Monthly Archives: May 2011

Alan’s Monday Morning Memo – 05/30/11

May 30, 2011—Issue #89

On this Memorial Day in the United States, may we all pause to remember the sacrifice of those who put themselves in harm’s way to protect our freedom and serve our country.

(Photo taken at the U.S. Cemetery in Normandy, France.)

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ISSN 2151-0091

© Alan Weiss 2011. All rights reserved

I remember a meeting with a boutique consulting firm that had fallen on hard times. The debate was whether or not to sell their magnificent conference table. “Where would clients sit?” asked one partner. “We have no clients,” stated the advocate of selling. You can’t cut your way to renewal or success. Top line growth is the key to bottom line achievement, for you and for your clients. Today is the time to invest in the future. Once you cut muscle, you’re powerless.
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Episode 57: Paper Over Pixels

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You Never Know

In my weekly Alan’s Monday Morning Memo® yesterday, Memorial Day in the U.S., I simply posted a photo of the graves at the American Cemetery in Normandy, with the request that we pause and remember those who have served and protected us. (The photo will probably appear here on the blog shortly, since the Monday Morning Memo is archived here.) Quite a few people wrote in support, some mentioning that people from other nations also were buried there.

This morning 9 people unsubscribed. That’s a small fraction of a percentage of total readership, and I respect people deciding to read and not read what they choose. I do it all the time.

But that photo and request seem like a strange reason to decide at that point to stop receiving the publication, which was apparently fine for them until then. Some things are beyond my understanding.

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The Future of Consulting: An Interview with Alan Weiss (#1)

The Future of Consulting: An Interview with Alan Weiss

Session 1

Alan was recently interviewed by a graduate student who wishes to remain anonymous.

BEB: We’re seeing increasingly startling headlines about management incompetence, whether Toyota’s quality problems or Hewlett-Packard’s leadership follies. Do these represent more opportunity for consultants?

AJW: I don’t subscribe to the notion that management is more corrupt or less adept today than in, as my son says, “days of yore.” Most of the great fortunes, from Kennedy to Astor and Vanderbilt to Rockefeller, were created through questionable practices. As Balzac commented, “Before every great fortune there is a great crime.” We are able to more immediately and shrilly comment on faults, through the media, as we do proclaim new “geniuses,” as we do with Gerstner or Jobs or Smith [IBM, Apple, FedEx]. Remember that Bernie Madoff’s scheme takes its precedent from Charles Ponzi of nearly 100 years ago.

BEB: So is this a particularly enlightened management age? Do we know so much more, have so many more resources and access, that management is actually better than ever?

AJW: It’s an age like any other. There’s the good, the bad, and the ugly. What I don’t subscribe to are the notions of some authors and consultants that management, as a class, is somehow “evil” and it’s the responsibility of the workers to fight that evil. Are there greedy and inept and bullying executives? Sure. Are there enlightened and generous and exemplary executives? Sure. I hate the labeling. The bad cops, bad teachers, and bad clergy are a minority. But they get the preponderance of the headlines. If most weren’t good at their jobs, we’d have a meltdown.

BEB: If a consultant were to ask you what major philosophy to adopt about the business marketplace, what would it include?

AJW: First, volatility is the norm. This isn’t a passing fad after which we’ll return to years of boring stability. We’re in a swirl of huge evolutionary  and revolutionary change, a great deal of which we can’t possibly control and are lucky to merely influence. The Arab “spring” that we’re currently witnessing is just one example, as is the radical change in the housing market.

BEB: What else would you include?

AJW: Technology is omnipresent, as is any other utility from electricity to natural gas. It’s innovative aspect is plateauing. The last time I had a technological breakdown, I was still being told to unplug the item and then plug it back in. Imagine if that were the case with our cars or elevators? International influences are unpredictable. I don’t agree with the India/Brazil/China default of “huge economic powers” of the future. There are simply too many social and environmental issues that have to be addressed in these countries and, as far as I can see, aren’t close to resolution any time soon. I also suspect that Europe is going to change radically.

BEB: Why is that?

AJW: Because they’re not replacing their mortality rates and their only recourse for the labor they need is immigration, and it’s going to be largely Muslim immigration, which has not been a smoothly integrated community in most of Europe. Not only has Europe been far less friendly to immigration than the U.S., but laws are now being passed—such as a ban on veils in France—that would never occur in the U.S. Further, the Euro is in dire shape. The U.K. has never accepted it, and economically depressed countries which would at one time simply devalue their own currencies no longer can. That places a huge burden on economically strong nations such as Germany. Now we’re even seeing increased border controls within the EU, which had claimed ease of unfettered travel as a fundamental benefit.

BEB: Let’s return to consulting specifically. What does this bode for the profession?

AJW: Peter Drucker wrote about the great, universal need for management expertise and corporate intelligence. He even posited that if one were to include education as an American export (both that aspect going abroad with consultants, and non-U.S. students studying in America) that there would be no trade imbalance. I’m not so sure about that, but I do think that the need for management expertise will rival technical expertise as universal requirements, even  in third and “fourth” world nations.

BEB: Aren’t the needs of developing countries those of infrastructure, health, jobs, and so forth? Much more basic?

AJW: That’s the point. How do you manage large scale improvement? How do you intelligently use money and resources to help the populace and not the politicians? We’ve seen, for example, that providing massive amounts of food has the horrible byproduct of destroying the local agricultural base. These are world, not local, issues, that require highly adept advisory support.

BEB: And for the private sector?

AJW: If you believe that volatility is the new normal, and demographics continue to shift, and finances continue to oscillate, then I can make a case that the future of strong product and services growth is in forming communities of customers, disciples who provide feedback on future products, promote current products to peers, and who constantly challenge companies to raise their standards. Consultants adept at helping in these dynamics will be in great demand.

BEB: Are we seeing those trends now?

AJW: Just look at Apple.

[To be continued….]

© Alan Weiss 2011. All rights reserved.

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In Case You Were Wondering What I Was Thinking

• The Air France tragedy highlights the danger of becoming subservient to machinery instead of using machinery as inputs for our own purposes. My dogs have stopped barking when people enter our property, but instead now react to the alarms we’ve positioned that indicate when people are on the property. They’ve adjusted their sensory procedures. That’s what happened to those pilots.

The Air France crew didn’t use the common sense that any solo pilot has ingrained (put the nose down to gain airspeed to avert a stall) because they were too busy trying to figure out the machines and alarms.

Are your computer and smart phone telling you what to do, or are you using them to optimize your efficiency and productivity?

Warren Bennis wrote once that someday factories would be run with only a man and a dog. The dog would be there to make sure the man didn’t touch anything. And the man would be there to feed the dog.

• When someone paid to provide service, as in a restaurant or at an airline gate, tells me “It’s not a problem,” after I say “Thank you,” I’m always under the impression that they feel they went out of their way to do some kind of special favor, instead of merely meeting their job performance standards.

• If there is a great, unacknowledged, universal lie confronting us daily, it is this ubiquitous statement via recorded message: “Your call is very important to us.” If it were, then you’d have the staff to put a human being on the phone, or at least reduce the waiting times to less than half a day.

• A self-published book is to commercial publishing what karaoke is to a live concert performance. There are some very good karaoke singers, but not many, and they’re not known outside of that bar.

• When you tell me you spend four hours on a gorgeous Saturday mowing the lawn because you “enjoy the outdoors,” I’m tempted to invite you over to work on my property and treat you to an entire weekend of euphoria.

• If a dog sitting in a car at a gas station can see the box of dog biscuits in the payment cubicle and start making a fuss to get some, why is it that consultants can’t recognize a buyer when they see one?

• I understand that Simon Cowell, for his new American version of the show “The X Factor,” has removed a highly popular British singer as a judge because of fears her accent wouldn’t be understood easily on television. That would disqualify about 72 percent of existing Americans, including most of those currently serving in that capacity. (I adore Steven Tyler on “American Idol”—he can actually divert my attention for a minute from Jennifer Lopez—but when I try to understand him, well, I want what he’s having.)

• We have three pair of geese parents and one duck mother on our pond with all kinds of kids. The geese parents with the most goslings—eight—are also those who are most aggressive getting to the food I provide each morning, allowing their offspring to get the greatest share (I leave food in other places now to accommodate the others). This leads me to believe they were also the most aggressive in defending their nest, which is why they have more kids than the others.

• On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog. There’s actually some guy blogging that consultants shouldn’t read my new book, The Consulting Bible, because I advocate value-based fees, and his point is that hourly fees are better. I now understand that he probably hasn’t even read the book, because he can’t afford to buy it!

© Alan Weiss 2011. All rights reserved.

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Lessons from 16 Consulting Colleges

I launched the Million Dollar Consulting® College in 2006, and have run 16 on three continents. Our “home” for the past several years has been the extraordinary property at Castle Hill Inn in Newport, RI (though I did run a session in London earlier this year).

There have also been two graduate schools, and another in the works for early next year, and a home study version.

Over 200 people have participated (often more than once), the best of the best in consulting. Here are my thoughts on concluding #16:

• The toughest aspect of this profession is marketing one’s services. Most people are very fine consultants, coaches, facilitators, and so forth, and/or can quickly learn additional delivery skills. But people are not adept at marketing.

• There is a self-confidence “crisis” that undermines even the best of the best at times. I believe that’s because they don’t feel the common sense which is at the heart of pragmatic consulting is adequate to deal with executive egos, money, and power. And yet it is.

• Most true buyers are undamaged, healthy, and willing to listen to rational argument. They wouldn’t be where they are if they weren’t smart, wouldn’t be thinking of hiring us if they weren’t smart, and are often ridiculously portrayed by “consulting gurus” as evil, malicious, and as “the enemy.” That’s preposterous. This profession is collegial, not adversarial.

• As a rule, consultants undercharge and overdeliver. Worse, they spend far too much time with people who can say “no” but not “yes.” There is a hesitancy to risk not being liked, and to spend far too much time traveling down the dead end of low level people.

• The real difference starts as soon as you awake in the morning. You’re either of the mind that this is another tough day with horrible prospects and overwhelming challenges, or it’s another great opportunity to provide value to people who will profit from having known you.

• The profession isn’t about “selling” but rather about value. That means that a fundamental step is understanding clearly what your own value is for others, and articulating it clearly and readily. One of the problems for very bright, intellectually curious people is that they don’t like to focus on what they feel may be a delimiting statement.

• Solo consultants have done well before, during, and after tough economic times. That’s because the value we provide isn’t resident within the clients who need us.

© Alan Weiss 2011. All rights reserved.

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Million Dollar Consulting® College Ends

The College draws to an end today. We had the opportunity for cigars and wine on the beach. The last College in 2011 is scheduled for the week of October 31:

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The Adventures of Koufax and Buddy Beagle

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Newest Million Dollar Consulting® College Graduates

At the Castle Hill Inn in Newport, Rhode Island:

Left to right: Rurik MacKaiser (South Africa), Vera MacKaiser (South Africa), Constance Dierckx, Michelle Randall, Christina Dyer, Alex Goldfayn, Linda Walstencroft (Canada), Shawn Casemore (Canada), Dan Markovitz, David Fields; front: Alan Weiss

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Signs of Trust

How do you know when you’ve developed a trusting relationship with a buyer?

• The buyer asks your advice on professional and/or personal issues.

• Your “pushback” is accepted in good grace and responded to.

• You both laugh genuinely at shared humor.

• Private and confidential concerns are shared (e.g., “I’m not convinced my call center manager is the best choice for the job”).

• You are asked probing and follow-up questions which help the buyer learn more about your approaches and values.

Once you’ve established a trusting relationship, you can pursue conceptual agreement about a project (objectives, metrics, value) which is the basis for a proposal. Without trust, the buyer won’t share objectives and any request for a  proposal is probably just subterfuge to get you out of the office.

© Alan Weiss 2011. All rights reserved.

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