ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - June 2002


Issue Highlight — When the Business of Business is School
In April 2002, the Pennsylvania Governor’s Commission on Education decided to privatize a group of public schools in the city of Philadelphia. This is simply a recent example of the movement to transfer the work of the public sector into the world of profit. This memo from a 12-year-old student might be a sign of things to come.

High Impact Consulting—Getting Real Results
Setting the Record Straight on Accountability and Consulting for Measurable Results

We’ve all heard the familiar phrase, “Change is inevitable.” But the next time your company’s unhappy with an employee’s performance and hires a consultant to “change” current processes, you may want to pry a bit to find out if there’s more to the “change” than the act itself. Robert Schaffer believes all too often firms are hired to come in and update or change a certain process but are not responsible for achieving measurable results.

Schaffer, author and management consultant, was impressed by the wealth of good ideas and untapped potential he found in most organizations and launched a firm that would be devoted to helping managers exploit that “hidden potential,” not just providing expert advice. He’s authored
High Impact Consulting: How Clients and Consultants Can Work Together to Achieve Extraordinary Results and The Breakthrough Strategy: Using Short-Term Successes To Build the High Performance Organization. Schaffer sets the record straight on accountability and consulting for results.

NFC: How do you get through to people that feel trapped even though they know they need to change the way they approach improvement and change processes?

Schaffer: There are two things I sometimes do with groups to help people understand that.

1. I have everybody stand as I read descriptions in groups of two and three—so nobody is embarrassed. Then I say if any of these descriptions match you, sit down. The descriptions are items such as: “You know you have to exercise, maybe a doctor has told you that, but you have not done anything about it.” I do about five or six of those and everybody’s sitting down.

So, then I say, “This group has the most highly motivated people in your company in it; you have leadership here and yet you’re telling me that you’ve got critical personal goals that you’re not achieving.” And I ask, “Does it have anything to do with the fact that you don’t understand the importance of these goals?” Of course everybody laughs because it’s quite clear. We look at why they may not be doing it.

2. Then, I suggest, “Let’s take your corporate goals, the goals you’re doing in business. Is there anything different with them?” Of course the answer is no, there is no difference.

There are all kinds of psychological reasons why people stay trapped and don’t do the things they sort of “know” they’ve got to do. I have several exercises that really help people catch the point you’re making, which is there is so much that keeps us trapped in the old fear of venturing forward. And when you give people an intellectual picture of what they should be doing or if you give them a tool, it may be a marvelous tool but they’ve never used it before. Then expecting great results at the other end is like high stakes gambling. It works occasionally but very occasionally.

NFC: Maybe your success rate is high because having someone speak to them like you do is pretty rare. Or is it that when someone comes to you they have already made the decision they really have to do something?

Schaffer: It’s interesting. There is a certain self-selection when we get clients who really want to do something; they work hard at it. When they know they have to be involved—to be learners and experiment with change—they come to us more interested in working with us. The people who don’t want to do that, they’re the ones who will pay any kind of money, millions of dollars for big name consulting reports where they can say, “Hey, we hired the best.”

NFC: Let’s back up for a moment, if we can. In a nutshell, if no one’s read the book, what’s the message of high impact consulting?

Schaffer: The message is that trying to find success in consulting is not just the introduction of better ideas, systems, and methods, but also the introduction of those new technologies, methods, and insights in ways that actually produce concrete, measurable client results and produce them in ways that are sustainable. Not just a one shot thing. That’s my definition of success.

Consultants have to take responsibility for working with their clients to produce results. Most of the time they don’t. What consultants take responsibility for is their deliverables and what I call and emphasize in this edition is the notion of an implementation gap, which is:

The discrepancy between all the things a client organization would have to do to really fully benefit from a consultant’s inputs on the one hand, and on the other what they are actually ready,
willing, and able to do.

That gap is, I believe, very large and frequent. Many dollars that are spent on consulting don’t produce results because of that implementation gap.

NFC: So you’re saying if you’ve got multiple customer service sites or different customer service groups working in your organization and they’ll have someone come in and they’ll do work in one or two of the customer service groups and they find, oh this really works well, and never bother then to introduce it to all the rest of their groups? Something like that?

Schaffer: Even getting something to work in a few groups and produce results is beyond what many consultants simply introduce whether it’s training or new systems, new information systems, or new processes. They introduce those processes, those methods, or those recommendations and at that point declare a success.

NFC: Just because the training has been done?

Schaffer: Yes, if you look at the contracts that consultants enter into with their clients, even though they say the aim is to reduce inventory, basically the consultant does not share responsibility for that. The consultant says we’re going to try to increase inventory returns, reduce inventory, blah, blah, blah. But what we’re going to do is introduce a new inventory system. In high impact consulting, the most important shift is that the client and the consultant contract together to produce certain results and improvements in the client organization versus the consultant agreeing to deliver certain deliverables. Once you’ve made that shift it brings up all the other shifts. If you’re going to produce results then the consultant has to pay attention to what the client organization might be ready to do and able to do. Whereas if you’re just going to give
recommendations, it’s not that critical
as to whether they’re ready to absorb
and use them.

NFC: In some ways it must not be very popular with a lot of trainers. If you
didn’t have specific goals you wanted to achieve, you’re not going to be able to deliver measurable effects, is that what you’re saying?

Schaffer: The trainers’ contract is to deliver the training. If you need to improve teamwork and get results, they’ll give you training in teamwork but they will not say....

NFC: Well they actually may not be asked for anything very specific, they may deliver what they’ve been asked to deliver.

Schaffer: That’s another point. I believe the way consulting is practiced, with all its defects, is not the fault of consultants. I believe it’s an unwritten and maybe unwitting co-conspiracy between clients and consultants. Clients are just as accountable.

NFC: That’s what I get at when I say people have an agreed upon lie. I won’t say that you’re overweight and you won’t tell me I ought to quit smoking, for example, and we’re both going to tell others that we’re on these programs. But we’re not doing anything.

Schaffer: I point out why both clients and consultants are very cozy in the present arrangement. They both know how to do the study. They know how to write the programs. They know how to conduct the training. So they’re in control in the conventional mode. If they agree the consultant is going to introduce a new inventory control method, and they go ahead, then as soon as the consultant delivers that the consultant can say, well, it was a success. If it doesn’t actually reduce inventory the client can say, “Well, gee I expected them to do it, but they must have given us a defective product.” And the consultant can say, “Oh no, we gave you a great product but you just haven’t used it properly.” So everybody has a nice out in the conventional mode—the hand-off mode.

But as soon as you say we’re going to try to increase inventory turns by 10% or 20% over the next few months, now immediately a consultant has to say to himself or herself, “Aww… to get that result I’ll have to work. The client has to change but I don’t have any control over that.”

Once the client and consultant have agreed to produce a result, both the client and the consultant are on the hook. They’ve announced publicly that they’re going to do something and improve it by 10%. So they both have to produce it. You’re under pressure.

NFC: This morning I was listening to something on National Public Radio about people who serve on boards. They said if you ask really hard questions while serving on a board, the risk you take is that you may not get asked to serve on any other boards. Which is the same thing that’s going on inside a company.

Let me ask your advice this way. Someone picks up your book and says, “This is great! Schaffer’s really on the mark.” But they look around and say, “I think I’m the only one inside the company who will think so.” What’s my step number one here to change the conversation?

Schaffer: Well, there are a couple of things; first, I suggest pick a spot and try it out and see how it works. Do it on a project. Do it on a couple of projects. In addition I have specific comments both to clients and consultants in the book. That’s one of the things I’ve introduced in this edition—at the end of most chapters are specific suggestions addressed to both the client and to the consultant about how they might think about this. So any consultant who uses the book this way can mark particular places you want your client to read if they don’t want to read the whole book.

NFC: When are you going to rewrite the Breakthrough Strategy?

Schaffer: I’ll tell you what I have in mind. I’d be interested in your thoughts on it.

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June 2002 News for a Change Homepage

 In This Issue...
High Impact Consulting— Getting Real Results

The Courage to Face Your Fears

The Secret to Profitable Customer Relations

The Art of Communication

Got an Attitude?

Peter Block Column


What’s Up?


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