The worst dysfunctions of consulting

When I started out in consulting, I thought I had to show how much I know.

That has several negative effects, but there were even worse dysfunctions lurking.

Let’s start with the problem of wanting to sound learned:

We dump too much theory on them. Theory should be hidden in the back, as justification.

We call out lots of issues, overwhelming them, instead of giving them a priority focus.

Most of all, we tell them what we think instead of finding out what they know. Nobody understands the work better than those doing it.

I think there are two worse dysfunctions in consulting than thinking we need to tell them lots. (Because it’s good if we do inject some ideas).

First is the belief that consultants are there to FIX people, on behalf of their bosses. “We told them to be Agile six months ago and they’re still not. What’s wrong with them?” Deming taught us the problem is always the systems not the individuals. The bosses make the systems. We focus on management.

Second, and worst of all, is the belief that consultants are there to MAKE people do something they don’t want to. You can’t make people do work, except soldiers and slaves. Actually you can make transactional workers turn the handle: it’s conventional command-and-control management which treats staff like slaves. But you can’t make knowledge workers do good work, you can’t force quality or productivity.

You certainly can’t make them learn. You can’t make them want to work differently, or behave differently. We can only invite others to come along. I love the saying that the mind is not a bucket to be filled but a fire to be lit. Which brings us back to the start, dumping knowledge.

I fell into all these traps. It took me a long time (and a lot of theory and thinking) to learn better.

Being congenial is part of the job. Being respectful and empowering is even better. Best is showing management that they’re part of the problem, and helping them fix the system.