Do you want dirty or clean consulting?

Do you want dirty or clean consulting?

We went to sit in the garden to drink wine and chat.  Her sister scurried about the kitchen as we talked, the smell of simmering spices drifting on the breeze.

 I hadn’t seen her for nine years - my time in Australia detaching me from her life of high-end consulting in Europe. A couple of years prior, she’d been approached by a previous client to become Head of Projects - her dream job - so she’d quit her VP role at a major consultancy and thrown herself into it. That’s what we chatted about.

And she hated it. Oh, how she hated it.  

20-odd years before, she’d cut her consulting teeth on a project for this company. It had made her career. She had revolutionised the service offering, producing a system that enabled employees to contribute to the design of the working environment in a dynamic, ongoing way in direct response to their customers’ needs.

If the core customer was a hurried and hassled office worker, design around their behaviours. If a suburban housewife, then around hers. If a high-end executive … you get the picture.

The result of the system was spectacular. Employees were engaged, the bottom line improved, and profits rose. Even better, because the design varied from branch to branch, competitors couldn’t copy it. They couldn’t find a pattern to copy, because the ideas were contextually unique.

Long story short, she became the blue-eyed girl of the consultancy and started on a stellar career.

But it was now different. Her previous client had been through the wringer, all its competitive advantages thrown away. So they hired her back to recreate the magic. But she couldn’t. I asked her why.

She was very precise in her answer. When she was the consultant on the project, she refused to advise until she knew what she was advising on. She would work a night with the night-shift, spend a day with the truckers, work the warehouse, visit different branches and speak to white and blue collar workers about their experiences. She never assumed she could make a good call without knowing how it would impact jobs across the company.

But she couldn’t do it anymore, for two reasons.

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