This book takes shape through a compilation of interviews of leadership perspectives. As the title expresses, it is about the insight of leadership since "top executives speak their minds". This approach is more gripping than questioned leaders disclose their own experiences and strategies about how to lead in those times of crisis. Through their testimonies, several alliterations could be noticed and express the deep feeling that shares all today's leaders. Indeed, the world "pressure" is omnipresent in this book while "survival" becomes the first preoccupation. The main asset to face it in the best way seems to be the human capital as a way to build competitive advantage thanks to knowledge and to implement change: "when you make those people successful, you're going to make the business successful" (Kenneth Chenault, p.17). In order to reach more profound understanding, the book goes through the main challenges aspects for leaders in today's world.
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The first one is about leadership and ability to lead change, "a leader's job is to define an overall direction and motivate others to get there" (Steve Reinemund, p.62). It is mentioned that being a leader in those times is a matter of awareness to the environment which requires adaptive capacity and learning through organizations. Indeed, leaders in the book show that they are in perpetual leaning process. Moreover, the instable environment engenders insecurity. People need to be reassured and are looking for a person which takes decisions. That is why, interviewed leaders explain that the only way to face it correctly is to embody change and spread new gospels and new visions
Managing human capital appears as the most valuable asset. "The intangible assets give an organization a longer and clear level of differentiation than any other kind" (Gregory J. Owens, p. 39). Leaders have to think more strategic about who recruit as employees and how to use them. This new vision of human capital leads to a "war of talent"; since "it is critical that a company create the kind of environment in which people really believe they can learn, grow, and prosper. The focus has to be on developing people" (Kenneth Chenault, p.18). In other words, the focus is not just about the short term but instead, about the future development of the company. Leaders are here to prepare the future actions and decisions in order to be prepared as well as possible to the change. In this way, they should also act as coach, mentor with their team and do not deny the importance of giving feedbacks. Once again, all is a matter of continual learning process.
Despite the will of long term strategic decisions, leaders are facing a dilemma which restrains them in this way. Investment era is mainly preoccupied about short term cost-effectiveness. As a result, financial pressure is also omnipresent in order to fulfill the need of vigilance and security that new realities require. This search for security is also notable on the consumer approach. This actor takes more importance and become a key component in building strategies. Since they could give feedbacks almost instantaneously, it can have an impact on companies' business. Thus, values that bring company are crucial for its notoriety and credibility. While trust is threatened during times of uncertainty, it becomes also one of the most important key element in business relations.
Another important point related on the book is the notion of resistance to change. Leaders have to take into account and use the organizational culture as a facilitator to change. Nowadays leadership is a part of a team effort and organizations tends to become more flat and enhance participative management. As a result, "people tend to buy and embrace the changes as their own, rather than gripe about the boss wants to take" (Ray Lane, p.151)
However, the deep insight of the book remains the willingness to lead. Be a leader must be motivated; it is about a personal reflection and self-reflection in leadership: "the art of leading others comes from the art of leading oneself" (Plato). This mindset is necessary in order to outperform yourself as a leader. Leadership has to be an insight; and be an everyday life concern.
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Larry Greiner, Flemming Poulfelt. Handbook of Management Consulting-The Contemporary Consultant: Insights from World Experts. Thomson South-Western, Mason, Ohio, 2005. ISBN:0-324-29041-1.
This book is based on feedbacks from a conference with international leader consultants. Although this is about their mindset of the today's consulting area, it is not the same approach and treatment than in the previous book "Leaders talk leadership". In fact, all of the participants have built theories through their previous experiences and perceptions.
On the first place, this book recounts the history of consulting by explaining those different changes that have occurred. This remind about the evolution of consultancy allows a better understanding of the actual crucial transformation of the business world. These new realities imply crucial turbulences and redesign the rules of competitions.
Even if crisis times could not be desirable, they are a world of opportunities for consultants. As the book explains, this change requires particular skills, attitudes, way of thinking and capabilities in order to be suitable to manage it (and take advantage of it). Thus, it is more about what kind of role should play the consultant, depending on the situation and the field. In other words, leader could be an intervention agent as well as a change agent or facilitating mergers and acquisitions. To identify the "best" respond depending on a particular situation, the book goes through an examination of a variety of specialties in consulting as information technology consulting, strategy and organization consulting, the marketing consulting, operations management consulting and human resources consulting; "clients hire consultants for their leading-edge knowledge and ability to solve problem within each of the five major practice areas" (p. 51). This part of the book allows also an overview on the different challenges that are now facing consultants. Because of the different backgrounds of the authors, this part shows the complexity and the multiple dimension of consulting.
Globalization, technological transformations, ethics and values in consulting are here identified as the main issues for today's leaders. The world is changing and threats the general trust. The main first consequence is visible on clients' expectations. Those are moving toward more sophisticated expectations and as a result transform the consultancy work. The consultant has to build new kind of relation. Indeed, "the successful consultant must always fill the role of "trusted advisor"" (p. 158). This book gives some clues to manage and implement the change necessary to fulfill the new realities. It implies according a huge importance of capitalizing and using knowledge in an efficient way; but also do not deny the phenomenon of resistance to change.
This book demonstrates the evolution of the consultancy business which redefines consulting work. Now, the main part of the work is "to understand the client's situation in-depth and to choose the appropriate intervention strategy" and the new consultant's role is becoming a "transformational change agent" (p.210).
The most striking aspect of the book is that consulting firms are supposed to help firms to face new realities' issues; but in the same time they are confronting to the same problems. Despite that, times of crisis, and so times of instability, are a real opportunity for consultant firms. However, the biggest challenge remains "to strike a balance between relying on the generalization inherent to many consulting concepts and models, while also ensuring relevance and adaptation of unique solutions to specific client situations" (p. 149). The complexity of the world calls for specific experience and outside vision. Consultants are helping firms by providing how think different and see the all picture. Those times represent an infinite choice of possibilities and opportunities. "These are the hard times in which a genius would like to live. Great necessities call forth great leaders" Abigail Adams (1790).
Reading notes and review of articles
The construction of organizational identity: Comparative case studies of consulting firms Scandinavian Journal of Management, November 2007; Mats Alvesson and Laura Empson
"Organizational identity represents the form by which organizational members define themselves as a social group in relation to their environment, and how they understand themselves to be different from their competitors" (p.1). Thanks to this definition and the authors' different comparative case studies of consulting firms, we can notice different dimensions within the notion of organizational identity. Indeed, rather to be something fixed or robust, it is more something dynamic and in constant (re)construction. "Organization's members shape and are shaped by this organizational identity" (p.1). As a result, organizational identity is based on self-conception and on a common understanding of what is their organization. This common perception is also constructed from the external environment since it includes the distinctiveness with the organization's competitors.
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As a consulting firm, taking into account this concept is essential. In fact, those kinds of firms do not provide tangible products. In this typical industry, you are exposed to the "burden of otherness" (Kipping & Madigan, 2002) because of the ambiguity of your service. Consequently, have an organizational identity, and so a clear sense of "who they are" and "what they stand for" is necessary in order to enhance their self-confidence and their convincing style.
This model seems to fit in theory but what about it in practice? Does organizational identity really or clearly exist? The interrogation appears legitimate since it is a subjective notion, which appeals for affect and emotionality. Indeed, how is it possible to measure organizational identity? That is why the authors recognize some variations depending on the implication and on the homogeneity of the organizational identity in a company.
The impact of management consulting firms on building and leveraging clients' competences; Advances in Applied Business Strategy, Volume 8, 2004, Pages 27-4; Marc G. Baaij, Frans A. J. Van den Bosch and Henk W. Volberda
Management consulting firms could have two different roles. The first one is about competence leveraging role which is "facilitating the leveraging of best practice competences within or from outside the client firm's industry" (p.4). The second role is competence building which is facilitating "the creation of new, idiosyncratic competences for their clients" (p.5). Those roles have a different impact on client firms. Indeed, as consultants have the most accurate knowledge about the market, they are in a favorable position to identify the competition rules. To cope with this competitive environment, firms have two possible options: adapt or follow the competition rules or try to disturb the industry by implanting new rules. On the first option, management consultant firms act as "competence brokers giving to rise to mimetic processes" (DiMaggio & Powel, 1991) because no efforts are putting to outperformed competitors. As the first solution is very temporary and leads to a hypercompetition, the second one appears as the riskiest but also the most efficient. If management consulting firms use competence building, they might create new and superior competences for the client firm. Those created competences will change the rules on the market and so spring disequilibrium. Thus, client firms will hold a competitive advantage vis-à-vis competitors on the industry.
However, since consultant firms perform on the whole market and use past experiences (as past clients' missions), the risk is their intervention will lead to a competitive convergence. Thus, the incentive of using "enaction" ("capability to rely on previous knowledge (experience) and to re-articulate pieces of knowledge in a new way" (Varela, 1989 & Weick, 1979), develop the "risk of leakage of competitive knowledge to competitors" (p.12). As a result, the role of consultant remains ambiguous. On one hand, it appears necessary in our today complex world, but in the other hand, it seems to lead to a hypercompetition; even if he/she tries to build new competences. One possible way to avoid it could be to use "cross-industry leveraging of best practice competences" in order to create a "competitive divergence" (p.13). "Think different" appears as the leitmotiv to create barriers to imitations as solid as possible.
Consultants and experts in management consulting firms Research Policy, Volume 30, Issue 9, December 2001, Pages 1517-1535; F. Creplet, O. Dupouet, F. Kern, B. Mehmanpazir and F. Munier
Knowledge is the fundamental basis of consultants and experts, but also their key asset. They are both considered as KIF (Knowledge Intensive Firms), where the production relies on the employees' cognitive ability. Consequently, capitalize knowledge and spread it in the company appears as the main challenging asset. To reach it, consultants and experts use experiences by enacting ("capability to rely on previous knowledge (experience) and to re-articulate pieces of knowledge in a new way" (p.3)) and codified sources. Furthermore, in both cases, the knowledge work process is distorted by an uncertain environment which does not allow accurate estimations of the knowledge creation efficiency.
As a result, consultants and experts seem to be such closely similar that the issue of their distinctiveness could be asked. However, it is true that they differ in some points.
The first difference is about their assignment. Consultants are called "knowledge brokers" because their task is to suggest a "set of solutions"; whereas experts are called for knowledge creation. The task is not the same because of the different circumstances of their intervention. Indeed, consultants' action rests on standardized methodology since the issue is well identified. Firms need consultants in order to "fasten the process in an efficient way" (p.2). In the other side, experts step in an unknown environment where problem identification appears challenging. This specific situation requires new solutions and different way of thinking ("think different"); which implies specific knowledge and articulate forms of knowledge. Thus, experts are called "artisan's knowledge".
Even if they are both founded on knowledge, their structures to collect and spread it are not the same. Consultants are more axed on communities of practice where mutual commitment is required to ensure cohesion and self-organization to enhance adaptive capacity with the idea of autonomy. On the other hand, experts fit more with epistic communities. The mainstay is that knowledge circulating is explicit and members share a common goal of knowledge creation. The idea of procedural authority is the framework of this epistic community.
Finally, the issue of the recognition split up those two actors. In fact, consultants find their recognition by their actions whereas experts need mainly a validation by their peers and an academic recognition.
However, the goal of their work remains the same: "provide or modify behaviors of firms" (p.12). So it could be reasonable to wonder if expert is a specification of consultant's work. In fact, consultants and experts are sharing the same goal which is helping their client about a specific issue. They both using codification of knowledge but in some extent the expert's work seems to go deeper than the consultancy does. As a result, we can see this relationship between consultants and experts as dynamic and interdependent since consultants use experts' work and experts use consultants' work as a validation of their assumptions.
Knowledge transfer and management consulting: A look at "The firm" Business Horizons, Volume 43, Issue 1, January-February 2000, Pages 65-74 Ryan K. Lahti and Michael M. Beyerlein
As the world is more and more complex and goes to a harder competition, knowledge appears as a key asset to differentiate from competitors. "Intelligent enterprises" (Quinn, 1992) become the most successful ones by transforming "intellectual assets from human input into product and services outputs" (p.1). As a result, "intellectual capital" assumes greater significance. However, knowledge is a broad notion which could be seen as subjective. So, what does the concept of knowledge imply? The authors define it as "created by combining related pieces of information over a period of time" (p.2). In other words, knowledge is not information, even if information could become knowledge once it is understood. Thus, while information is related to a message, knowledge is "developed and organized out of a procession of information based on the beliefs, values and commitment of the individuals involved" (p.3). At an organizational level, the intellect of an organization (Quinn, Anderson & Finkelstein) implies "know what", "know how", "know why" and "care why".
This phenomenon is the core of management consulting since these kinds of firms rely on knowledge ability. As a result, they might ensure the knowledge management which represents a "present-day competitive advantage" (p.3). Knowledge management is combination of four key interrelated elements: knowledge generation ("open system to generate knowledge" (p.3)), knowledge representation, knowledge accessibility and knowledge transfer. Here, the authors emphasize that in order to "enhance company performance, key knowledge must be able to be shared, disseminated and used on a company-wide basis" (p.4). The nature of knowledge should be taken into account. In fact, more tacit the knowledge is, less it is shareable.
However, is it really a transfer of knowledge? Maybe it could be more relevant to talk about transformation of knowledge since transfer implies distortion of knowledge. In fact, because everybody has its own background, transferable knowledge is understood in a different way. Everybody adds some value to the knowledge; that is why transformation could be more appropriate.
Put yourself in the shoes of a consultant
To manage in the best way those 3 days session of consulting, the most efficient option is to follow several steps during the process:
Entry / contact
Data collection & analysis / inquiry
Diagnosis / interpretation & feedback
Decide on the way forward
Design the intervention / decision
Evaluate & learn
1. Entry / contact (day 1)
The first role of a consultant is to be an active listener. This behavior is required for the first step of the consulting process. In order to build an efficient relationship based on trust with the client, the consultant has to first work on this bound: the final goal (for the consultant about the relationship) is to become the "trusted advisor" and act as a team with the client. As a result, emotional intelligence is important in this step of consulting since it will allow to the consultant to have the most appropriate behavior and establish trust. That is why introduction to the whole department is essential before any actions or decisions. Consequently, the first day (morning) of consulting session will be partly devoted in presentations in order to make sense to everyone (in the department) of the consultant intervention. All employees need to understand why the consultant is here and how he or she could help the firm. To be completely successful, the consulting process requires the implication of everyone, not just one of the board or CEOs. It will also be the occasion to explain the general interest of the consulting process in order to generate motivation and commitment (it could be done with using stories). Finally, trust is hard to get but it is also the "glue" of this relationship. Consequently consultant has to show its competences during this phase and all along the process.
2. Data collection & analysis / inquiry (day 1)
Ones this step accomplished, the consultant can start to operate (day 1, afternoon). What said Pat Mitchell said about leaders can be applied here for consultants: "you have to be a consensus builder. You need to be able to listen others and be willing to take other opinions into account, and then try to make the most consensus-based decision you can" (Meredith D. Ashby and Stephen A. Miles, 2005, p.169). In other words, this step consists in collect all information available in the department but also from everywhere and everyone connected with the department work. In fact, the consulting work is to see the whole picture. Client firm is like a mosaic and consulting firm has to put all the pieces together to understand the whole situation. Indeed, in companies everything is related; just stay focus on the problem and do not take a deeper look of the situation is an important mistake. Here consultant has to behave as a doctor looking for what kind of disease the client suffers. He or she has to do an investigate work in order to put an adequate diagnostic. Observation is one of the tasks of consultant. In this process, he or she has to be a "part of the furniture" in order to bias as less as possible the outcomes. In this practical case, I, as a consultant, will interview all the employees of the department separately and in small groups. Examine some other employees from the company could also be interesting in order to get the organizational culture (and make a comparison with the department culture) and to understand the whole picture and not just stay focus on the department. In fact, maybe the deep source of the issue is not in the department itself but elsewhere.
3. Diagnosis / interpretation & feedback (day 1)
In the current case, I have to take into account the strong international orientation of the department. This orientation is a part of the organizational culture; however the different cultures and backgrounds of employees create troubles. Even if the given tasks seem clear, each employee has his or her own understanding of it and it causes confusions and misunderstandings. The point is that employees have different priorities which are not the same as the department. The separation into several clusters leads to inefficient cooperation and makes the communication much harder than it should be. Those individual behaviors "stimulate" this vicious circle and lead to an isolation of group of people within the department (clusters).
Thus, the problem here is mainly about communication and culture. The department leadership does not have a neutral analysis of the situation, and so does not deep and well understand the main issues. Despite that, leadership also suffer from a lack of some leadership skills as communicate a clear and reachable vision, use and embody stories, energize and motivate employees, be aware of the environment, create a common goalâ€¦ Here, the consultant has to behave as a coach in order to make realize the situation to the leadership but also help it to overcome this obstacle by developing those missing skills.
Thanks to the different interviews and observations, I would be able at this step of the process to identify the key players in the department; those who could appear as sub informal leaders or/and have special added values.
To sum up, the first day will be an investigation day, with a lot of observation and short interviews in order to not disturb to much the work of the department. This investigation will allow a deep analysis of the situation and lead to general feedbacks. The feedback part is a way to clarify the situation and give an outside vision of the department to employees and leadership. I will rather do it with everybody present, in order that nobody feels apart of the project. It will be the opportunity to make them realize the whole situation with the main issues and challenges as well as the main opportunities and strengths of the department. I am here to say the whole truth. The point here is to create tension and act as a trigger. People have to realize the fragmented situation and admit that is a barrier to real improvement. Moreover, feedbacks will be provided all along the consulting process. "The secret is to make each step along the path of change have some recognizable value" (Meredith D. Ashby and Stephen A. Miles, 2005, p.165). During this day, the consultant's role is to be an attentive listener and explorer. The consultant is more an investigator or an explorer in this case. I will take the illustration of the iceberg to support my statement. Only 10% of the iceberg is visible and at the surface but most of it (90%) is under the water, only visible if you go deeper in the water. In a company's point of view, the 10% represents "what we can observe" (behaviors, artefacts, actions, patterns) whereas the last 90% cultural taxonomies or dimensions (norms and rules, values). In this phase of the consulting process, the aim is to identity the 90% invisible and make them visible in order to establish the best strategy and implement change. Finally, all of these discussions will allow seeing the individual interests and being a way to use them to identify common goals.
4. Decide on the way forward (day 2)
& 5. Design the intervention / decision (day 2)
These steps are mainly achieved with the leadership. Here the consultant has to act as a team with the client. The aim is to collaborate and not just say to the client what to do. Consulting work is more about a mutual sharing of knowledge and experiences. The solutions have to be the outcome of a common discussion and reflection. Consultant's role is here to help the leadership to reach the real insight and awareness through logos and dialog. This concept comes from Plato and his interest of "la parole" to make sense to the client. Consequently, consultant has also to act as a mentor with the leadership.
Even if the most part is realized with the leadership, the rest of the employees should not be forgotten. In fact, they have to actively participate to the change so it is important that they feel implicated. After identifying the key players, an important part of the work should be done in collaboration with them. Since they are respected and trusted by other employees, change has to be also implemented with their help. However, participative management should also be established within the department. It will decrease the need and the interest for clusters since everybody could express him or herself. Furthermore, participative management enhances implications and motivation of everyone and makes the department act as a team. The main concern and priorities will be less individual and more focused on the department interest.
Design the intervention is about establishing a strategy for the short term with fast visible results but also for the long term. In order to maintain the motivation and the enactment of the whole department, the concept of "tunnel project" is a clever idea. This consists in separate the long run project into small objectives over the time which appears more dynamic. Plus, more frequent feedbacks could be done thanks to this method and so it is easier to adapt the global strategy to the change.
Concerning the issue of the clusters, I truly believe that the only way to destroy them is to force people to explore other cultures in order to reach a mutual understanding. Diversity is not an obstacle. Rather it is a huge advantage that company has to transform into an opportunity. Since this company has an international orientation, the multiplicity of backgrounds within the department is an important asset that the company should use as strength. "You should instead take the good aspects about the culture -whatever it was that made the company successful based on its culture in the past- and you repurpose those toward your new mission" (Meredith D. Ashby and Stephen A. Miles, 2005, p.147). It is the role of the leadership to establish this way of thinking and the cooperation. However, the consultant is here to support its effort and give some tools thanks to his or her experience from other client firms.
Nonetheless, consultant is also here to notice the potential risk or issues. Because of the current case, the main strategy will be about change the mind of people in order to make them collaborate, the main risk will be the resistance to change. Change is always difficult and risky, so most of the employees are not in favor with change. In fact, on average, only 20% of the employees enjoy the change, whereas 60% adopt a passive behavior, waiting to see what will happen and 20% are truly resistance to any change. We could expect the same results for the current case. So leadership will need help to implement change. The Kruger model of change implementation management could be a perfect basis. He demonstrates that if an organization wants deal with its barriers to change, it has to identify the type of change and the kind(s) of resistance to change. Depending on the results, the organization could institute strategies to overcome those obstacles. In spite of it, leadership has the duty to show the incentives to change and remains confident all along the change implementation. The final goal is to reach the continuous improvement or also called "kaisen". It rests upon four basic elements which are linked as a circle: Plan, Do, Act and Check which could be now extended to Problem finding, Display, Acknowledge and Clear (both called PDAC). Since the circle is an endless process, the organization will always be in a continuous improvement, similar to the process of continual learning. Thanks to this process, change is a part of the culture and is established in the way of thinking. As a result, resistance to change tends to decrease in those organizations.
6. Implementation (day 3)
The last day of the consulting work will be a start of activities. The first objective is to destroy (or at least disturb) clusters within the department. I will preconize some group works in order to redesign the department structure. The main part of my job for the day will be to make understand the importance of the diversity and use some practical exercises to show the need of diversity in a team. Another important aspect of the day will be about internal communication and understanding. A huge work on trust has to be expected also in order to facilitate all the future changes. Finally, with the help of leadership I would like to demonstrate the interest to change.
Since I only have 3 days of sessions, I could not accompany the client firm all along the implementation of change. Nevertheless, a consultant is like a teacher. As Plato already explained it, the consultant work is to help the client to reach the insight. It goes from "logos" (talks and dialogues) but also from "tekne" (practical exercises). The role is not to protect the client and gives it all the instructions; consultant is not just a set of solutions. The final goal is that the client could do it alone after, as a teacher educates students in order to well prepare them to the future. It is not a dependent relationship, just a temporary help, an outside look to see what is invisible from the inside.
7. Evaluate & learn
This final step of the consulting process is about measure the improvement. But how it is possible to evaluate the consulting work? In fact, nothing is really quantified in this intervention. If we place ourselves in the consultant point of view, "the real measure of professional and personal effectiveness is whether anything is different as a result of the engagement with the client" (Larry Greiner, Flemming Poulfelt, 2005, p. 208) .In other words, all matters is to have a significant impact which could lead to a "continuity in the relationship over the time" (Larry Greiner, Flemming Poulfelt, 2005, p. 208).