Why Consultants Need to See Your Watch To Tell You the Time


Here’s an old joke: “Ask a consultant what time it is and he’ll ask to see your watch.” This canard contains more than a grain of truth which can be converted into something useful – a way for executives to avoid the need for outsider-led interventions.

The executive suite is unlike any other team in a company. Newcomers who believe it’s just a slightly different version of other teams experience a rude awakening. New CEO’s, for example, discover that team members treat them differently in spite of their efforts to remain “one of the guys.”

This relationship change has the following two effects.

The first is that people who work for top executives withhold bad news, for fear of provoking an unwanted reaction. The second is that leaders who enjoy solving problems on their own learn that habitually doing so leaves others in the dark, unable to understand how or why key decisions are made.

These effects lead to a shared ignorance, which only becomes obvious when a poor decision is made or a company experiences gridlock. That’s when a consultant like me gets called in.

What my clients usually don’t know is that there is a key, infallible principle I arrive with and use on every engagement: Someone in the organization already has determined most (if not all) of the right answers. After all, employees have been exposed to the problem for much longer than I have and if they are reasonably committed and intelligent, they will have already cracked it.

This may sound insultingly simple – a version of “using the client’s watch to tell the time”. But clients often don’t see the factors which prevent the right answer from reaching the attention of those who need it. In Jamaican firms (and especially the ones which harbour authoritarian tendencies) the problem shows up in the following predictable ways.

1. Someone is out of favour
Chief executives often don’t have the time management skills to listen to everyone who says they have a solution to a problem. Therefore, they are forced to choose to ignore some, which means that the person with the right answer is sometimes not on the short list of favored insiders. The truths they have to share get lost.

In other instances, the person is out of favor because their credibility is in question, instantly discrediting their solution. The fact is, contrarians make people uncomfortable, especially when they refuse to parrot the CEO’s point of view in order to curry favor.

Often, my job consists of restoring someone’s professional reputation so that their message can be heard in the right way.

2. A communication gap
“Executese” – the specific language used by a leadership team – varies from one company to another. One of my tasks early in an engagement is to figure out the specific language being used. This is important because the person who has the right answer is often not on the aforementioned short list, therefore using a language that isn’t appreciated.

Case in point: A human resource manager who hasn’t learned the financial language used by the CEO/CFO/Board. Concerns couched in terms such as “employee morale” don’t get attention, compared to a loaded phrase such as “financial risk of poor employee performance.”

Often, I need to work with both sides so that the right message can be understood, and used.

3. Multiple sub-solutions
In most cases, the issue at hand doesn’t lend itself to simplistic solutions that can be popped out of the pages of an MBA textbook. Instead, there are multiple causes, each of which needs its own line of attack.

Unfortunately, this means that different people have partial answers that must be assembled, like a puzzle, into a coherent whole. This takes time, patience and bandwidth which executive teams don’t have, or don’t know they need to set aside. Putting the pieces together is a task I often have to do. I may help establish urgencies and priorities, but the initial assembly is much harder to complete.

My overall goal is one that my clients sometimes don’t realize at all: I aim to create an environment in which the kind of problem I am brought in to solve doesn’t recur. This may require any of following on their part:
– Better listening skills
– Improved time management skills
– An ability to engage employees on a consistent, deep basis

These issues even persist in executive teams which are actively working on their skills in these areas. They are tough to solve because they are an essential part of working in human organizations staffed with imperfect people. They will never go away completely. Instead, they must be mastered if executives hope to solve their own problems, without the need of outside help.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. To receive a free document with links to articles from 2010-2015, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com



Why “Nap Time” Is Part of Adult Productivity


Why “Nap Time” Is Part of Adult Productivity

It runs counter to commonsense thinking. Taking a sleep break in the middle of the workday turns out to be a smart practice, even though it runs foul of tradition.

For the most part, we don’t question our old assumptions. Everyone knows that Jamaica’s workers are inherently lazy. This deeply ingrained corner of our psyche hasn’t been questioned since work was organized in the first West Indian workplace – the slave plantation. Avoiding work, we accept, was a matter of principle in those days. Doing so without being detected by Backra became an art-form.

Maybe his absence explains why I feel guilty whenever I take a mid-day nap.

I have learned that my best work occurs in spurts, where I focus exclusively on a single task while actively avoiding distractions. This approach is endorsed by the authors of books like Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Deep Work by Cal Newport.

The downside is that it’s depleting. Once a focused task is completed I experience a hard drop in mental and physical energy. The only way to restore it is to take a complete break, sometimes by changing my physical location. Most of the time, however, I just take a nap.

That’s when the guilty feelings start.

After all, everyone knows that a diligent person doesn’t doze off during working hours, right? Not so, according to the latest research. Scientists state that sleep is an invaluable tool for high performers and it’s not just meant for the end of the day.

McKinsey’s Nick van Dam and Els van der Helm recently published an article on the Harvard Business Review website. Their interview of 180 business leaders found that 43% admitted to not getting enough sleep in the last four nights. It’s indicative of how poorly this tool for rejuvenation is being used. Naturally, if you’re not getting enough sleep at night, the way to compensate is with a short nap. But are there reasons to take a nap even if you do get enough sleep?

There are, according to Jim Horne, director of the Sleep Research Centre at Loughborough University in England. “Tiny naps are far more refreshing than people tend to realize” he intones. That may be because there is a biological clock located in the hypothalamus that’s programmed to induce a “hump” of mid-afternoon sleepiness. Compared to getting more night-time sleep or using caffeine, taking a power nap was found to be the most effective remedy to this daily productivity dip.

Also, NASA research of its pilots has shown that a 26-minute nap (while accompanied by a co-pilot) enhanced performance by 34% and alertness by 54%. Separate studies have shown that naps also have physical benefits: reduced stress and a lower risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes and weight gain. Even learning and recall are improved. A number of studies indicate that someone is more likely to remember details after taking a nap.

Dr. Sara Mednick, professor of psychiatry at the University of California at San Diego, wrote a book called “Take a nap! Change Your Life.” As noted in a Bloomberg article, she recommends that individuals follow these steps.

1. Make time and space. Most sleep researchers recommend a short nap lasting from 5-25 minutes. It’s best done right after lunch and if your company doesn’t provide sleep-pods like Google, find a quiet spot such as the inside of a parked vehicle.

2. Set the right conditions by turning off the light and covering your eyes. Mute your smartphone and other devices.

3. Avoid caffeine in pre-nap hours, as well as nicotine, diet pills, and antidepressants. Sugary snacks can also keep you buzzing.

While writing my books, I returned to a habit learned while training for an ironman distance triathlon: Early to Bed, Early to Rise. Getting up at 3:30 AM gave me several hours to think and write without interruptions. The only way this tactic could work was to implement a regular mid-day nap.

Most Jamaican companies would scoff at this whole idea. Stuck in an old mentality, managers argue that our workers are “special” and would only abuse the “bonus” of taking a nap. If your company harbours such fears here’s one way to get past them. Set up a series of experiments with a small number of employees and objectively test the results. Use their experience to produce findings that can be customized fit your situation.

Just because your company hasn’t encouraged naps in the past doesn’t mean you should avoid this productivity tool. Not too long ago, the Internet, mobility and personal computing were foreign technologies. A nap costs much less money and effort to implement, but your company would have to get out of its own way: past the traditional ridicule, punishment and guilt that Backra would inflict. It’s updated commonsense.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. To receive a free summary of links to his past articles, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com