Manifesto for an Emerging Consultant Counter Culture

Rob is getting us started in looking at the change in how some of the most powerful consultants are starting to work. In my earlier post about predictions in the enterprise software business for 2007, I predicted that a new and independent band of consultants would emerge as the only worthwhile group to help companies find their way from a world of command and control to a new way of doing business that is flatter, cheaper and more efficient, and based in part on new tools that will allow that.

To try and see how that can work, here is the story of what we have tried so far.

Rob and I have both been preoccupied with finding a new way of working as consultants for almost 4 years now. We both had different reasons for finding this new way. From my early days at Whitelands Studios, and then as a partner at silverorange, I only knew how to work within a flattened organization. At silverorange, we had to juggle massive egos (that we all had) with some of the most idealistic views of the world you can imagine, and we did it as 7 partners. They are still doing that today. I could not have survived in a traditional environment.

The last thing Rob wanted was for Renewal Consulting to have to manage employees. The truth is, Rob sourced the vast majority (all?) of our work. He could have paid those who he brought into the project a per diem of about 1/3rd the full rate, and he could have billed out thousands of hours with a margin of 1000$ to 1400$ an hour depending.

Instead, we walked into major projects, sometimes just two of us, sometimes a few others, and we went in, not with guns blazing, but with our ears ready and our eyes open. Here are some of our laws. Certainly not all, we tend to make them up as we go too:

The relationship starts with trust, and ends with trust.

When you engage with a client, you fall in love with them and give them all your trust. If, in the end, they betray this trust, then you must focus on the lessons you have learned, but you always know that you did trust them.

In the beginning the client may be confused a little, but before long they are not the client, they really are your partners. When you get to this place, you can learn more about them, their business and their organization than any “major study of organizational control structures and reporting mechanisms” could ever, in the span of 500,000$ worth of billing, discover.

Emergence and Discovery

We do not have the answers. Truly, I am sorry to report, dear client, but we do not have your answer.

Why the fuck would we have it? We have methods, tools, ideas even. But you have it.

You do. You and those crazy people in your organization that work directly with your customers. You know, those lunatics you never talk to?

No, you can’t pay me to pretend I do.

We do not absorb energy or create energy, we focus energy

Major consulting firms deliver a double whammy to their clients: They often suck every bit of energy out of the employees at the client company through menial and painful work, and they also infuse huge amounts of their own consultants to do work that the client’s employees could be doing themselves

The reason that the client’s employees are not asked to do this work is because rule number 1 was not followed: there is no trust.

Immediately, by using existing resources, our billing will be at least 1/4 that of a major consulting firm, and that is being conservative.

We do this for our own sake really, for each person within an organization that we can work more closely with, we can learn magnitudes more about them, their work, and your organization.

Each person must bring their own value with them

Every consultant that comes into a project must bring a distinct and valuable set of understanding to that work. If you don’t offer something for a particular project, then you do not work on it. Each individual must make this choice for themselves, and never be seen to be riding along on someone else’s work.

The client must feel a direct and real sense of value for your presence, it is part of the overriding trust.

More Emergence

Johnnie is kind of like a great finishing move in wrestling. I can see it now. “Johnnie Moore is moving in,. ohh noooo, clever thinking and big ego are both in the corner”… “what’s this,.. ooohh myyy it’s time,…..”… “Johnnie delivers a devastating Open Space, and they are out for the count”..

Ok,. perhaps it doesn’t go quite like that. But the law of emergence means that those of us who work on a project, and invest heavily in it, must most often step out of the way at the last minute, because by then we have our own ideas, and we have to trust the people involved to come to the truth themselves.

If you don’t know about Open Space Technology, take some time to read up on it.

You work for the people, not the brand.

We’ve had them all. Some of the biggest and most famous brands in the world, and the smallest organizations we could imagine. No matter what, we only take work based on one set of criteria: Who is it that is hiring us? I can think of times when we would never have worked for the chairman, but found a way to work for one of his VPs. Or times when we could see that nobody got it, and we would only hit brick walls.

In the end, that person, or team of people, they are the ones who’s careers will move ahead based on your work, and they need to feel a sense of urgency to change. Without them, the culture is doomed to stay where it is, and without understanding the culture of an organization, we can never change it.

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7 thoughts on “Manifesto for an Emerging Consultant Counter Culture

  1. Hey Jevon, you and Euan have got me think what an interesting conversation there is to be had on Consulting 2.0. Loved this post, and it’s got me all reflective.

    So, reflecting on my year, I think the theme that’s coming out strongest for me is to challenge the notion of separation, in which we think of the other person as the problem, to be either dismissed as stupid or difficult, or solved/cured etc. I know Rob didn’t warm to the Senge book on Presence, but I did enjoy its notion of experiencing ourselves and the other as parts of the same system, and act from that sense of connectedness. Seems to me that’s a similar notion to the one you’re evoking here.

    It’s easier said than done, as it means foregoing the slightly masturbatory pleasure of a good rant against those who, by my own lights, dont “get it”. But fun to try, even as experiment.

    Going forward, I think I’d like to generalise less about big organisations (including big consulting firms) not getting it. It seems to me that in doing so, I instantly turn thousands of individuals into 1) a lumpen mass and 2) a *stupid* lumpen mass. So it’s easy to cheer you on the “people, not the brand” theme, and recognising the person who’s hiring. Organisations can be changed by anyone within them, I find there’s less magic than I hoped in the CEO’s office.

    (Actually, organisations are constantly changing as the individuals change. Maybe we need to think of organisations as verbs, not nouns.)

    Egotistically pleased to be referred to in your reference to Open Space. Not sure how I feel about the wrestling metaphor: as someone bad at games at school, I am delighted. As a facilitator I panic slightly as it’s not quite what I do. (I hope.)

  2. “I think the theme that’s coming out strongest for me is to challenge the notion of separation, in which we think of the other person as the problem, to be either dismissed as stupid or difficult, or solved/cured etc. . . . experiencing ourselves and the other as parts of the same system, and act from that sense of connectedness. Seems to me that’s a similar notion to the one you’re evoking here.”

    I think this is key: seeing yourselves “in the same boat” as we say and investing accordingly. The consultant has the luxury of being paid no matter what, so it is only fair that he/she put their (our) career on the line each time. Reputation is currency, and we invest accordingly.

    “Going forward, I think I’d like to generalise less about big organisations “

    I agree, and it is what I tried to do here: focus on what is really working so we can see some sort of framework, or even just “sense” emerge. I admit, I did take a slight masterbatory detour.

    “Not sure how I feel about the wrestling metaphor: as someone bad at games at school, I am delighted. As a facilitator I panic slightly as it’s not quite what I do. (I hope.)”

    Well then, why do you always show up in latex and a mask? And that damn theme music you play everywhere you go!

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