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You Must Be Psychic! March 28, 2010

Posted by Jason in Daily PM.
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It’s (hopefully) well known that psychics use all kinds of tricks to induce the illusion that they can see into the unknown.  Leading questions, rephrasing the customer’s own statements, some educated guessing, and deflection of any seemingly off-base predictions are part of the toolkit.

As unsavory as this may seem in that context, consultants are often faced with a similar challenge: teasing out as much information as possible from a new client, framing the information in terms of the professional’s expertise, and getting positive feedback that they are heading down the right track.  Indeed, for those consultants who have truly seen many similar situations, the initial assessment can often seem psychic.  Many might even jump to rapid conclusions and begin making predictions about what might be the problem.

Hopefully, you can foresee where this is going.  That first consultation – perhaps the first few – is an information gathering session.  If there is ever a time to hold true to the 80/20 rule, this is it.  Virtually every word out of the consultant’s mouth should be a question or at least a clarification or prompting to continue a particular line of reasoning.  It is not the time to bring out the big hammer or nod knowingly after hearing a few buzzwords that have you mentally preparing to vomit your wisdom all over them.  If you’re not listening, you’re doing it wrong.

Sure, we know, you’ve seen it all before and been there done that.  That’s not the point.  It’s obviously comforting to know that you have the tools available and experience to do the job.  If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be in the meeting in the first place.  Now is the time to build a relationship and demonstrate self confidence by letting the client explain the details.  I would go so far as to say that if the answer really is that easy and you think you have it figured out after the first meeting, either you are missing the big picture or you are bringing so little value to the table that your engagement is on thin ice to begin with.

Business Safety March 25, 2010

Posted by Jason in Insider's View Relapses.
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Civil engineers should be familiar with a construction site’s safety hazards. If not, perhaps they need to get out in the field more often; but that’s something for another time. One of the great challenges of construction — or its cousin, mining — is maintaining a “safety culture.” It is not hard to imagine that a roughneck crew of operators or miners (more…)

Commonality March 23, 2010

Posted by Jason in Daily PM.
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One of the best ways to spark innovation or creativity is to look for parallels in other industries.  Doing so, it doesn’t take long to see that seemingly disparate fields share more than meets the eye.  Last month’s Insider’s View column touched on this topic as related to safety cultures in heavy industries like mining and construction.  But it goes much deeper than that.

Most organizations must deal with difficult changes.  “Change managers” are those who have effectively harnessed the business, psychological, and sociological aspects to bring about real, lasting behavioral adjustments.  In all cases, true effectiveness comes from finding personal motivation (or negative consequences) to gain support and buy-in.

What about when that change manager (who may simply be a line manager or other supervisor) moves on to other things?  Will the process remain in place?  If done properly, it is possible to implement systems that encourage innovation and ideas – and more importantly, provide an outlet for them within the organization.

This is the common thread among virtually all industries.  As groups of individuals, different organizations still must reflect the norms and behaviors present in the work force.  When it is necessary to change them, it doesn’t matter if you are a small, boutique firm or a multinational oil company.  Change isn’t easy, but it can be very powerful.  Making positive use of this power is the real goal.