If you gave a man who had lived in a Chinese village his entire life a million dollars to design and build a house, what are the chances the new house would be French Colonial? Zero. We create from what we know.
This Chinese village syndrome is lethal in organizations. That’s why I’ve always valued outside perspective. An outside view can stem from multiple sources – study, benchmarking, job rotations within an organization, or my favorite… outside consultants.
I know in many circles, consultants have a bad reputation. It’s been said that a consultant borrows your watch to tell you what time it is. In my experience they can do much more than that. Last week, we had a fabulous experience with Andy Stefanovich and the firm Prophet.
Our assignment was to re-envision our annual meeting; a simple enough task – on the surface. However, it is an event steeped in tradition – we’ve been hosting this meeting for over 40 years! Compound this with a risk-averse, conservative culture, and change becomes extremely difficult.
Prophet modeled what I think outstanding consultants do…
They were prepared. Here’s a partial list of what they did to get ready for our two-day session. They conducted interviews with our people, reviewed years of video and printed collateral and read almost 800 pages of verbatim comments from past events.
They challenged our assumptions. This is one of the things good consultants always do. They have fresh eyes. They can see things we don’t. They helped us see our assumptions and the consequences of those ideas.
They asked thought-provoking questions. "Why?" is a powerful question. Interestingly enough, they didn’t ask that question until day two. On day one, they asked other stimulating questions, including questions about our audience, the business environment, and what success looks like.
They introduced new ideas. This is one of the primary advantages a consultant has over the insider – they are paid to see what’s going on at other organizations. I talked to a consultant recently who worked with over 100 organizations in one year! In our case, Prophet brought 4 consultants to this project – with a combined experience base of over 60 years – that’s a lot of experience and ideas.
They brought energy and passion to the conversation. It was great! At one point, Andy was yelling, cursing and knocking things off the table… not our typical meeting, but exactly what we needed. When he amped up his challenge, we ramped up our thinking.
They told us the truth. In my experience, the best consultants always tell the truth. The second rate consultants will tell you what you want to hear. If you’re going to pay a consultant – hire a truth-teller.
The jury is still out regarding what we’ll actually do differently. Consultants don’t control that, we do. However, I can’t imagine a better picture of the value an outside partner can bring to a conversation.
Thanks to Andy, Prophet and all of you out there who make a living in the consulting profession. Thanks for helping us see the truth.[GLS_Shield]