It’s a funny old world: I was struck by the audience’s euphoric cheering which accompanied Terry Wogan’s announcement that, over the last 25 years, BBC Children in Need has made around £250 million. They obviously hadn’t read the last Friday Alternative – contrast their reaction with the response of M&S’s new CEO to the fact that his organisation has made £300m in just six months. None of which has anything to do with this week’s topic….
CONSULTANCY 2: THE HERETIC
I was berated by a colleague a couple of weeks ago after he read a previous article of mine on the pretentiousness that surrounds training and development (see http://www.ideaswillhappen.com/s4tw/would_you_rather_be_developed.htm). He felt strongly that as a consultant, I should be flying the flag for our profession, rather than holding it up as an object of derision. (You see how wonderfully upfront we all are with our Clear and Helpful Feedback. Don’t worry, I’ll get him back somehow.)
Being a self-aware kind of a guy, I looked deep into my soul on this one. My mission to root out the unhelpful excesses of my compatriots was clearly not going well. I felt like a vicar threatened with excommunication for questioning the Church’s interpretation of the Bible (not that I’m over-dramatising this, you understand.) It’s not too tenuous a simile: after all, consultancy is all about faith. Consultants, like religious devotees, look at the world as if it is axiomatic that our Way is the only Way. Hence we don’t take too kindly to heretics questioning the basis of our belief.
Heresy is not the only challenge: consultancy is also highly susceptible to blasphemous writings by outsiders claiming our whole faith is built on sand (I speak with some gravitas on this one: I once wrote a marketing document which was subsequently described by Lucy Kellaway in the FT as “hair-raisingly pretentious”). Non-believers find it hard to credit the devotion that management consultants inspire among their client followers, and therefore feel obliged to knock it. But, like all religious adherents, I can happily defend my own heresy as the necessary act of wrestling with my conviction, while at the same time wholeheartedly denouncing these ignorant blasphemers (don’t get me started on Francis Wheen’s “hilarious” anti-consultant Christmas stocking filler…)
In fact, the more I think about it, the more I feel Consultancy ought to be officially recognised as a religion. After all:
- It has a large body of sacred writings, which nobody can prove are true but which are nevertheless taken as Gospel;
- It has produced a series of prophets and gurus, who create an unquestioning fervour among their disciples;
- People turn to it in despair, looking for a way to lessen their burden;
- Its followers willingly donate all their money, without feeling they have to check how it’s being spent;
More importantly, you can choose which consultant religion suits you best. Some of the most popular disciplines are:
- The Christian approach: The consultant is a messiah, who mingles with ordinary employees dropping pearls of wisdom. If you follow the consultant’s teachings you are guaranteed salvation – at some unspecified point in the future.
- The Hindu approach: The client is stuck in a repeated business cycle from which s/he wishes to escape. Having originally hired one consultant, three turn up: one who creates new systems, one who tries to preserve what’s already there, and one who destroys everything.
- The Sikh approach: there is only one original and true Guru (i.e. Peter Drucker) – all gurus since are merely following the same path.
- The Islamic approach: The Consultant exists, but is never seen or heard. Although you believe you have free will, The Consultant has already decided what will happen, being omnipotent and omniscient.
- The Buddhist approach: The client focuses on his or her suffering, hoping for enlightenment. The consultant does not interfere directly, but occasionally makes incomprehensible pronouncements.
- The Taoist approach: Actually, I have a story from when I worked at (insert name of global consulting firm here) which perfectly illustrates how our profession has taken on board the Taoist principle of ‘wu wei’. A consultant from the London office was paid to fly to New York and facilitate a one-day senior team meeting. A few days later, his boss got a call from a furious client who reported that the consultant had sat in the corner all day and said nothing. Summoned to explain himself, he said, simply: “I didn’t feel there was anything I could usefully contribute.” I have an urge to defend his actions (oh yes I can…); but I’ll save it for another issue lest, like all religious individuals, I am written off as barking mad.
Anyway, if you’ll excuse me, It’s time for my medication (sorry, meditation). And next time a colleague accuses me of heresy, I shall lay my hands on him. May your Consultant go with you. . .
Copyright © Phil Lowe, 2004. All rights reserved