Mutterings of a consultant

March 24, 2008

Visual Thinking

Filed under: worklife — grantfrear @ 1:38 am
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Perhaps its is because I have broken my arm that I have rekindled an interest in visual thinking. While one handed typing is certainly a slow and error prone existence, it is more likely the recent article in fastcompany that made me stop and look into this again. It seems that corporates are investigating visual alternatives to help address complex porblems. Even Microsoft under the leadership of a NZ CFO resorted to images in an attempt to explain and improve corporate financial reporting.

So where has this latest research sent me; firstly to amazon to buy a recently published book; secondly to a blog (indexed.blogspot.com) and thirdly to YouTube for something entertaining.

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March 15, 2008

Corporate golf – a great leveler

Filed under: General rambling — grantfrear @ 1:19 am
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It’s that time of year again where I have to dust off the golf clubs and prepare for an afternoon of frustration and moments of pure embarrassment. The corporate golf day is part competition, part networking and part torture. In my case it only comes around twice a year and as long as I keep rotating clients through my teams I have some chance of managing the damage that these days may cause to my reputation.

It is however a great leveler. While money can get you the most advanced technology it does little to make up for a lack of skill and an inability to put together a smooth swing. My take on good golfers is as follows
1. They picked up a golf club young (muscle memory)
2. They play often (practice)

So now back to the corporate golf day. Bring together a group of people who have all achieved in business (by their very nature there is a competitive streak in each player) however as a result of their success they do not have enough time to address point 2 (above), practice (at least in hard working NZ where we work some of the longest hours in the OECD) . Furthermore, since success often comes late in life and in business success and golf are often synonomous then a lot of the players started the game late (see point 1 above). All things considered these days tread a fine line between great networking events and an embarrassing situation for all involved.

Last year for me it was a very frustrating afternoon which resulted in my team being so far from the leaders that we appeared on the second page of the ppt results presentation. I was determined the wooden spoon would go so someone else this year. This clearly meant I needed a strategy. In my case it was to pick clients who enjoyed a good laugh (which is critical if you can’t play golf), hardly ever play (thus providing the team with a healthy handicap) and had nothing to prove (apart from my desire to stay away from last place).

The result. By some miracle we came 6 out of 20 teams. We all played patchy golf however somehow managed to avoid all playing badly on the same hole. While it was an enjoyable afternoon, I will not be hanging up the mountain bike in favor of golf anytime soon.

Have however found this rather funny YouTube clip that blends business, golf and humor for those that are interested

March 12, 2008

Multi-disciplinary Teams

Filed under: worklife — grantfrear @ 12:08 am
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I have recently started work as part of a multi-disciplinary team through the Committee for Auckland.  While I have been in similar named teams in a business environment the disciplines represented are typically the many disciplines of business.  This group is truely different combining people from business, government, healthcare, engineering and creative disciplines.

The mandate of this team is to bring people together to work on issues that relate to the Auckland region.  While the team is still forming it is clear that working within a multi-disciplined team is both rewarding and challenging. 

Rewarding – getting insights into how different people think about issues, opening your eyes to the talents of others, better understanding of talent across disciplines

Challenging – having your views challenged from a perspective you know little about, getting people focussed on a single goal, translating insights into action

These challenges have been overcome before and no doubt the team that I am working with will come through early teething problems.  My experience thus far is giving me a better understanding of how IDEO (widely recognised as one of the worlds most innovative companies) works.  They have a concept of t-shaped people (broad and deep. Broad in their skills and interests and able to work with a wide range of people. Deep in their knowledge and experience in one or more disciplines) and cross-functional collaboration.

Time will clearly tell and I am hoping that I will be able to apply my experience in ways to improve how I work with clients and with my workmates in the future.   

March 10, 2008

Meetings, we should be good at these

Filed under: General rambling — grantfrear @ 11:47 pm
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Meetings are the lifeblood of so many organisations.  Given the large number of meetings that we all have on a daily/weekly basis I am constantly amazed how ineffective meetings can be.  While there is some difference in meeting cultures between organisations too often meetings fail to deliver.  Meeting crimes I most commonly see include:

1.  Standing meetings with no formal agenda (even I am guilty of this from time to time)

2.  Meetings where the organiser hands control to the participants (no better way to have a talk fest)

3.  Ignoring calendar responses relating to attendance (why use the tool if you ignore what comes back to you)

4.  Poor closing of the meeting (often results in high attendance and poor outcomes)

For those interested Peter Drucker had a lot to say about meetings.  He observed that for middle managers 20 – 30% of a day could be spent in meetings.  Drucker had a talent for raw and honest analysis of issues.  Meeting management was one area where his simple observations really resonate.  A simple reflection of how we all manage and participate in meetings through Drucker’s critical lens is a humbling experience.

March 8, 2008

Proudly Found Elsewhere (PFE)

Filed under: General rambling — grantfrear @ 1:08 am

Listening to a podcast the other day I was introduced to a new term, proudly found elsewhere. It seems that Procter & Gamble have gone through some sort of cultural transformation. Having recognised that their culture was predominantly Not Invented Here they have set about changing their culture. As summarised in the podcast P&G realised that their strategic advantage came from their ability to take products to market. They realised that it did not really matter where the idea came from and that despite the size of their company there are more creative and talented people outside of their organisation than within it.

This idea resonated with me. Consultants tend to trade on three things.
1. Ideas
2. Experience
3. Approach

Recognising that there is plenty of ideas outside ones own organisation is quite liberating, particularly if you have the confidence to apply them in your work. Instead of waiting for a new methodology or approach to be chiseled into stone in the global methodology temple we should appreciate that our job is to take ideas no matter where they originate from and apply these the best we can to address our client’s issues.

Strategic partnerships and marriage

Filed under: General rambling — grantfrear @ 1:00 am
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I have been thinking a lot recently about strategic partnerships. Is there really a difference between the moral/ethical codes established within a strategic partnership and those of a marriage. While I will not dwell deeply on that particular point I will note some of my thoughts on strategic partnerships in general.

Strategic partnerships are common in many different businesses and take numerous forms. Considering car sales and distribution as a simple example. When you go and buy your car from a Toyota dealer you are not actually dealing with Toyota, rather an agent for Toyota that has an exclusive, some may say strategic, partnership with Toyota (it is likely to be strategic for the NZ dealer, less likely for Toyota themselves). In this example the local business is coupling its fortunes to Toyota and has a limited ability to influence its own future if the future of Toyota is not so rosy (other than starting to court other car makers). To me this relationship seems to have many of the hallmarks of a marriage including exclusivity, joint liability, shared futures. There are clearly other examples in the automotive industry of a dealer representing many brands, Continental Cars is a good example. This model seems to be more of an open marriage, similar to those depicted in the TV show Big Love.

While I am by no means the best strategic thinker there are some issues that come to mind when thinking about the model of strategic partnerships.
1. Size of the addressable market
2. Market perception
3. Resilience

If the formation of a strategic partnership puts a limit on the addressable market, as is the case in a marriage, then one needs to ensure that the market you have restricted yourself to is large enough and robust enough to support your business plans (or linking back to the marriage example to support your life plans).

Just as with a marriage, a strong partnership affects market perception, in personal relationships often the couple surpasses the individual, in business relationships this can also happen which can have an influence on brand perception in a local market.

Finally to the idea of resilience. If we go back to the Toyota car dealership example, while there are many benefits for the local business in establishing an exclusive relationship with Toyota as the fortunes of Toyota change so to do those of the local business. In tougher times the ‘open marriage’ strategy of Continental Cars may prove more resilient than that of the ‘traditional marriage’ dealer.

So why have I been thinking about this. For a consultant focus (doing less but doing it well) typically results in growth and good results. There is no better way to drive a consulting business into the ground than spreading resources too thinly. However there is a paradox here. At some point focus can and will limit growth. If strategic partnerships were established during times of focus then you need to make sure these relationships can survive the transition from ‘traditional marriage’ to an ‘open marriage’. Perhaps we should be studying with more interest the TV show Big Love to see how this is done in practice.

March 6, 2008

Consultants, a higher life form?

Filed under: perceptions — grantfrear @ 2:30 am

As a consultant at times I may be accused of believing that I am some higher life form.  While being a consultant requires a great deal of confidence in ones own ability at times you are presented with something that humbles you. 

For me today that was being refered to as a vendor. 

To my ears the word vendor is like nails down a blackboard.  It produces visual images of someone overtly selling a tool or product, perhaps even a used car or approaching a client with a price/order book ready to sell. 

The title consultant however is something that should be respected, someone that has the client’s best interests at heart, someone who is there to help and advise.  Yes, a much higher life form than a vendor.

Needless to say through the clients eyes sometimes the difference cannot be seen.  So here I was today, a vendor at a vendors presentation.  Swallowing my pride and presenting to a room full of people with all the enthusiasm and confidence I could muster.  Where possible I tried to give them a glimpse of what it would be like to work with me the consultant, not the vendor, and the advice I would provide them.

Perceptions are easy to form and hard to change.  Today I was a vendor, perhaps tommorow I will be their consultant.

March 5, 2008

Car pooling

Filed under: worklife — grantfrear @ 8:11 am
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After realising it would be difficult to manage without a car for work I decided to try a car pooling system recently introduced to Auckland. It is called cityhop and operates in a similar way to schemes in Europe. So today was my first real chance to use the service. Somewhat uncertain, having not really read through the user guide and conditions of use, I log into the web site (www.cityhop.co.nz) and make a booking. The only hiccup encountered was how to exit the Auckland City Council carpark. A quick call to the operators of the service and I was on the road.

Overall a very positive experience that has given me renewed energy to keep riding a scooter to work, to encourage my workmates to continue to investigate public transport options and to stave off the day I need to buy another car to support the family.

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