Clients I Can’t Work With

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I have found it virtually impossible to work with a certain kind of client — the one that insists that they already know, or his colleague, the one that is afraid of looking like they don’t already know.

The result is the same — a certain lack of progress as they defend their egos against looking bad. With them, things have to start looking VERY bad before they are willing to put results over their personal view of themselves. And there are times when that approach just takes too long to make a difference.

On the opposite side of the coin, however, is the client who is willing to learn at every turn. They make the best clients, and usually become friends. The quest to do good first and foremost, helps us both to put our egos in check, and makes projects flow smoothly and sweetly, such that they hardly feel like work at all.

More to Hate About RFP’s

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In a prior post, I ranted on and on about why I stay away from RFP’s. Then a client called and said that he had one for me, and last week in a meeting another potential client mentioned that they would be doing the same thing.

It reminded me of an RFP that I read the other day that had to be the heights of madness.

For the kind of work I do, hiring a consultant is a little like hiring a combination of company coach, doctor, teacher, lawyer and friend. The work is up close and personal, and trust plus personal chemistry are some of the main ingredients that are absolutely required.

No-one uses an RFP process to hire a coach, doctor, teacher, lawyer or friend.

Yet, some companies try to do so, and the RFP I read the other day was a recipe for disaster. While it satisfies the bureaucrats, it effectively allows the client to do what Jeff Thull calls “self-diagnosing”.

It’s a little like deciding what litigation you want to pursue, the argument you want to make, and then hiring a lawyer only to make the case that you have developed to the jury.

Or, it’s like calling up a surgeon to tell him that you have determined from your research on the internet that your gall-bladder needs to be removed and you’d “like to know his best price” because you are just “shopping around”.

Anyway, this RFP I found for fireman consulting services included the following “point system”.

——————————————————————————————-

Criteria for Evaluation of Proposals

Name of Company:_____________________

Experience, Qualifications and Expertise

  1. Number of years the Company has been in the fire department consultant business
  • undisclosed – unacceptable 0 points
  • less than 5 years – acceptable 5 points
  • 5 to 10 years – advantageous 10 points
  • over 10 years – highly advantageous 15 points
  1. Highest degree earned by the lead member of the company or consulting team
  • undisclosed – unacceptable 0 points
  • bachelors degree – acceptable 5 points
  • masters degree – advantageous 10 points
  • PhD – highly advantageous 15 points
  1. Minimum fire department service of team members with prior fire department experience
  • undisclosed – unacceptable 0 points
  • less than 10 years – acceptable 5 points
  • 10 to 15 years – advantageous 10 points
  • over 15 years – highly advantageous 15 points
  1. Number of fire department projects comparable to the scope and content of this RFP completed in the past 5 years
  • undisclosed – unacceptable 0 points
  • less than 10 – acceptable 5 points
  • 10 to 20 – advantageous 10 points
  • over 20 – highly advantageous 15 points
  1. Number of projects completed for Towns in the State of Massachusetts in the past 3 years
  • undisclosed – unacceptable 0 points
  • less than 5 – acceptable 5 points
  • 5 to 10 – advantageous 10 points
  • over 10 – highly advantageous 15 points
  1. Number of published articles on topics related to this RFP by consulting team members
  • undisclosed – unacceptable 0 points
  • less than 5 – acceptable 5 points
  • 5 to 10 – advantageous 10 points
  • over 10 – highly advantageous 15 points
  1. Ability to complete and deliver report within time frame
  • undisclosed – unacceptable 0 points
  • >20% of projects delivered late – acceptable 5 points
  • >2% of projects delivered late – advantageous 10 points
  • all projects on time – highly advantageous 15 points
  1. Plan of Services demonstrates understanding of work to be completed
  • undisclosed – unacceptable 0 points
  • 2 or more items not addressed – acceptable 5 points
  • 1 item not addressed – advantageous 10 points
  • all items addressed – highly advantageous 15 points

Capabilities and Resources

  1. Studies currently under contract involving key personnel that would also be assigned to this study
  • undisclosed – unacceptable 0 points
  • 3 or more – acceptable 5 points
  • 1 or 2 – advantageous 10 points
  • None – highly advantageous 15 points

References

  1. Information on other organizations for which your firm has provided comparable consulting services
  • undisclosed – unacceptable 0 points
  • incorrect contacts listed – acceptable 5 points
  • correct contacts listed – advantageous 10 points
  • correct contacts listed and summary of work done listed – highly advantageous 15 points points:

—————————————————————————————————

I can just imagine the heights of madness this must reach. The predictable result that I have witnessed is that the process gets bogged down, and the project never begins.

The mass of data that needs to be assimilated to make a critical decision does not allow itself to be reduced to simple math like this.

Instead, clients would do better to work with one consultant at a time. If they are able to get themselves above the invisible, undefinable bar, then they should be hired. If not, then the search should be expanded to the next consultant that can be found.

The person who is going to use the firm’s services MUST be the one who participates in making the decision. RFP’s that use simplistic checklists like the one above get bogged down when the people doing the choosing are different from the ones who will actually work closely with the consultant. Inevitably, the consultant must sell themselves twice — once to the gatekeepers, and then again to the direct client who they will be working with, often resulting in an impasse when the gatekeepers and the direct client are unable to agree.

After gaining some experience, consultants learn to stay far, far away from this kind of nonsense, if it can be helped.

P.S. This is not to say that RFP’s are bad for buying things like cement, furniture or car tyres. They are a dangerous waste of time, however, if they are applied to professional and personal services.

HR Consulting Group Formed

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For some time, I have wished that I had an informal network of consultants to work with on different projects as they come up.

I have wondered to myself, what does it take for me to get the point where I feel comfortable working with another professional?

First there are the basics.

I have to know who the person is. Remarkably, this is a challenge for many consultants, who as far as I can tell have not found ways to stay on the radar of their clients, prospects and other consultants. I find myself still working very hard to do this, with several monthly products that I hope my clients find useful.

Once I know that a consultant exists, I need to reach a particular level of comfort with them. This has more to do with their competencies, standards and professionalism.

The best way for me to come to know someone in this manner is to start by generating a conversation with me in my blog, or by responding to FirstCuts, or by asking questions that are pertinent to the work they most like to do.

Someone who has the time to create the relationship is probably someone who I’ll call on to work with me on an upcoming project.

Recently, I took that principle and reversed it. I think that all the HR consulting practitioners in the region would benefit from having a single place to be in touch with each other, so I created a couple of things. The first was a discussion list (which I discontinued) and the second is a message board.

So far it is quite dormant, and we’ll see if anything happens to this virtual network/community. Here is the URL: http://caribcons.forumplayground.com/

Ultimate Consulting

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I recently read a book whose protagonist was what I might call the ultimate consultant.

Her role was essentially to perform a single act, which was to say Yes or No.

Essentially, she would look at a design of something like a logo, and decide in a split second whether or not it would work, according to her intuitive understanding or marketplace trends. Written into her contract was the fact that she would give no explanations, no advice and no further comment on the matter.

For this she was flown around the world, and paid very well, which was testimony to her instinctive and unique ability.

She is the ultimate consultant in my eyes, providing maximum value in the few seconds it took her to do what she did. At the same time, the many hours that she spent studying fashion trends around the world were done at her own expense, which hopefully is something that her clients understood!

Why I Run from RFP’s

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As a professional, I have always run away from RFP’s (Requests for Proposal.)

Only recently have I come to understand why my stomach churns and I politely demur, when I am told that several companies will be bidding on a solution.

An article on Allan Weiss — known as the consultant’s consultant — helps to point the way. He argues that a client that insists on taking charge of a selling process, and buying primarily on price is making a grave error. Click here for the article.

Also, Jeff Thull who wrote the recently release “Exceptional Selling” argues that winning an RFP is akin to winning the lottery, and is overly focused on the customer’s buying process rather than their decision process.

I agree with them both.

If I were about to have surgery, or hire a lawyer to represent me in a death penalty case in which I am the defendant, I would not think of creating an RFP.

The stakes are just too high for the decision to be made in this manner.

In like manner, an important consulting engagement cannot be reduced to simple to understand decision criteria, and the more important the stakes, the more complex the solution, and the less amenable it is to simple categories of comparison.

Given that my firm specializes in high-stake interventions, the presence of an RFP is an indicator that this job is probably not for me.

P.S.
The only exception I might make could be companies or governments that are restricted from doing business any other way by law. The same principles would apply however, and it’s not too hard to see where management treats the RFP as a smokescreen, rather than a necessary evil to be endured.

P.P.S. After wasting some more more on yet another RFP that went nowhere, I came across the following article:  Why You Should Ignore RFP’s.

Taking Networking from Talk to Action

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It is quite awkward when a fellow consultant tells me that I should be working with them, without really giving me a concrete reason why.

I find that it happens often here in the region with other consultants, who appear to think that the fact that I know their name is enough to be “networking.” This issue afflicts foreign and local consultants alike, but the impact on local professionals is higher because the business conditions are much more difficult.

Now and again I get the desperate call or email from someone asking me “if I know about any work or project opportunities.” I know them, and I might like them, but I actually don’t know them in a professional capacity — to their detriment. In other words, I cannot qualify them because they have done none of the legwork with me to give me a first hand experience of their thinking, their abilities, their skills or how well they can work together with me.

The problem is that they then drop off the radar altogether… never to re-appear until they need some more leads a few months later.

Recently, I put together a project that required 10 consultants to perform a specialized, public training. The stakes were rather high and it just could not fail.

I found myself reaching back to professionals in the U.S., partly due to the fact that my network of consultants in the U.S. is a rich one, and the fact that I could qualify their abilities to execute to some degree. They were used to delivering at a high standard, and this was a program that required nothing short of flawless execution.

There was no-one I could think of who was based in the region who I trusted to have the skills to deliver the project.

Part of the problem is that while I know people here, I don’t know their skills — so that disqualified many. But as I thought about it some more, I realized that none of them were taking the steps to build the kind of bridges of trust that are needed to be staffed on larger, more difficult projects.

I think that the primary obstacle is the kind of peculiar “professional fear” that our region’s professionals have of being “taken” — that someone will steal their ideas, their relationships, their projects, their livelihood, etc. In a prior blog, I spoke about the willingness to have the ideas in this blog stolen and used wherever possible.

I think there are some simple ways in which other consultants in the region could network more effectively with me, a fellow consultant. I would advise another consultant in the HR field to:

  1. Participate
    I write 2 blogs, my firm sponsors CaribHRForum, and I regularly ask for sources of new ideas. A fellow consultant could easily join in online discussions, ask questions, give ideas for future content and make public comments, just using the channels I have set up for myself. I other words, they should become a pest to me and others who are either delivering or paying for consulting engagements in the different fora that already exist.

  2. Volunteer
    Very few people ask: “How can I help?” If asked, they infrequently respond affirmatively to opportunities to work with me in a volunteer capacity. The truth is, that I work with people I trust, and that trust can be developed easily by stepping up to help when our livelihoods are not at stake.

  3. Ask for Project Advice
    I think that reaching out for help when projects get difficult is a great way to build bridges. I spent an hour with a consultant doing just that a few months ago, and even if he didn’t use any of what I suggested, I thought that it showed a willingness on his part to learn and to think out of the box. (N.B. Just remember to close the loop after the project is over.)

  4. Request Project Collaboration
    Sometimes it is useful to bring other people in on projects just because the alliance would make you both stronger, and possibly lead to further opportunities. It costs real dollars to do so, and it takes some risks, but the value created from sharing the work can surpass the short term cost.

  5. Say Yes!, Even When You Must Say No
    Another recommendation would be to demonstrate enthusiasm to the idea of being asked to work on projects when I happen to call. It may be that the project is not a good fit, and may not work, but the enthusiasm goes a long way.

  6. Don’t Drop Off the Face of the Earth
    I recently staffed a project with a consultant that I had completely forgotten about. He only came to mind when the client mentioned him as a possible candidate. What they could have done to stay in my awareness was to find some way to stay in touch. I had to hunt them down through other people, because the contact information I used was already old. Plaxo.com, a contact updating system, is a powerful and free tool for getting this done.

In addition, I send out some 500 Christmas cards each year — at great expense and effort — to contacts from all over, in an ongoing attempt to remain “top of mind.”

Unfortunately, a consultant who is not prepared to do the activities I have listed above is only making it harder on themselves.

P.S.
One of the activities I am undertaking this year is to deliberately deepen my own network of HR consultants. We plan to offer a training in the Lights!Camera!Action! techniques later this year — probably free of cost — in a hope to do just that. More information on these techniques is available as a free download by sending email to fwc-lcaintro@aweber.com

Working with McKinsey – Smart people

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I have had the fortune over the years to work alongside consultants at McKinsey & Co, both on project teams and as a member of the faculty for one of their training programmes.

McKinsey is just about the highest ranked consulting firm in the world, and charges just aboutthe highest rates to its clients.

One of the justifications that the firm has for charging the rates is does is that they hire the best and the brightest through an exhaustive process that begins with recruiting at the very best schools of all kinds. While they traditionally have hired business school graduates, they also now take people from all academic backgrounds, including doctors, lawyers and engineers.

What I have found, is the one thing they all have in common is what McKinsey people call “smart.” The highest compliment that one can get from another McKinsey-ite is that “he/she is _really_ smart.”

This particular evaluation has always struck me as a bit peculiar, but not only because McKinsey is the first place that I heard it.

In other workplaces, I have heard other values being expressed: “he/she is really nice” or “he/she is really cool” or “he/she is really down to earth.”

But “smart” as the single most important attribute still sounds a bit strange to me.

Why so?

Maybe because I think that being smart is just not enough, if it ever was. Someone who is smart is able to do well on exams, solve complex problems, get good scores on tests, learn abstract theories, and do other IQ-based tasks with ease. They may even be articulate, well-spoken and have a tremendous vocabulary.

However, that is very different than having a high EQ – Emotional Quotient – which is defined very differently, and I think, perhaps even more important that just being smart.

From Daniel Goleman’s book on Emotional Quotient, he defined 5 emotional competencies:

  1. The ability to identify and name one’s emotional states and to understand the link between emotions, thought and action.
  2. The capacity to manage one’s emotional states — to control emotions or to shift undesirable emotional states to more adequate ones.
  3. The ability to enter into emotional states (at will) associated with a drive to achieve and be successful.
  4. The capacity to read, be sensitive to, and influence other people’s emotions.
  5. The ability to enter and sustain satisfactory interpersonal relationships.

These are not God-given skills, and thankfully they are unlike IQ-based skills in that they can be learned and developed.

In fact, the most potent consultants at McKinsey seem to be the ones who are committed to developing these competencies throughout their careers.

They might be the smartest McKinsey-ites of all.

P.S. To those who have been around the firm, the picture above is frighteningly typical!

Networking Issue 2.0: Overcoming Fear

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Awhile back I wrote about a willingness to have my ideas stolen and used.

I was reminded of how unreasonable a stand this is in a conversation with a friend of mine who expressed an interest in becoming a consultant. My basic advice was that it was indeed difficult to do well in the profession, but not for the reasons most outsiders think.

The difficulty is related to a question I am asked frequently — how do you market yourself?

Consultants are best known for some area of perceived expertise. When a consultant has really done good work at branding themselves, their name beco
mes synonymous with a field. For example, the name McKinsey & Co. immediately evokes the word strategy, and the phrase “strategy consulting” immediately evokes the name of McKinsey (among others).

However, the association is more than a function of mere advertising, marketing and promotion. These short-cuts just do not work in isolation, and hardly work when the link to be created involves ideas, concepts or thinking — such as “strategy.”

Instead, this kind of relationship takes time to create, and does not come from a billboard. What gets formed over time is an increasingly strong connection between the listening public and the intellectual heart of the firm, consultant or individual.

Intellectual Heart
When a client looks to a consultant for assistance, the implicit assumption is that they are looking to spend their dollars on expertise or knowledge that is uncommon, and specialized. Consultants that provide an average service in every respect will only be hired to do things like fill in manpower shortages. At the highest end, consultants can make themselves unique by developing expertise in the eyes of their clients. This can be done by developing a bundle of 2 things — Questions and Answers.

Marketing
Developing this bundle, and making it available to prospects is the essential marketing a consultant should do. This bundle is the consultant’s Intellectual Heart.

Picture a possible client CEO. She stays awake at nights in her home in Kingstown, St. Vincent, wondering about a new executive that she is thinking of hiring from Chicago. He comes highly recommended, but she wonders about the cultural difference between him – an African American – and the workers in her company.

Will he fit in? How can she prepare him, and her workers, for this very new relationship?

She starts to look for professional help.

The first firm she calls (a large multinational) lets her know that they can find someone in their network of 10,000 consultants world-wide who has done work in this area, and they could fly them in to assist. The person would not have direct experience of Caribbean culture, and might be quite expensive. She is not satisfied with the idea of bringing in another outsider (probably not Black) whose very presence would introduce a new dimension. She mentally puts them on hold.

Next, she calls a solo consultant who assures her that he can do this kind of work. While he sounds quite willing, it sounds to her as if this is the first time he is considering the issue seriously. He can sense the opportunity, but she thinks that he will say anything he can to get the business. When she presses him on the issue, he gives no evidence that he has done any more thinking than she has. His website is vague, and does not mention the topic, even in passing.

On her third attempt she strikes gold. The third company, was referred to her by a friend who happened to hear the CEO mention the topic in passing in a speech to a local Rotary Club. She calls and finds him honest in telling her that they have completed no actual projects in this area.

In fact, all they have been doing for 2 years is thinking about the issue, and what they think companies should do to overcome it. They freely admit that the field is not very well developed.

However, when she listens to them talk about the challenge she is facing, she can hear a distance between where she is and they are in thinking. It almost seems as if they are 2 years ahead. She visits their company website and downloads a white paper on the subject. A short search of their blogs shows some how their thinking has evolved in the past few months. An entertaining recording of an interview of an African American and his Jamaican subordinate tells her that she is right to be concerned.

It is not too hard to see why the CEO would chose the third company in this fictitious example. She was easily able find a place for herself in the Intellectual Heart of the company.

When people ask me how I market my own firm, I find it quite difficult to explain that I want to be like the third firm above. In fact, when I recommend that they consider doing some things along the same lines, what I get back is derision – “You must be mad!” This was the response of my friend who originally shared the interest in becoming a consultant.

Following the retort, often I hear a story from them along the following lines… “I once put my ideas in a proposal, and the client turned around and stole them, implementing them without paying me a cent!”

This reasoning, although widely shared and often repeated, is deeply flawed. Beyond the fact that it is based in a paradigm of fear and scarcity, the ultimate results are the most damning.

Essentially, a consultant who seeks to be successful must become known for their ideas. However, if the fear expressed above is to be believed, the effect is to limit the consultant from ever being seen as a source of ideas. The consultant who tries to save or even worse, protect their ideas will never write a white paper, author a blog, become a columnist, publish a book or give a decent speech. The fear that this thinking generates is enough to stop any bright consultant from becoming recognized, and ever discovering its Intellectual Heart. The same is true for for knowledge professionals in any field, at the individual level.

Over time, I have come to believe that ideas are not mine to own. Instead, they come from the Universe/God, and I am like a television set, transmitting these ideas into the world. If someone uses them, good for them. If not, I don’t care.

I prefer for them to be picked up and used by others, rather than ignored. I prefer to put them out in the world rather than to die with them bouncing around in my private thought-box (i.e. brain.)

After all, my experience has been that the more I write, the more I receive to write. The more ideas I express in writing or speaking, the more I receive.

When I slow down my writing, they come more slowly.

I am therefore quite willing to have my ideas “stolen,” and I see it as the only path to becoming a firm known for having an Intellectual Heart.

The same applies to professionals — there are those who are invisible in their profession, and do not stand out in any way from the sea of mediocrity around them. Then there are those who have the courage to share their ideas, along with the criticism, “stealing” and risks that are involved.

The difficulty in becoming an effective consultant has to do with courage — developing the guts to not just share ideas and thinking, but to invest time in developing them in a serious way, in the face of the existential risk that it might all amount to nothing.

That, I think, is a heck of a surprise to a would-be consultant.

An Approach to Doing Research

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Recently, our firm had the opportunity to strengthen its approach to performing business research. Given the fact that we are committed to documenting the way we do business (a la “The eMyth”) and in sharing as much of it as possible for others to use, I thought that I should start to do it in this blog.

The end result of doing this revamp was that we created a method that gave us a surprising set of insights and understanding.

At the outset, I should say that I have found business research to be boring as hell. And I say this from experience – I teach the damned subject in the University of Phoenix business school.

 

To be honest, my students usually don’t find it boring. Instead, they are usually found complaining about how difficult the material is! Fear of not doing well overcomes ennui any day.

With that in mind, I took the lead in designing an approach that seemed to make sense for the kind of research that our firm is called on to do here in the region. Given that we focus exclusively on solving difficult people problems that impact the bottom line, it seems fitting that research studies that involve people would be a natural part of what we do.

Furthermore, our firm’s tagline is “High Stake Interventions” which means that we should be doing the kind of research that makes an unforgettable impact, whether it is actually implemented as we recommend or not. It definitely should not produce a run-of-the mill set of outputs.

Furthermore, given our focus on people, our approach should account for the relatively low levels of education found in parts of the region, and some of the cultural nuances we have come across. In some companies, employees are not functionally literate, let alone computer literate. Also, many are wary of completing surveys, no matter what the guarantee is of anonymity.

The Opening Bias

It might be fair to say that most business research takes place in the form of employee surveys.

The research firm tackles the assignment with no biases or predispositions, with no pre-set agenda.

Our research is quite different.

It starts with a focused question, concern or issue. It ends with a clear answer, new mental models and a framework designed for action.

In this respect, it is an important part of what we deliver – High Stake Interventions – and quite different from opinion surveys (although survey instruments might be included.) The difference begins with the need to decisively answer a Single Question that is of concern. Diving into the Single Question may lead to the raising of others, but they are incidental to the main point.

Coming up with Single Question sometimes involves several clarifying as the client management itself is often not clear on what it wants.

Example questions might include:

  •  what is the source of low employee motivation?
  •  why is the CEO disliked?
  •  Is the foreign ownership of the company a major problem?
  •  Why are employees not referring our company’s products and services to others?
  •  Why is there no evidence of the culture we want to create?

These questions are not easy ones to answer, and when they must still be answered the wise executive can sometimes see the need to bring in outside help to give an objective point of view.

 Yet, at the same time this is not about discovering some scientific truth. Instead, in our research we bring along our prior understanding and experience, and fully understand that that the very process of asking probing questions by itself changes the answers that are given. Ultimately, the kind of research we do is about attitudes and perceptions, and they are not amenable to perfect scientific measurement.

Mind Mapping

Once the Single Question is defined, a Mind Map is constructed to bring together all of the related issues into a single place. This act of “emptying the mind” is a powerful, nonlinear way to brainstorm. The result is a diagram showing how issues and sub-issues are woven together and linked to each other. Click here for a link to mind mapping.

Early Answer

From the gestalt of connected pieces of information on the Mind Map, the team can develop an initial hypothesis, or early answer. This is given in the form of a complete solution or answer to the Single Question, as if the data that is known at this point were all the information that could be known.

This initial hypothesis is held in the background as a possible solution, and is only discarded when there is clear evidence that it is incorrect. At that point, a new early answer is developed to replace the old, and that one is treated in the same manner until the project comes to a close, and the final hypothesis is the one that the final recommendations are built around.

Issue Tree

The completion of the map makes it possible to begin the linear process of analyzing the issues and sub-issues.

The initial question is broken down into a possible set of answers, and sub-answers.

For example, the question: Is the machine functioning? Can be answered with the following answers and sub-answers:

Is the machine functioning?

– Yes

– No

It needs lubrication

It must be overhauled

The power source is corrupt

Furthermore, each answer can be broken down into several sub-answers. For example, “It needs lubrication” can be further broken down into other options such as “Use grease on joints” and “Use a light oil on pressure points.”

The questions and answers are brought together into a single diagram to create an Issue Tree that shows the important lines of inquiry to be explored. If a team is to be involved in the project, then the issue tree is divided up among the team members who each are accountable for ensuring that the correct data is gathered to answer their assigned issue. In this way, they are the “experts” on the project with respect to that issue. See a link here to a description to Issue Trees.

Questionnaires and Surveys

The next step in our methodology is to convert the branches of the tree into questions that can be asked in interviews, surveys and focus groups. At this point, it is important that the questions be worded in a way that the responses precisely match the data requirements of the issue tree. At this step, regional differences need to be brought into play, as standard English plus local dialect are used to convey the exact meaning and sentiment.

If a team is involved in gathering the data, then each member must be “trained” in seeking out the right kind of data required to meet the needs of the research team.

We use a multi-faceted approach to gather the information required. There are cultural and logistical limits to using any single approach to the exclusion of others, and a combination of approaches helps to balance out the quality of information gathered.

Sharing Data

Given the fact that the interviews are usually not conducted by the full research team, then the data must somehow be shared among team-members. Our firm’s practice is to electronically scan and share notes through a wiki web-site. In this way, each team member can have at their finger-tips all the written notes taken from each interview. In the future, we hope to expand the data sharing options to include voice-based files.

Secondary Data

Once the primary data is gathered using the methods described above, we perform secondary data searches using sources in libraries and the internet. Knowledge of how to conduct searches on Google, in the blogosphere and through human networks of regional contacts are all critical to finding information that is timely and relevant, but also credible.

Analysis

Each team member uses the data gathered to help answer the questions in the branch of the issue tree for which they are responsible. They also use pertinent data from secondary research if possible to “prove” the final answer to the team.

This ”proving” conversation marks the start of the portion of the project that is probably the most creative.

The basic evidence that is gathered is presented, and the team starts to assemble a framework that can hold both new data being gathered on the project, and data from past experience. This creative process is a unique one that pushes the team in a search for more and more effective ways to answer the single question, and address the contents of the issue tree.

The method ensures that the framework developed is one that the company can use if the situation is ever repeated under similar circumstances.

Report Writing

The final report is, at its heart, a teaching document meant to persuade the reader that the recommended course of action is the one that will yield the greatest results. In this sense, it does not follow the academic method of report writing that I teach in my classes. Our reports would not get an A in a research methods class, and that is because we are not trying to meet academic requirements.

In our approach, however, the real value lies in the frameworks that we create. They are designed along the following guidelines:

n they must be memorable, and easy to pass on

n they must be simple

n they must be based on the data that has been collected

n they must pass the test of common-sense

The frameworks we build also have a heavy intuitive component, and rely on a blend of experience and insight for their creation. New phrases, distinctions and terms are freely created to avoid the concepts being presented to fall into old mental models that prevent our clients from seeing the problem and solutions in a new way.

For example, we created the term “emotional workplace maturity” to explain why the behaviour of a foreign owned company was so different from the behaviour found in the home country. This new definition helped to drive home the need for new and different ways of preparing managers from the home country to cope, and also helped the owners to see why programs they had used with great effect back home were not working.

Summary

Our method is designed to be a form of intervention, rather than an example of business research. Given the fact that we are looking at opinions, culture and attitudes in order to help solve business problems, our focus is on what will make a difference when the recommendations are implemented, and the new frameworks have begun to be used.

Notes: our approach is built in part on the method described in “The McKinsey Way” by Ethan Rasiel.

A great summary of the book is found here.