5. The Consultants Experience

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In his own words: “When I first had a conversation with the CEO, he knew exactly what he wanted; to change people’s thinking. He also needed a strategic plan for the business, but that, I believe, was secondary. He told me, ‘I need to end this blinkered, down-in-the-engine-room thinking. I want my team to develop a penthouse as opposed to a basement view.’

He asked me to take a look at what he had planned and I felt that it was sub-optimal. I suggested that it was too complicated and that too many people were involved; that he needed something smaller and simpler. He asked me what I would suggest and after considering his situation, I sent him my thoughts.

A week or two later he called and said that my approach made sense and asked if I would run it with him.

We started off with a high level workshop to explain the philosophy behind ONEThing planning. The ONEThing Plan, along with the Hedgehog, forms part of the 123 Business Reframing Model I use. I’m not going to go into any great detail about how it works here. You can find information on it elsewhere on the website. Instead, I want to talk about how the process looks in real life.

Getting back to that workshop: It was well received; I could tell people enjoyed it. The problem however is that they didn’t quite get it. They weren’t sure what it was all about. We realised that perhaps in our effort to get a penthouse view, we’d overshot and ended up in orbit somewhere. We needed to come back down, a little bit closer to terra firma.

The second workshop a month later was more revealing. We realised that while the team understood the concept of ONEThing planning in the broadest sense, what they lacked were the tools to apply the theory. They got the concepts, they said ‘Yeah okay I see it, I understand, but so what? What do I do? How do I make this work?’

The CEO and I discussed this and agreed that we needed to change tack. Instead of focusing on business strategy, we would return to the first step in the model – individual leadership – and work from there. This fitted perfectly into our 123 Business Reframing Model of developing Clarity, then Strategy and finally Action at the each of the Individual, Team and Business levels, in that order.

Over the next few months, we coached the team members individually and helped them to identify their own Personal Hedgehog. The Hedgehog concept is from Isaiah Berlin, who wrote that while the fox is good at many things, the hedgehog is brilliant at ONEThing only, which is why he always wins. The Personal Hedgehog is where you add maximum value. It’s a combination of passion, talent and career.

Our intention was that at the end of the process, each team member would be able to say, ‘This is where I really add value…This is what I should really concentrate on’. As part of that exercise, we did psychometric profiles of each individual and used this later to develop a team profile and communications exercise. We then helped each individual prepare a ONEThing Plan, in which they built on their Personal Hedgehog and developed piercing clarity on personal strategy. A couple of months into the process, we turned to the individual business units and began constructing Business Hedgehogs for these, with the aim of advancing to ONEThing Plans. At this point, however, what was happening within the broader organisation began to muddy the waters.

The Irish company was being integrated with a larger operation, which meant that a chunk of the team’s autonomy had disappeared. People’s roles were unclear. As far as they were concerned, they had all been demoted – and that was a fair assessment. Naturally enough, this generated a great deal of nervousness, and quite a few ego issues.

It was important to get the team to recognise that none of this mattered, that they were still in the same jobs. There were still opportunities for them to shine and to be recognised. They needed to understand that irrespective of their circumstances, it was still possible to move forward and become much more productive, much more effective, more successful, much happier and more content. Despite these new constraints, perhaps even because of them, they could discover a sense of purpose that perhaps they didn’t have beforehand.

At a personal level, the Hedgehog and ONEThing planning had quite a profound impact. It became obvious that most of the people going through the process had no personal plan at all. They had no real idea where they added value, what was really important to them, where they were trying to take their lives and how they were going to get there. They had no clear vision, and suffered a lot of angst because of that. One of the real benefits that came out of this process is that they got some sense of what they were trying to accomplish in their own lives. They came to understand where they did and did not add value and how to build their roles and careers around that.

The Team Profile exercise was also well received, and people learned a lot about their own behaviours and motivators, as well as those of the their colleagues. We also did some work on role benchmarking, though this was not central to the programme. Finally, we did ONEThing Plans for each of the business units and the overall business itself. These plans were cascaded down to the business unit teams and formed a powerful, shared language that allowed the team to ‘talk clarity and focus’.

When I look back at the process and ask what were we trying to accomplish, the first thing to consider is whether or not we changed everyone’s thinking. This, after all, was the client’s fundamental objective. I believe we succeeded well in that regard. Nobody in that organisation is thinking the old way anymore. They have new models and tools to help them see and think about the business differently.

The second priority was to put a team and a business development process in place. The client reports that this has happened and is working.

Overall, I would say that it was a successful intervention, that left the client happy when it concluded. One thing I learned from the experience was that because I do this for a living, I forget how strange it is for most people. How unused they are to thinking this way and how much time it takes to actually integrate the learning. As a consultant, you want to add maximum value, to give as much as possible in the shortest period of time. However, the process has to include sufficient time for people to integrate the material personally, at a team level and at a corporate level. You can’t double the heat and take half the time to bake a cake; there’s an appropriate amount of time and an appropriate temperature.

It’s interesting that the client commented that it often appeared as if I was figuring things out on the hoof, that I was only a couple of pages ahead of the class. That’s true to a certain extent. We changed the process as we learned what was working and what wasn’t. We do that with every team we work with. Like a doctor with a course of treatment, he’s constantly updating his diagnosis and prescription in the light of patient progress. He is changing the dose, trying a different diet, a different exercise programme and so on. He modifies the treatment based on the feedback he’s getting from the patient, on his own observations, on the tests he runs. We do the same and believe strongly in that approach.

We are interested in results, not processes. In that vein, it is our view that models and tools have no intrinsic value. They may be what people remember, but their value only exists in their application to the particular issues that the client has. You have to be willing and able to tweak the programme. I’ll go so far as to say you have to be prepared to actually dump the process if necessary, and adopt something different if that’s what’s required.

I enjoyed working with the client and learned a lot from all the team. I am confident that it was a necessary exercise for the client, and one from which they extracted a great deal of value.

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