If you are proud of your work, give yourself some slack

Today was a rough day. Client disengaged. Technology not working. Long trips with weather delays. Lots of effort to be in a meeting. Not the glamour I expect when consulting. In blackjack terms, today was a 16 on a dealer 10.

ConsultantsMind Blackjack Hand

Want to client to be successful. Don’t get me wrong. I am 70% heart, 15% head, and 15% hand. The heart goes a long way. I am a big believer in the WHY. That said, we cannot “fix adults”.  People are people, and we can only do good work.

Not hard on myself or my team because we did good work on the project.  The fact that the world (i.e., the client) does not fully appreciate it now, is not my fault.  As Seth Godin says, “ship art”.  Yes, we shipped art.  If they can’t appreciate it, or work with it, on some level they don’t deserve it.  So be it.

Forgive yourself and your team.  If you do good work and are proud of what you do, give yourself some grace.  Have a good meal.  Take a walk.  Smile, have a beer.  Live to fight another day.  People remember how you work when you are under pressure.

FYI, I always hit on 16 on a dealer 10.  Pull the 5.

What is RACI?

This is a tool consultants use on any project which requires clear definition of roles and more communication on a new process.  When you have more than a handful of people involved, it’s very easy to get confused and make incorrect assumptions on who is doing what.  Confusion = frustration = lack of adoption = failure.

RACI (or RASCI) is an abbreviation for:

  • R – Responsible: Who does the work?
  • A – Accountable: Who has the final say? Who gets in trouble if it’s not done?
  • C – Consulted: Who is smart on this topic, and might be helpful to consult?
  • I – Informed: Who needs to be updated?  Who might get pissed?

It’s a simple tool:  1) Put all the stakeholders on one side of the table 2) List the activities you need ownership for on the other side 3) Fill in the grid with the letters R, A, C, I.  In the end, the grid will be full of letters. Blanks are okay.

  • Start with the “A”.  The accountable person who is the owner of the process, the person who has to make sure it gets done. They are the “one throat to choke” There can only be 1 accountable person.
  • Add in the “R”.  The people who will do the hard work of making the change happen.  It’s okay to have more than 1.  Complex work requires lots of “R”
  • Add in “C”, but be selective. If you add too many people to be consulted, it can be a bureaucratic nightmare.  The purpose is to drive action, not committees.
  • Add in “I”, but these are the least important.  Most of these people can be gently informed by email or a status update.

Here is a simple example.  If you have a rental property, there are 5 major steps:  Find a property, find a tenant, get them to pay rent, keep them as long as possible, and when they leave, find a new tenant.  Simple. . . 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

Even if you are the landlord, you are not doing all the work.  Yes, you are “accountable” because you have the final say on the tenant qualifications and rent amount, but you are not doing all the work.  See all the people you have who are responsible?

  • Realtor is responsible for finding a property, and sometimes, finding a tenant
  • Tenant is responsible for paying the rent
  • Property manager is responsible for finding the tenant(s)
  • The contractor is responsible for fixing the sink, and air conditioner so that the tenant is happy and stays in the rental as long as possible

Consultantsmind RACI

The “A” is the most important.  Sometimes consultants go too far.  I have seen some RACI charts that are 15 x 10. . .or 150 boxes.  That is crazy.  No one can keep up with that.  Sometimes it is better to simplify.  Just put the “A” and let that person determine the rest of the grid.  Let’s them be the quarterback and set their own team.

Sometimes, it takes a lot of thinking to determine who the “A” is. . .part of the beauty of this tool is it forces you to find that 1 person who is really accountable.  Only 1 person.

Make sure you have the right “R”.  Think about who is really doing the work. Sometimes you might list more people. . . because the work has to get done. Sometimes, you put the “title” because it is a generic role, but sometimes you put in the specific names.  Don’t be shy.  This is tool is to drive ownership and action.

There is a blurry line between “C” and “I”.  Don’t spend too much time debating who is a C and who is an I.  It is enough to know that you have to speak to that person. Sometimes they have good advice for you, sometimes, they don’t.

This stuff works.  It drives conversation, and consensus on how the work will be done. It can be laborious at times, but a few good hours making this clear among the executives prevents a lot of confusion in the field.  This can really LEAN out inefficiencies and reduce miscommunication.

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Big Design: McKinsey & Company buys Lunar

Design is popular.  It’s not surprising that McKinsey & Company bought a design company. Many consulting firms are branching out with acquisitions in areas which were once considered non-core. Deloitte has picked up a few digital agencies. Accenture bought Fjord, a design firm. Hell, even Capital One bought a design agency called Adaptive Path. Strategic design takes on many different forms and faces – many of which are extensions of the work that management consultants have always done:

  • Understand the customers’ needs, wants, and behaviors
  • Look holistically at the root causes beyond the obvious project scope
  • Use data to tell stories that executives can use to champion a cause
  • Tap the collective minds of diverse experts through collaborative workshops
  • Drive innovation through structured creativity and project management discipline

These things are not new to consulting, yetI am also confident that design firms bring a fresh new approach to re-invigorate our excessively PowerPoint and Excel worlds.

Moving towards BIG DESIGN.  Wired magazine does a great job tracking the rise and fall of design here. They have gone through waves of influence, disruptions, merger, and synthesis.  The new term we will hear in the coming months: Big Design.

Consultantsmind Big Design

McKinsey & Company has some smart folks; they have their own reasons for the acquisition, but here are a few that I came up with:

  • Collaboration culture.  I have never heard anyone say that McKinsey consultants are easy to collaborate with. In fact, I often here the exact opposite. . . they are smart BUT, arrogant and don’t listen.  Having an infusion of design-oriented, open-ended thinkers will do the firm some good.
  • Culture change.  Consulting firms are very guilty of copy/pasting solutions between engagements because a lot of business problems are similar. You don’t want to “reinvent the wheel“, but this sometimes this slips into mental laziness. Can Lunar infuse more creativity into consulting; keep things fresh?  How can Lunar’s 75 people change the culture of the 17,000 who work for McKinsey?
  • Improve deliverables.  Let’s agree on this fact: PowerPoints can be boring.  Executives are very visual people; putting together an interactive proposal, app, visual display or prototype is a smart way to win business.  Bring the work to life.
  • Design thinking: Peter Senge’s (The Fifth Discipline) makes a compelling argument that most issues are symptoms of the systems that created them. Large companies are complex; regions, business units, and functions are all sub-optimizing the solution.  Design thinking helps to cut through the clutter and aims for a simpler, more elegant solution; get at the root cause of the issue.
  • Customer insights.  Design firms excel at digging into customer insights; they often employ ethnographers, psychologists, sociologists and other scientists to identify customer phenotypes; attitudes, preferences, behaviors.
  • New work.  If you look at Lunar’s website, you can see many different areas where a straight-laced consulting firm like McKinsey probably rarely play.  As McKinsey continues to grow, they need to find new avenues and markets.
  • Recruiting cache.  Young, bright stars want to do something cool.  Most millennials would likely prefer working for IDEO than the big 4 or big 3.

Consultantsmind McKinsey

To give you a hint at the potential fit, the President of Lunar is a lecturer at Stanford on the topic of Design Methods.  He describes his course on his Linkedin profile here:

Developed a curriculum and taught this project-based course to give students hands-on education in the design process, from research, observation, and definition through to ideation, prototyping and refinement. Projects helped students understand the designer’s role in creating for others while bringing their own point of view and aesthetic voice to the process.

Honestly, sounds a lot like management consulting, huh?

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Collaboration is over-rated

Okay, I said it.  I have seen too many organizations put together committees to drive “alignment”, when in actuality, they are trying to mollify a miscreant or hedge away the risk by legislating an answer.  Too often, it fails to achieve either of these goals.  The disgruntled just get more attention, and the middle-of-the-road answer is often the least safe choice anyways.  Bain talks about this a lot in the Founder’s Mentality video here.

Stop having so many lame executive meetings.  Not sure why people believe that holding so many executive meetings are useful. A few are, most aren’t.

Make the decision. Stop frittering around. Quit legislating an answer.  Quit pretending you are a member of the US congress.  Think about the problem.  Get some good advice. Stress test your conviction, make the decision.

Harvard Business Review talks a lot about decision architecture. . .setting up the framework, organizational, rules, culture, and incentives so the right people make the right decisions.  Don’t be an administrative mailman and bureaucrat.

HBR decision architecture biases

Putting people in the same room is not collaboration.  It is just simply putting people in the same room.  Don’t pay consultants to structure problems, instead, think about the problem.  Fundamentally, you need to ask:

  • What are we trying to achieve?
  • Who should be involved in the decision making?
  • What information / analysis / insight do we need to make a decision?
  • What is the risk / benefit of not making a decision?
  • What communication (after-thought) is needed after making a decision?

Here are 7 things that you can do about it.

1. Meeting minutes: I am a big believer of meeting minutes.  It summarizes everything that was discussed so far. It keeps track of past progress so you don’t waste time re-hashing the past.

2. Start meetings on time.  Don’t wait around for late people. If they are late, they should be made aware of that fact.  Don’t coddle the bad children.  Follow Drucker.

3. Send out the agenda.  Don’t go to meetings without agendas.  Inevitably, you spend the first 1/3 of the meeting, “storming” and “norming” before you start “performing.”

4. Do the pre-work.   Give people enough of the pros and cons prior to the meeting.  Give them the data, so they can form their opinions and be insightful.  Get the boring “information communication” part out of the way early.  Honor people’s time.

5. Let people argue it out (constructively).  In an interview with the head of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim said that he spends a lot of his time in meetings. . trying not to speak and prematurely tilt the conversation and debate in one direction.  Wow, restraint from the executive office.  Excellent.  Idea fight club at its best.

6. Remove people from the meeting.  How many people can you remove from the meeting and still get the work done.  “Keeping people in the loop” does not count.  That is something you can do by email.  Every day I try to “un-invite” someone from a meeting. . and usually, they are grateful.  Get rid of the waste and muda.

7. Charge people for the meeting time.  I heard from a client that their previous employer would charge each department for the opportunity cost of the meeting.  Put another way, every time you held a 2 hour meeting of 10 people who have a $200/hr imputed salary. . . it was 2 x 10 x $200 = $4,000 which hit your expense account. . .

Put a $ on the opportunity cost.  Nice.

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Idea fight club

I coined this phrase on my last project.  This is the simple admission that consultants should be confident in their ideas – backed up by data, research, and thinking – and be willing to allow their ideas to stand the testing of their peers, managers and clients.

Ideas get stronger the more the are tested.   It knocks of the weak dross of thinking. Smart consultants know that getting trusting, but critically thinking people to look at your material is a free gift.  Testing your ideas in a safe environment.  Beating up your ideas a little bit, for the good of the client.  Think of it like training for a young Spartan.  Think of it as a strands of braided wire which gets twisted and turned, reinforced and stronger.

ConsultantsMind Idea Fight Club

Consultants should be confident in their ideas.   Do the hard work.  The client is expecting $10,000 of value from your day.  Are you pushing yourself, your thinking, your persuasion, and your ideas far enough?  Have you simply interviewed a few people, and regurgitated the facts back to them?  Are you guilty of the old consulting criticism, “stole my watch and told me what time it was”.

Did you really think about the problem logically, drive hypotheses?  Where did you find your data?  Did you just analyze the data that you were given?  Did you think about the data that is hard to find, or not in your data request?  Are you guilty of only looking for answers in the easy places, proverbially looking for lost keys under the lamp “because that is where the light is the brightest.”

Willing to allow their ideas to be tested.   How well-thought and robust is the analysis?  Are you proud of your work?  If you were to leave the presentation on someone’s desk, would they understand the logic, and be convinced on its own merits? This takes a certain amount of confidence + a touch of arrogance to argue for something that the client was unaware or unwilling to change.

You have to be open to feedback.  If you are sensitive to criticism, you are in the wrong business.  In professional services, we get nearly daily feedback on our thoughts, behaviors, and intentions. Consulting is an apprenticeship; healthy, but brutal.  Start with the easiest people – your peers and friends.

Peers and friends.  Don’t be afraid to share initial ideas and WIP (work in progress) with those closest to you.  It’s all built on trust.  Chances are they are working on a parallel work-stream (same client), and can clarify some of your thoughts.  Friends are often encouraging; they will help you think of novel ways to get your point across.  They can do the mindless proof-reading, format checking and things often overlooked.

Manager.  This can be tricky.  If you have a good working relationship, you know “how baked the cake needs to be” before sharing it with your manager.  Some chiefs are happy to see very early prototypes and course-correct with you.  Others would give you a bad review for sharing “rubbish” with them and wasting their time.  Know your boss.

Tip: Either way, be flexible enough to share progress reports by email, verbally in the rental car, or with simple 1 pagers that give status updates.  Don’t get so far down the analysis, that you are building something useless.

Client.  Socialize your recommendations.  The more clients who see the deliverable before the presentation day the better.   Nemawashi (pre-selling the recommendation) is critical in consulting. Don’t have meetings where you don’t know what the client will think.  That is death.  Simply, that is death.

This week, we had a presentation.  In blackjack terms, it was a 20 on the dealer 5.  It went well.  Was proud of my team, the client was engaged, and people were happy.  The project lasted 10 weeks, and we spent the last 3 weeks in idea fight club.

Idea fight club with each other, and with the client.   Every time there was a change (there more than 100), the deliverable got better.  It made more sense and was stronger.  The presentation actually had scar tissue.  Unlike the movie though, it is okay to talk about fight club.  Actually, the more you use it and talk about it, the better.

Consulting manager: dictator mode vs. democracy mode

Increasingly, I have been using this simple, but stark, analogy to talk about team management.  Increasingly, seems like there are two ways to get outcomes.

  • Democracy mode (what do you think?)
  • Dictator mode (do what I say)

As a manager, I want to get the most our of my people.  Get them focused on the goal, trust them to do the heavy lifting, and really own the results.  The problem occurs when that general openness, affability, and penchant for humor is misinterpreted as low standards or a slack work environment.  It is not.

It is not a difference in communication style.  Either you have earned and kept my trust, or I will have to really manage you. . which is painful for me and painful for you.  If I am prescribing all the actions, the end-product will be worse.

How can 1 person’s brain > the creative energy, passion, and hard work of an entire team?   It cannot.  That said, there are two ways to get results, both needed. . .

Democracy mode.  One thing I love about consulting is it is full of smart, intellectually curious, driven, and creative people.  Basically, I want my teams to understand the mission, understand the context, develop rapport with me and the client, then basically go out and do their thing.  Leaders make leaders.  You want to surround yourself with people who are smarter and work harder than you.  

This graphic is simple, but the idea is that the consulting team (red line) gains more certainty over time.  In the early days, it is a lot of data gathering, research and thinking. Over time, the team becomes more confident and their hypotheses pan out.  For large parts of the project, a manager’s job is to let their people do the work.  Let them go. 

Consultants mind Democracy mode

I love democracy mode.  You get to know your team; learn their work ethic, logical structuring, and how beautiful their mind is.  Basically, why box someone in who has the capacity and willingness to rise to the occasion.  Love the energy of a new project – willing to do the work, hungry for client face-time, eager to win. Democracy done right.

Ideally, each consultant writes up their own work stream plans and charter.  They give the manager the confidence that they know what they are doing and deserve trust. They check-in from time to time, but they think ahead of me AND the client.  Like boy scouts, they are prepared.  We are proud of consultants like this.  Hire as many as you can find.

The less I am involved and the better the results, it is a win-win for everyone. Consultants get exposure, experience, and a sense of accomplishment.  I get results with less of my time spent.  I can focus on coaching them on ways to get the extra 20% out of their performance and keep them humming.  Let the consultants do the work.

So much of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to work.  – Pete Drucker

Dictator mode.  This is where senior managers sadly, earn their paycheck.  This is when the project needs a strong hand.  It needs structure and scope.  The client does not need to see the confusion within the ranks of the consulting team.  The team does not need to “spin” because they are following wild leads or have not done the homework.  In parenting talk, this is the tough love part.  “You need to listen to me because I am your parent.  End of discussion.”

Projects have life-cycles. There are ups and downs and each of these management “settings” have their time and place. Generally, I operate in democracy mode because for three reasons:  1) I am an optimist and will err on the side of trust  2) I am lazy and would much prefer work-stream leads to worry about the details 3) I love coaching, and would rather spend my time on the person, not the content.

Does this always work.  Hell no.  As I tell people, I love 100% consulting about 60% of the time, and 100% hate consulting 40% of the time.  It definitely attracts people who like the buzz of work, natural dopamine from achieving stuff.

Consultantsmind Dictator Mode

1. Start of the project:  At the beginning of a project, there is a fair amount of unilateral decisions that need to be made.  What to put in the proposal?  Who to staff on the workstreams?  How to restrict / entertain different personalities, requests,and variances.

For big 4 or big 3 consulting firms, these norms are already hard-coded.  People know what professional expectations are.  People know what not to wear to the client site. People know what an acceptable status report looks like.  Less dictator mode needed.

2. When people get stuck.  Somewhere in the middle of the project, junior consultants start to spin, get lazy, or loose focus.   Late on a Wednesday afternoon, if you ask them, why are you doing that [activity], they explain that it is a part of the work plan, or someone told them to do it.  Wrong answer.  If you don’t know WHY and WHAT, your HOW will suck.

  • If your manager is worrying about it more than you are = problem
  • If you are not proud of the work you are doing = problem
  • If you are scrounging for work to do = problem

3. The final push.  For me, every project has an “oh sheesh” moment, when the team gets spooked by a vocal client, or a stumble in the data.  Negativity can be contagious. The most confident (almost arrogant) consultant can quickly become a naysayer and timid sheep.  This is where experienced managers – who have developed rapport with the client – need to step in and start ordering people around.   Got to keep people producing.

Here is the point:

  • Nothing is better than a well-functioning team that operates 90% of the time in democracy mode.  Consultants are SMART and problem solvers
  • Know yourself.  Dictator mode comes hard to a lot of people, including myself
  • Inspire.  Try to coax people into a more self-reliant, confident and accountable posture.  Ask them, “Are you proud of your work?”
  • Be comfortable not knowing details, “No that is okay, I don’t need to know. As long as you are confident in the data and analysis, that is fine.”
  • Be humble. “Look, you know the content better than I do, what do you think?”
  • Be stern if necessary.  “Look, you have not done the research and it shows.”
  • Roll people off the project if needed

What are your thoughts on this simple idea of democracy mode and dictator mode of consulting team management?

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Only benefit of window seats – clouds

For most road-warriors, aisle seats are the way to go.  Better in almost every way.  They have more leg-room, more freedom of movement, and easier exits.

Today I did discover 1 benefit – clouds.

20150409_175622 20150409_175709 20150409_175718 20150409_175740

Hack: Free movies on Delta Studio

I have flown Delta for 15 years, but just recently discovered Delta Studio.  For those who don’t know, you can watch free movies and TV shows using GoGo Inflight Wi-fi.

  • Phone: Download GoGo app.  Connect to wifi, open app.  Click of Delta Studio.
  • Laptop: Connect to wifi, open up the Internet Explorer.  Click of Delta Studio.

If you are not tired, or don’t have to work on PowerPoint, it’s awesome.  Some of the movies showing in April.  My wife watched Les Miserable on her flight yesterday.

Delta Studio

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“I’ll go [get lunch], I am the cheapest person here”

When one of my consultants volunteered to go pick up food for the rest of the team, this made my day . . .because he understood the way consulting works.

Leverage.  This junior consultant, let’s call him Ted (pseudonym), implicitly understood how consulting firms make money.  We work on a leverage model where senior resources win the business, scope the problems, free the way for junior consultants to effectively do the work.  Namely, we give the work to the cheapest person on the team who can reliably do it.  Ted was essentially saying, “Hey I am the grinder.  It’s more efficient for me to go.  I have the lowest opportunity cost.”

Ted is a good guy.   He’s polite.  He opens doors for other people.  He gets the car and warms it up on cold days.  He would go and get lunch for people just because of his personality, no one would be surprised.  And yet, listen to his reasoning. . .

I’ll go, I am the cheapest person here.  He gets it.  It is not just a matter of respect for authority, some Confucian ideal of harmony or hierarchy.  No, it is about team economics.  Is someone makes $10 a hour, and someone makes $5 a hour. . .the $5 per hour person should do as much as possible to free up the $10 per hour person.

Starbucks mac and cheese

Thank goodness someone gets it.  When junior consultants start to feel privileged and don’t want to do certain kinds of work, it is a sign of a problem.  It shows a certain disconnect between 1) the work that has to be done for client service, 2) the team’s agreement on who should do which work 3) the setting of goals and expectations on what each person wants to learn on the project 4) the storming / norming / performing needed to efficiently get the work done.

Sacrificial attitude.  I am a big believer in servant leadership; namely it is the manager’s job to get out of the way of his/her people.  Give people the tools, the direction, and the trust to do their jobs.   I do my best, but it was great to see that sacrificial attitude by team members today.  Love to see it in the work place.  When the CEO of Lenovo gives his $3M bonus to the lowest-paid workers here, or a partner slows down enough to spend quality time and coach a consultant, it makes you hopeful.

Teach your clients opportunity cost.  I told this to my client a few months ago.  He was caught up doing some menial activities – and I had to reiterate that it was a waste of his time.  He should be delegating it to someone “cheaper” than himself.  I said, “If someone else can do the job, you should give the work away.  You should only be doing the work that ONLY YOU can do.  If you are doing this, the company is overpaying to have it done.”

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Cherry blossoms

Monday night in the hotel.  Lots of work, but not in the mood.  Instead, thinking about the cherry blossoms I saw with my wife this weekend.  A much better thought.

cherry blossoms

cherry blossoms 2

cheery blossoms 3

cherry blossoms 4

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