in the world cannot create desire where fear has taken root.

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