Honoured and privileged: A plea for restraint

Judge by MSYes, Your Honour, I’m guilty of announcing on LinkedIn that I went to a conference and found it interesting.

In my defence, Your Honour, I would submit that I was restrained in my use of words such as transformational, honoured, great, privileged and incredible. And I emphatically deny describing anything as awesome.

Yes, there was a photo of the event, but I’m certain it wasn’t a selfie of me next to a minor social media celebrity*.

Your Honour, I realise now that my actions were reckless and degrading.

No, Your Honour, there was no material gain from my actions… Though, I did receive a handful of likes and two inane comments that I am obliged to repay sometime in the future.

Yes, Your Honour, I see that now. It was indeed a pointless waste of time and I concede that my actions contributed to cluttering up the internet with stupid and superficial content.

I have nothing further, Your Honour.


* A social media celebrity is defined as a person with over 1,000 followers. Can be easily recognised by their carefully invented title and often spotted handing out boomeranglikes (i.e expected to be returned in the near future).

The Australian leadership void: More perspiration required


A six-foot tall poster highlights the entrance of Terminal 3’s bookstore. Promoting a must-read inspirational, called the Naked CEO. Its caption shouts out “DREAM BIG, PURSUE YOUR PASSIONS AND BE INSPIRED”.

Perhaps unfairly, I’m not going to give this book even a glimmer for finding its way onto my reading list.

It’s just that every time I pick up an “airport” business book I’m left astounded by how authors reliably stretch one or two key ideas into a whole volume. Blue Ocean Strategy by Kim & Mauborgne is a good example of clever curation and relabelling of old ideas. There’s not a lot of new material in there, and what is presented is spread sparingly through pages of stories and anecdotes designed to convince the reader that their concept works. Sadly, many of these overextended pamphlets offer little, if any, evidence that what they are promoting in fact works.

Thoughtful critics would argue that much of the so-called business wisdom that is being consumed today is descriptive rather than prescriptive. Or in more scientific terms; correlation does not prove causality.

Instead of undertaking proof many inspirationally-oriented authors make liberal use case studies (which one could argue are simply stories based on revisionist history) that highlight the conquests of corporate heroes. Their stories are invariably woven around carefully arranged cycles and pyramids.

There’s no shortage of authors and speakers holding out inspiring achievements as evidence for their theories, but as compelling as it might look, we still need to assess the relevance of their experience for our own circumstances.

A case in point. Several months ago, I attended a breakfast gathering sponsored by the Victorian Chamber of Business. The Crown Casino’s Palladium was crammed with hundreds of bleary eyed middle management types who swarmed in for an early morning helping of inspiration with their five-star cooked breakfast. The main attraction was Victoria Cross and Medal of Gallantry recipient Ben Roberts-Smith. It looked as though a thousand people had turned up. Robert-Smith’s presentation was well rehearsed and flawlessly delivered. He took us on a vivid tour of the Battle of Tizik and highlighted key principles of military leadership and planning along the way.

It was a remarkable performance, but I now wonder, of the hundreds of people who were clearly touched by Roberts-Smith’s story that day, how many used what they learnt to implement a lasting and valuable change? How many, today, could recall the lessons of his magnificent presentation if confronted with a major decision or challenge?

Now, this is not a critique of Ben Roberts-Smith or his message. But I am using this example to highlight how our collective binging on inspiration diverts attention away from the things that truly count when it comes to leadership. When Roberts-Smith gave his talk, he didn’t once mention a great hero or inspiring figure, and he certainly didn’t try to make himself out to be one either; instead, he talked passionately about his mates and the importance of rigorous training in proven tactics, as well as a handful of principles that he came to rely on for making tough decisions on the go.

While examining the outcomes of rare and extreme circumstances can be instructive, how much do these explorations help when dealing with everyday challenges? I’m not sure that they do. Roberts-Smith did not suddenly find his inspiration and became a hero, his efforts and his ultimate success on that day in Tizik were a lifetime in the making.

A major problem with inspiration is that it has a very short half-life. So instead of binging on inspiration, I’m arguing that we pursue a proper education on topics of leadership and people. There’s no shortage of scientific knowledge in the field. Social scientists and psychologists have made incredible progress over the years. (By the way, I’m still hearing senior leaders refer to Maslow in their planning sessions. Sometimes I just don’t have the heart to let them know that the Hierarchy of Needs has long been debunked as a motivational theory – so please get up-to-date if you feel you need to.)  My key point here is that the ability to make a lasting change, in anything, requires significant persistence and effort – so much more than the initial flash that got it going in the first place.

So, it stands to reason that to be effective leaders and agents of change, we must be able observe and measure the results of our actions. We also need to have good support plans in place to stay on track. Perhaps, having the awareness to put such things into action is what true leadership is all about. In other words, effective leadership requires much more perspiration than inspiration.

About the author: Mark Schroffel is a Partner in the Melbourne-based strategy consulting firm Schroffel, Renwick & Beeson. As a lifelong student of strategy and organisational change, Mark coordinates discussion groups and seminars on contemporary approaches to organisational leadership and strategy planning. Mark’s qualifications include an MBA, a Graduate Certificate in Change Management, and a Bachelor of Science is Psychology. He is also a graduate of the Royal Military College (Duntroon). Mark is currently enrolled in the Stanford University’s selective eight-course Professional Certificate in Innovation and Entrepreneurship.


Transforming IT from shadow boxer to strategic partner

The following link connects to a story relating to the Transforming IT Executive Briefing held on the 19th of October 2016. IT was excellent morning with insightful contributions from all who attended. The key presenters were Mark Schröffel (Schroffel Consulting), Carl Duckinson (CIO of Aurecon and Non-executive Director of TACT Consulting), and Nikki Scott (CEO of the Digital Project).



The 90% Rule for evaluating competitive advantage

By Mark Schroffel

It’s a regular scene being played out in strategy workshops all over the world; the consultant is standing out front, marker in hand, poised to capture the fleeting thoughts of a room abuzz with creativity. The S-quadrant on the wall is brimming with reassuring adjectives and the mood steadily rises as the list continues to swell.

Can you see what’s wrong with this picture?

Of course you can. The problem is that most people like to play along with positive sentiment. We are in business and we have to believe that we are going to make it.

But strategic planning can’t be about belief; it needs to be about clarity of purpose and accomplishments, fashioned from sharp uncompromising analysis.

To achieve this, we need to clear away the mists of the daydream and close in on reality. This means finding ways to make critical assessments of our own ideas while preserving lateral thinking and the opportunity for creative and novel solutions. Not easy, but doable.

The assessment of strengths and competitive advantage is all about relative comparisons. Your strengths are compared to those of the competition, your offerings are compared to the demands of the market, your opportunities are compared to your capability to deliver, and so on it goes.

What we need is an easy way to test our thinking when doing these comparisons. We need to be sure that when we claim a strength and make sure that it’s not just a me-too scenario.

Having run quite a few strategy sessions, I can share with you that most organisations – straight off the bat – will list their people as a key strength and therefore claim people as a point of competitive advantage.

While I think it’s great that people are recognised and valued, I can tell you that many other organisations out there also think that it they have great people too. The truth is that attributes like these rarely set one business apart from the other. To understand our strengths, we need to find points of significant difference – the things that we do way better than anyone else – the capabilities we possess that very few, if any, of our competitors have.

Furthermore, our points-of-difference to not only need to be real, they also needs to matter to our customers.

As I said before: Not easy, but doable. Well actually it’s pretty easy, if you approach it the right way. Here’s how I do it.

First, I imagine a bell curve that represents how our competitors would score a particular strength in the market. On a scale of 0 to 10, where the average score is adjusted to be 5, very few would score much less than 2, and very few would score much more than 8. Now compared to the average competitor what would our score be?


I would say as general rule,  if it’s less than 8, then we are too close to being average. Likewise, if less than 2, we are now looking at a serious weakness.

While these scoring hurdles might look high, I think it’s better to be even more demanding and use a threshold of 9. This brings the issue of relative advantage into focus, and it counteracts the effects of confirmation bias (i.e. the natural tendency for people to overestimate their strengths and underestimate their weaknesses).

Bell curves can be a little cumbersome to deal with in strategic planning sessions, so instead, I use the same principles to invoke a 90%. That being; your business is not allowed to claim a particular strength unless it is better than 90% of the competition.

This approach produces a much smaller and much more honest list of strengths. It helps to uncover what’s really making the business tick within the market.

Some people get squeamish about seeing the bare facts of how their business is going, but it’s the only way to build on what you really have in hand.

Best wishes and good luck.

One good reason for avoiding LinkedIn

By Mark Schroffel

There’s no need to elaborate on what’s already been said elsewhere on the absurdities of LinkedIn. Instead, my approach with this article is to encourage my friends to think carefully about dissociating themselves from its mediocrity.

In psychology, the Theory of Association suggests that people develop positive and negative feelings about things as a result of their proximity (in space or time) to positive or negative experiences. It’s a sub-conscious and very powerful process. Advertisers are constantly trying to use association to evoke positive feelings about their products and to establish a buying trigger. If I have this product it will make me feel happy, just like I feel right now while watching this nice advertisement that reminds of the fun I had when I was a child sort of thing.

It goes the other way too; negative feelings can be aroused in just the same way. This is where I bring LinkedIn back into the discussion.

Chances are that you’ve been on LinkedIn and have cringed at genuine yet foolish attempts of self-promotion. Event though the place is awash with inane musings and dubious advise, people still engage with it because they want to be noticed. But you know that the difference between good attention and bad attention – right? Of course you do.

Let’s be fair though. While LinkedIn is a messy and frustrating, it’s also occasionally very useful. But on the emotional level, you can’t disentangle the good from the bad – it’s all about association. And if your name is in there, then you might have problem.

I’m not saying LinkedIn is evil or valueless, but I am concerned that the cons outweigh the pros (pun intended). So please think carefully and avoid the tarnish of guilt by association.

Viva la revolution: Making social media relevant again

By Mark Schroffel

My inbox is under siege from a social media feeds that have endless supply of spammy tips on leadership and business success. Real emails have little hope of breaking through the noise.

Initially annoyed by it all, I now find some entertainment in reading some of the vignettes on offer. I’m also amused by by-lines and titles; a good one from earlier today is a fellow who labels himself as an Emotional Wellness Consultant. The same guy (with no apparent qualifications in mental health) got a bunch of likes from telling his followers that when “I” is replaced by “we”, even “illness” becomes “wellness”. Now that makes me emotional – not in a good way.

So I made it a project over the holidays to explore the settings in my social media to cut-off unsolicited emails, and to try and tweak my social media so that it’s useful and relevant again. Having made a few changes, I’m enjoying what’s on offer.

There are some genuinely clever people out there offering quality insights and amusing coverage of the events of the day. I particularly admire those talented people who can humorously convey a position on a complex issue with just a photo and no more than 140 characters.

Now to transform this screed into a blog and do some spamming of my own. Might even give myself a new title while I’m at it: Social Media Revolutionist has a certain ring to it.

Sweet revenge.

Blue Ocean Strategy: It’s really just a cautionary tale in overthinking

iStock_000015163584_MediumBy Mark Schroffel

Forever on the lookout for innovative ways to develop strategy, I decided it was time to read Kim and Mauborgne’s newest edition of Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant – a book lauded for containing proven frameworks “for creating and capturing blue oceans,” or wide open spaces in the marketplace.

And now? I’m disappointed and concerned.

I’m disappointed in myself for believing – for even a brief moment – that this book would reveal something new or revolutionary. It doesn’t. Yes, it reworks old ideas and establishes a few newish concepts like the strategy canvas and the value innovation construct. But its central idea of building a business in uncontested markets is terribly flawed.

While its authors have held senior positions within established organisations and think tanks, it’s clear from their work (and their professional profiles) that neither one has launched or run a business of their own. Their enthusiasm for strategy is purely academic: It’s all theory. No practice involved.

This doesn’t mean they fail to make a contribution. Kim and Mauborgne successfully revive a strategic planning focus and provide yet another set of tools and thought processes which may encourage businesses, in competitive and commoditised markets, to chart paths for repositioning themselves.

So, why am I concerned?

As with all pop-strategy, a rah-rah brigade will surely rise up around the book’s central concepts. Newly converted oceaneers will begin steering their businesses into uncharted waters said to be free of competition. (And customers, I suspect.)

What I fear most are evangelist managers who’ll stride purposefully to work one Monday morning with their new, weekend reads cradled to their breasts like a book of revelations.

Yet, it must be said: Competition is a good thing.

It means the fish are biting. Moving too far outside the contest often means missing out altogether. Yes, there are those one-in-a-billion businesses which strike out and capture the market with a single, genius idea. We all want to be on board when that happens, but chances are we won’t. The system simply can’t sustain an infinite number of profitable businesses across an infinite number of new markets.

We eventually have to find our limits. And then we compete.

The beauty of Blue Ocean Strategy is that its main points have been framed in such a way that any new venture can be tagged a blue ocean success. However, if pressed, I’m sure we could also bestow credit on the likes of Sun Tzu (circa 500 BC) and Clausewitz (1873). By all means, read the book, as it offers a fresh look at the strategic process. But resist overinvesting in the blue ocean dream.

As any sailor can attest, the notion of reaching your destination is an exciting one – but the oceans themselves can be deep, lonely and empty spaces.

Cast me a line if your experience differs from my own. Or confirms it!

From Generalist to Specialist: The advantage of finding your place in the market


By Mark Schroffel

I reckon the word “and” should be banished from consultants’ bylines.

Sure, there are many things we can do. After all, as well-educated and experienced knowledge workers, we are capable of tinkering in almost any part of most businesses. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t focus our expertise and build our reputations on maybe one or two key areas of service.

While the generalist consultant might find comfort in the notion that they are not closing themselves off to a wider range of professional opportunities, I can assure you there’s nothing more comforting than knowing exactly what you are doing—certain that you are one of only a few people, in your market, who do.

Case in point: Yesterday I phoned a consultant about an opportunity with a client that required a certain mix of skills. One of them was experience in Agile Project Management. The client is eager to hire someone who can run a project and, in the process, do a bit of capability building. “It could be a nice little earner for someone,” so I thought.

My connection turned the opportunity down.

Why? Because his niche involves establishing and building lasting Agile capability (not just to do it on the sidelines of delivery). He has an impressive track record and wants to work with clients who are ready to invest in building an Agile capability—not just dabble in it.

That consultant had just delivered a powerful message to his market. And, in doing so, he effectively created an exclusive opportunity for himself. Whenever a client is ready to invest in Agile Project Management, we’ll be bypassing everyone else and going straight to this specialist.

He’s built a reputation and isn’t willing to compromised his position.

By being willing to specialise, this guy has limited his competition and will get good rates to boot. This is why I think we need to be very judicious of our use of the word “and.” If we offer too much, we end up being just one of the millions of reliable and well-educated resources out there.

Are you a generalist? A specialist? What are the drawbacks? The benefits? Tell us what you think!

Competitive advantage in the digital age: It’s not just about technology

By Mark Schroffel

Everyone knows business is all about people.

Why, then, do we get lost – mesmerised even – in what technology can do rather than what it actually does for us? Technology enables business. And, for some businesses, being on the cutting edge can make all the difference in the world. Customers want their needs met conveniently and efficiently.

Technology helps businesses deliver on that. But, as an intelligent reader, you know it’s only part of the picture. Businesses are well advised not to lose sight of the fundamentals of strategy: Setting direction, establishing capability and executing on commitments.

Digital strategy is the same – except it occurs in an environment of fleeting opportunities that requires an ability to quickly adapt and readjust the plan. So, yes, the answer is agility. But that doesn’t mean abandoning core business to attend to the latest disruption. Maintaining a stable and reliable focus on delivering value to customers is surely the best bet when it comes to staying in business and outlasting the latest fad.

The obvious paradox is that achievement of business goals through solid value propositions is not enough.

In fact, you can be assured of one thing: Competitors are out there, right now, looking for new ways to use technology to disrupt and outdate your business model. (Think Airbnb or Uber.) So, what can you do? You need to be in the same game, disrupting and challenging your own business to better engage with customers and deliver even greater value than before.

I think the essence of good strategy, in the digital age, revolves around the intelligent blending of the human touch with digital know-how to deliver on the value proposition.

What are you doing, in your business, to get in front and stay there? Let us know by posting a comment.

Are certifications worth it?

By Mark Schroffel

Business must be booming for training companies and accreditation bodies.

As any job seeking knowledge worker out there will tell you, certifications need to be on CVs just to make it into the market, let alone onto any short list. In the IT and project management industry certifications are the proverbial ticket to ride.

The good and the bad of it is that most certifications are easy to get. The process usually goes like this:

  • Step 1: Pay your money (most crucial step of all)
  • Step 2: Attend an exam preparation course (AKA certification program)
  • Step 3: Complete your exam while knowledge is still fresh (luckily pass rates are usually close to 100%)
  • Step 4: Update your CV and market your new qualification

Well that’s a bit of generalisation, as there are serious professional bodies out there who demand evidence of experience and rigorously assess their candidates for membership classification. Despite this, professional associations always seem to have that hue of self-interest about them.

My cynicism aside, I can’t help but think that the whole certification thing is getting out of hand and that we are overestimating their value as a proxy for evaluating real-life skills and experience.

Judging by the proliferation of certifications, I’d have to concede that they must be worth it – though I’m just not sure for whom, the punter handing over their hard earned or for the businesses endorsing them for the fee.

Are accreditation bodies serving industry, or are they an industry happily serving themselves?

Leadership and Power: Getting to the heart of Change Management

By Mark Schroffel

Change Managers have been getting it wrong for years now. Since change management first became popular a decade or so ago, the (so called) change experts have been proclaiming the virtues of pain reduction and bringing people along the …wait for it… j o u r n e y.

Having been a founding partner of an org change consultancy, I can tell you that my personal view has evolved considerably since those early days of just providing glorified communication and administrative service for program managers and GMs.

While I agree that there is a place for the folks who conduct readiness assessments, chart the network of influencers, and meticulously track impacts; I say that this stuff is administration not management – and it’s definitely not leadership.

Change Management is really about seizing the opportunity to do something special and taking deliberate action to disrupt the status quo for the long-term good. Not only does this require leadership, it also requires a power-base for taking action.

Leadership and power are at the heart making lasting and meaningful change.

Got bragging rights? Please don’t

By Mark Schroffel

As long as people aren’t bragging, I’m sure most of us are delighted to hear that our friends are doing well.

The reality is that most of the things that go on in professional life are hardly newsworthy. Though, I’ve noticed that some people have developed the knack for making the most routine career-event sound like the conquering of Everest.

I must admit to feeling uneasy when I see one of those updates about the unbridled success of a colleague’s latest seminar or project. There’s only so much elation this curmudgeon can take.

The indulgence of using modern superlatives such “killer” and “awesome” only makes matters worse. The “my killer speech in Santiago” update translates to “I’ve gone very a long way to find an audience so I can ultimately tell the folks back home all about it”.

I reckon there should be a “cringe” button right alongside “like”. But then again, who’d be game to use it?

The importance of business representation for project success

By Mark Schroffel

Something is wBusiness Engagement 2rong out there in project land. As someone who does a lot of PIRs and change planning, I’m finding that too many projects have inadequate business representation.

A lack of capacity in the business is a common excuse. But this doesn’t wash with me.

Surely it stands that projects exist to enhance or transform the business. They are by definition an investment in capability for the overall benefit of the business. It follows that the business should expect to be involved and there really is no way to escape the responsibilities of ownership.

The good news is that there is so much to gain from business representation – especially if you can get them involved early.

Bringing business folk into projects is the only way I know of for laying the foundations for change and to ensure long-term success. Not only this, they also have a crucial role in quality assurance, process development and just providing a sound and pragmatic operational perspective.

Yeah, there are a lot of reasons why finding suitable business representatives will be difficult; however, what’s the logic in doing a project that the business is unable or unwilling to support in the first place?

So make business representation one of your Critical Success Factors and don’t accept excuses.

Taking the initiative for successful transformations

By Mark Schroffel

20150605_093030You would have seen the those stunning statistics for failed change programs: Kotter claims that 70% of change efforts fail*, a Project Management Institute survey suggests 50% of strategic initiatives miss key objectives**, and the IBM Institute for Strategic Value puts failure rates at around the 60% mark***.

Even though these figures may look somewhat shrill-ish, they rightly suggest that organisational transformations are difficult to do.

The issue for CEO’s and executives is that the operational agility required to be successful in today’s business environment means that their organisations need to be switched on for change.

While the conventional wisdom around change management focusses on helping people through the journey, I think change managers sometimes overlook the harsh realities of business and mistakenly focus on building buy-in and commitment while overlooking the need to establish and maintain momentum. The more time it takes to transition, the more it costs, the longer the pain will linger, and the greater the risk of long-term damage to the business.

It’s a given that communication and resistance will be a challenge for any transformation, however ahead of these is the time imperative. When time is of the essence (and when is it not?), there’s no substitute for swift and decisive action. Carl von Clausewitz (a much studied and quoted 16th Century military strategist) once said; “It is even better to act quickly and err than to hesitate until the time of action is past.”

This suggests that sometimes mistakes will be made in the interests of achieving the objective. So yes, business leaders need to be people savvy; however, for the sake of everyone, they must also keep things moving.


* Kotter, J. P. (2007), Leading change. Why transformation efforts fail. Harvard Business Review Reprints, pp.1-10.
** Project Management Institute (2014), PMI’s Pulse of the Profession: The High Cost of Low Performance, February 2014, p.4.
*** IBM (2008), Making Change Work Study, p.2.


Blame-shifting: A hiding to nothing where everyone loses

By Mark Schröffel

Blame-shifting is a shabby form of leadership behaviour. As is the practice of attacking workers for their apparent failure to deliver. There is usually more to the story, and chances are leadership (or lack of it) lies somewhere near the root cause of the problem.

Here’s a common scenario:

Perhaps for good reason, the manager thinks the project is off the rails and the worker in charge is doing a bad job. The budget is a mess, they are behind schedule and there seems to be limited prospects for success.

Maybe it’s true that the worker is unqualified or incapable of managing the project, but the question of governance and supervision must also be addressed.

Replacing the under-performing worker may well be a necessary part of the solution, however doing so without addressing the larger issue of leadership and oversight would be dangerous reinforcement of a more serious problem.

Too often managers are tempted to deal with the immediate problem at hand, inadvertently overlooking the flaws in the systems of control (which sometimes includes one’s own culpability). Attributing blame is a natural response to a bad outcome, but if we have learnt anything from major catastrophes, disastrous outcomes are merely the final link in a long chain of failures.

Getting into the blame game is simple enough, getting out requires the courage to accept responsibility and willingness to play a role making things right.

Ultimately, a good manager will use positional power to take on the burden of responsibility rather than to divert it.

The future of consulting

By Kevin Pittman

The future of consulting

This new online venture was fully capital subscribed within days of its seeking start-up funds.  It epitomises a wish to break through traditional models of securing the skills you need when you need them – whether you’re a business or an individual.


Of course, this website is currently nonsensical.  As many “freelancers” who want to bid for your business can, and there is no sensible way of distinguishing between highly skilled people and also-rans.  Also, of course, most of the freelancers will be the latter – since bidding for business just pushes down the rate one gets paid.

But what does it say about the future of any kind of work that can be readily done online by someone in Mumbai with a freshly minted MBA?  If local consulting practices by the big firms are anything to go by, there is going to more of this to come. Big firms seem to be doing  very well as it is by charging above market fees for the services of relatively inexperienced Powerpoint editors.

Breaking business models

Over the past ten years, we’ve seen more and more established businesses and business models come under attack by break-out technology-driven alternatives.

Think about just a couple of examples:

  • Companies that specialise in the software and hardware to handle MICR encoded cheques are seeing their work drop rapidly as consumers move very rapidly away from cheques to direct transfers or BPay.  Now, Google and Facebook are both trying to position themselves to become “bankers”, enabling payments and money transfers worldwide.  Banking and finance are going to face increasing challenges to hold onto profitable business lines.
  • Uber, AirBNB and other similar ventures are all examples of real business model-breaking with hotel chains and taxi companies increasingly vociferous about this unforeseen competition.

Social disruption

Tony Abbott has unilaterally decided that there is no longer a debt and deficit disaster (or at least the scare campaign is not the way to sell it).  Most informed economists disagree with him drastically and dramatically.

Human services take up more than half the Federal budget and two thirds of most State budgets.  As demand for human services continues to ramp up, government finances become more constrained.  On current policy settings, Tasmania, South Australia and the Northern Territory are already structurally bankrupt.  The other States are not far behind.

Since the instinct of governments is always to provide inadequate funding and to then blame the service providers, all human services will need to learn how to do more work with less money and to be able to convince their communities that they are doing as well as the government will allow.  They will even have to actually improve their efficiency, productivity and accountability.

On the other hand ….

New models of business also open up opportunities for consulting work both in existing businesses seeking to become more agile and more profitable and in new businesses, most of which fail solely because they lack the skills infrastructure to back up their technological insight.

New social settings also offer opportunities for people who can spot what’s happening and proactively tell senior management and staff about the impending problems,  offering ideas and solutions to meet those problems (social disruption of failing economies will affect more than human services alone).

What does this imply for consulting?

Firstly, lower level consulting is a bad space to play in.  If your skills are reproducible on-line, you have a limited window of opportunity to change your model or learn to compete with low cost labour on the other side of the world.

Secondly, as a corollary, you need to be moving up the food chain to a point where your work has to be done face to face.

Thirdly, you need to be across what’s happening in the digital world. New models may always come as a surprise but the underlying technologies should be familiar.

Fourthly, you need to be intelligently aware of what is happening in the broader economy and the likely impacts of the underlying, and now largely unavoidable, trends.

Fifthly, you need …….. what?


Transformational Change: The Power of Shared Responsibility

By Mark Schroffel

The power of shared responsibility

For me, strategic planning and transformational change go hand-in-hand. Shifting gear from good to great (apologies to Jim Collins) requires reconciling many, varied and often conflicting value drivers as part of the process of developing a cohesive vision. For this, stakeholder engagement is key.

That’s why, for transformational change, I advocate the use of strategies that build ownership of the vision and shared responsibility for delivering on it. The only way to achieve this is to involve organisational members in shaping the vision and working out how it can be achieved. For the theorists amongst us, you might like to reflect on Shein’s model for organisational culture and leadership that emphasises the role of hidden beliefs and values in determining how an organisation deals with change.

So what are the viable tactics for leading the often complex aspect of transformation change?

1. Secure the early involvement of leaders and influencers

This obvious, yet often overlooked strategy is the best place to start. I think there is a temptation amongst organisation leaders to finalise their plans and to get things right before engaging others in the process. The problem with this is that transformation requires a reframing of the organisations underlying values and beliefs (see earlier reference the Shein). Messages from on high only address surface issues (just think about organisations that tell their employees what their values are). Instead, leaders need to have confidence in their ability to guide the organisation through the transformation. Their key role at this point is to influence and lead the development of a clear, viable and suitable vision for the organisation. We are talking about leadership here – not directorship.

2. Develop clear and cohesive messages

Being able to clearly articulate the what’s going on and why will help align leaders around the vision and provide them with something to anchor their communications to as they cascade the message throughout the organisation.

Of course, messages will need to be refined and new ones developed as the transformation progresses. Communications planning will need to support the emerging transformation focal points. Staying on top of the communication as the transformation matures is crucial, and it requires constant attention.

3. Govern the transformation

Kotter advocates building a powerful and guiding coalition (his Step 2 after creating a sense of urgency), and this is what you also need to do too. A transformation cannot be set in motion and left unattended – strong strategic leadership and guidance is required every step of the way.

The overall architecture of the transformation must be maintained as the vision is translated into lower level actions and interactions. You achieve this through a robust governance team (guiding coalition) who’s focus will be on compliance with the vision, consistency of messages and actions, and the efficient delivery of transformation components. A good governance model is one with a clear hierarchy of accountabilities (and decision rights), as well as channels to receive feedback and inputs from functional areas.

4. Take as many with you as you can

Not every one will jump on board with the transformation, and it’s something you will have to deal with; however, taking people with you is an important part of the transformation concept. In transformational change, your aim is to reach everybody. Taking into account the widest possible range of stakeholders helps to ensure the transformation is fully represented and therefor more likely to be accepted.

Stakeholder mapping is an essential exercise. It not only provides the basis for developing engagement and communication channels, it provides change agents with vital clues on what sub-groups and individuals care about most.

A final thought

The success of any transformation, at the most basic level, is dependent on those in which the organisation relies on to function. Sharing responsibility is a good way to engage people and it works to reshape their values and beliefs in how things can and need work.

Now consider this: Can you drive transformation or does it have to be led?

Strategy bite: Compete and beware the niche

Having to compete for business is a good thing for two reasons; first it means that there is business and customers are buying, and second it forces you to sharpen your thinking about your value offering.

Unmet demand is a very rare thing, and so I am wary of any one who are charting a strategy to resolve needs that buyers are yet care about.

No, or limited competition (a niche if you will), is an indicator that there may not be a market for what you want to sell.

Compete and beware the niche!

Strategy bites: Doing nothing is an option

OK you’ve got me; making a decision to do nothing is actually doing something. Just let me make the point that sometimes allowing things to take their course can produce better outcomes than incessant meddling.

Have you been in the situation where someones’s over reaction to a perceived issue produces a bigger problem than the one they were trying to resolve in the first place? Sure you have, and you’ve probably been the culprit of this once or twice too.

You may also recall problems somehow resolved themselves due to slight shift in circumstances, or somebody else taking much need action.

I’m not suggesting sitting back and letting “the universe do its job”, but I am advocating the need to take a long-term view and to consider the consequences of your proposed actions.

Taking a strategic perspective means getting out of the hear and now and considering how things might play out in the long term.

Occasionally you may just decide on doing nothing.

Strategy bites: Fish, Chips, & KPIs

Most managers are comfortable with goal setting and usually do a good job at it, especially if they use the tried and tested SMART approach. A common problem is that people confuse the process of establishing Strategic Objectives (important SMART-Goals) with the setting of KPIs.

Think of it this way: Readings from the speedometer and odometer in your car help you assess the likelihood of you reaching the beach house by lunch time. In other words, your present speed and distance travelled are your Key Performance Indicators for this trip.

Likewise in business; we need Strategic Objectives for our destinations and KPIs to assess our progress.

And remember, 100 kilometres per hour does guarantee fish ‘n’ chips on the dunes by noon – but it’s more likely.

Trust: A platform for leading change

Today’s article in the AFR tells the story of how the people get tired from political spin. The same lesson applies for business: No matter how clever the spin, people need a reason to believe you.

Trusts can only be created over time, and it’s no wonder politicians, on all sides, have trouble hanging on to it as they compromise their way through the realities of government.

The message here is simple.

Trust building is the key to peoples perceptions of clear and believable communications, and in turn, quality engagement. So if you anticipate the need for engaging people in change, you better start thinking about what you should be doing to build trust.

Honesty is a good place to start.

Accreditations: Setting the standard or making us dumb?

While the IT industry is awash with accreditations and professional bodies, there’s little evidence to suggest that they are doing us any good. On the contrary, I think industry accreditations are driving us towards professional mediocrity.

The problem is that everything about industry accreditations is self-serving: Consultants and contractors want to differentiate themselves by having them, lazy recruiters use them to filter job applications, and industry bodies know that selling post-nominals is good business.

How exactly is business benefitting from all this?

Look, there’s nothing wrong people attending quality courses and demonstrating a base standard of knowledge; but there is something wrong when people are joining associations and doing courses and exams to get a particular brand of recognition in the hope of being considered for job that they are already experienced enough to do.

My stand is that the proliferation of industry credentials is putting us on the fast track to mediocrity. They do little more than alleviate the onus on the professional to develop their own body of knowledge. And worse, some newly anointed professionals gain a false sense of their expertise and ignore the need to break new ground.

Unfortunately the horse has bolted on this issue, and accreditations are here to stay, just don’t give them any more credence than they deserve.

The downside of KPIs

The Law of Unintended Consequences says that intervention in one part of a complex system always causes unanticipated, and often undesirable, outcomes in another part of the system.

Establishing performance targets and KPIs play an important role in the strategy process. This is where we go from concept to making things happen.

This is also the part of the process where things can go wrong.

Putting in place measures and reinforcing achievements of targets is an effective way to shift effort from the workings of one part of the business to another. Just be careful that you don’t expect areas not under scrutiny to continue to work well, especially if there are rewards on the table for achieving other outcomes.

We’ve all seen the problems when large organisations unwittingly create tension between departments with conflicting KPIs.

The classic scenario is a Production Manager being told to increasing the output of widgets, while the Inventory Manager is asked to reduce the cost of holding inventory, and the Shipping Manager is given an incentives to reduce freight handling and delivery costs.

In this simple scenario, no one shares responsibility for the overall outcomes of the business, and they all end up working against each other.

In small business, the effect may not be so dramatic and obvious; however, there is a strong possibility that an important (sometimes unrecognised) aspect of the business will overlooked.

For example, cost reduction initiatives often flow through to the customer experience, in turn affecting loyalty and ongoing sales.

I think the trick in setting performance targets is to make sure they relate to the larger business outcomes rather than specific actions. You may also consider assigning shared responsibility for achieving a target, this encourages teamwork and innovation.

My final appeal is to please set performance targets for your business – it’s vital – but when doing so, just be mindful of the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Supply and Demand: Are you on the right side of the equation?

The basic rule for success in business is to find a market for your products or services –  right? Well no, it’s actually about satisfying the needs of the market (not the other way around).

It’s an alluring notion that we might create a niche business free from competition; but be warned, no competition is a sign that there is no market, and no market is a sign there will be no demand.

I’ve seen (and been in) too many consultancies that were probably too clever for the market, some might politely say “ahead of their time”. Top notch people with valuable ideas – but no buyers. The build-it-and-they-will-come mantra doesn’t work when everyone else is building something too (I’m really starting question whether there really is such a thing as niche business any more). Consequently, I think consultants are wrongly advised to seek out a special problem and craft a unique service to deal with it, simply because it’s just too easy get caught up in one’s own ideas and forget about what’s going on for the client. Instead, we should first concern ourselves with the demand side of the equation, then worry about what we can supply.

So forget about the elevator pitch and start working on the elevator question. To do anything else is to ignore the basic laws of supply and demand.

BRW Article: Leaders wanted as project management gets a promotion

20131013_205651Even though I was nervous about how my views might be represented (I am occasionally critical of organisations and the manner in which they are led), being interviewed by BRW columnist Leo D’Angelo-Fisher a couple of weeks ago was a great experience. It turns out that I had nothing to worry about. As I’ve been telling my friends; if you haven’s seen the article it’s online and in this week’s (10-16 October 2013).

The interview prompted me to think hard about the role of industry bodies in promoting professional standards in project management, and I must concede that I am coming around to the idea that they have something to offer. But not so much in the area of professional standards, but in getting people together and promoting cross industry learning. Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that I think industry bodies have absolutely no place dictating what qualifications project managers have for their employment. Project management accreditation provides little assurance of quality, and is nothing more than a tactic for legitimising a profession identity and selling training programs. This is something for a future post, but suffice to say that professional standards are part of almost every job which should be decided by outside of the politics of groups of self-appointed experts staking their claim as a peak body.

In the course of my recent market reviews I’ve come across the outrageous situation where a Government job spec (no doubt written by an association member) included the completion of a propriety training course as one of the selection criterion. This a sneaky break for the business who have the “licence” run those programs and the association that validates credentials; but where does it leave the well qualified professional who doesn’t need the training and doesn’t want to fork out the dough to some business to attend their naff program? It’s a racket that protects the jobs of association members and lines the coffers of training businesses by strong-arming people into attending training that they may not need.

The aforementioned BRW article also features the CEO the AIPM, Margie O’Tarpey. To her credit Margie puts some balance into things by speaking against mandating professional qualifications for project management. Its a confusing message from AIPM though, as the organisation heavily promotes accreditation and as BRW reports, the AIPM “encourages employers to insist on accredited project managers when hiring”.

Exploring the websites of the Project Management Institute (PMI) and the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM) confirms my suspicion that the right to use status elevating post-nominals is a core offering of both institutes. The PMI landing page talks of “global credentials” and touts the opportunity for “earning certification and expand[ing] your opportunities”. The AIPM member benefits page has the “use of post-nominals” at top of the their list of benefits.

Putting aside the hype of accreditation for a moment, these groups are filling a vital gap in mentoring and peer support that many employer organisations have long abandoned. I think this is the most important role of professional bodies today. Fewer business are prepared to invest in the development of their staff, and the its the people in the early and middle stages of their career that are really missing out. The PMI and AIPM event calendars are full of development opportunities and their continuing education programs encourages participation. As industry becomes more fragmented and tenures get shorter, groups such as PMI and AIPM clearly have a role to play in supporting member’s development and in doing so they supporting vital knowledge transfer across industries.

So yes, I’ve come around a little bit towards appreciating the efforts of the industry bodies, who knows I might even join one one day. In the meantime I am happy to concede that some professional associations (not all) do add value to both their members and industry, but people should never feel compelled to join them in the fear of being overlooked for a job.

Have your say: Do you value your industry association and what do you gain from membership?

Taking care of leadership

business-people-huggingI’ve spent a considerable amount of time working in change and leadership roles across many industries, but I always look back on my time in the Army with great fondness, for lessons on leadership and how to work with people. One of the things that is instilled into every junior leader in the Army is that it’s a big responsibility to be in command, and above all things, you must do everything possible to take care of your people.

I know that military leadership is far from perfect, but the values of team and mutual support for leaders and followers alike is a rare find in the civilian environment. Sadly, too many executives rely on bureaucracy and formal authority to exercise control. While it’s appropriate for organisations to invest in developing structured approaches to managing work and enforcing discipline, performance can only be improved through good teamwork and having a workplace where people take care of one another.

A recent University of Sydney survey reported in the Financial Review Boss magazine entitled Crisis in Business Leadership points to several failings in how Australian organisations are being led. Of interest to me is the preliminary evidence that there is too much focus on administrative performance over the need to motivate and support staff.  I just hope that people in  leadership roles occasionally take a moment to review their own behaviours and check that they do know and support their people.

All enlightened managers must be aware by now that people usually want to do a good job, and will perform if they know someone is looking out for them rather than supervising them.

What seems to work for the military is the serious investment in developing and maintaining a culture of leadership and instilling the notion that people come first.

Bonuses and appraisals: Driving performance or a road to Nowhere?


W. Edwards Deming

W. Edwards Deming, regarded as the father of the Total Quality movement (and also known as the consultant who saved Japanese industry post-WWII) was highly critical of performance appraisals and performance bonuses. He once said:

In practice, annual ratings are a disease, annihilating long-term planning, demorilizing teamwork, [and] nourishing rivalry and politics.

In most organisations, the unintended causality of the performance scheme is collaboration. Even teamwork incentives have the ramification of pitting team and against team. Despite the now ancient (1950s – 80s) wisdom of the likes of Deming and his motivational psychologist counterpart Herzberg, most corporate HR and OD departments are unwilling to implement decent performance support systems in place of their clearly failing appraisal and reward processes.

There’s been much support for Deming since his initial foray into the area of people management. And event though contemporary motivational science confirms that the most sustainable motives are the opportunity to belong and the opportunity to do a good job, too many organistions are blindly following the bureaucraticly elegant, yet deeply flawed logic of the carrot and the stick.

What evidence do employers need before they abandon outmoded and flawed performance schemes?

Far better to redirecting some of that energy into mentoring and helping people to do a good job. After all, that’s really what most people want to be able to do.

For more on Deming visit this Youtube series of clips http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GHvnIm9UEoQ  

Readers interested in this topic may also find these Herzberg clips interesting http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o87s-2YtG4Y

A practical guide to Change Management

If you are an executive or a project manager, your goal is to get through the change as a quickly as possible and to get results from what you have done. Probably one of the best things you can do is to keep your approach to change management fairly simple and pragmatic. There’s no denying it, things tend go more smoothly if everyone understands the process and your approach.

With that in mind, here’s a simple two-step methodology for managing planned change:

Step 1 is doing things that help people get ready for change, and

Step 2 is doing things that help people cope with change.

The infographic below outlines my approach to change management.

What approaches to change do you use, and what is the most important thing to deal with when managing change?

Change Management in a Nutshell

Are accreditations damaging your reputation?

IT people (project managers in particular) know about the pressure to embellish their CVs with industry accreditations. And many have succumbed to the pressure. They join an association, gather evidence to prove their competency, and do exams to gain those (supposedly) all important post nominals.

I do wonder if all this extra curricular activity is really worthwhile. After all, most of the senior professionals I know don’t seem to bother with any of it.

To my way of thinking, a string of post-nominals trailing off the page is not a good look. What I see is not a person with an eminent set of qualifications, but someone who may be not be quite there yet.

What do you think are the benefits of industry accreditations, and what’s the best way to present them to clients and employers?

Are you really in business?

open for businessMost independent consulting businesses (ICB) are little more than highly skilled workers with special employment contracts. If your ICB sells your services in units of time, then sadly it’s not much of a business. The weakness of almost all ICBs is the need for constant input from the owner. It’s difficult to achieve leverage working like this, and for anyone with ambitions beyond being a glorified wage-slave, there’s no option but to move away from selling time-based services.

So if you want some ideas on how to make the shift, these three strategies are sure to improve the profitability of any business, and without taking on the responsibilities and risks involved with building an empire.

  • Strategy 1 – Transitioning from marketing a service to marketing a solution. This is more about how you present your offering than actually having a “solution”. The solution, by the way, is the outcome your services will deliver, not the activities you perform to get there. This strategy is about taking responsibility for outcomes and pricing a premium for doing so.  The result is clearer solution focused proposals, and more profitable billing tied to results that your clients can appreciate
  • Strategy 2 – Develop your Intellectual Property (IP). There’s nothing more gratifying in business than re-selling something that you’ve created – over and over again. IP is also great way to marketing your base services and provides you with the opportunity to leverage the services of others – you provide the know-how, they provide the labour.
  • Strategy 3 – Get admin support.  The strategy of taking on administrative overhead might seem counter intuitive at first, but this is about reducing the energy your put into low return tasks instead of selling, creating IP, or doing billable work. Bringing administration into your business also forces you to standardise the way do things, making you more efficient and building further capacity for growth.

No matter if you have modest ambitions or high hopes for your business, making up your mind to dispense with selling your time is surely a step worth contemplating. Making it work – well that’s going to take some trial an error, but the first and most crucial step is to ask the question:

Am I really in business?

Now get out there and sell something other than your time.


Please leave a comment below if you found this article helpful or if there is anything else you like see discussed in this blog.

Thanks and best wishes,


Culture surveys: Influencing leadership, or masking responsibility?

I’m not sure about culture surveys. On one hand there is some good in putting organisational culture on public agenda, on the other there’s some contention about whether they actually measure what they say they do. It’s a great idea to get some indicators on a chart that show an organisations tendency towards certain behaviours, as long as the behaviours are valid indicators of culture and performance.

The validity and reliability of the survey is important because there is a heavy reliance on the results to guide action planning. But what if the chosen model of culture, upon which the survey is based, doesn’t adequately address the issues of the organisation?  One possible outcome is the treatment of the proverbial symptom; another is using organisational culture (a collective thing) as a cover-up for poor top level leadership.

Consider the case of an organisation where CEO and direct reports are completely dysfunctional in their engagement with their people. In desperation some middle manager or OD person arranges a cultural survey as a roundabout way of addressing the leadership issue.  Would it work? I have my doubts.

I’m sure, if used correctly, cultural surveys can deliver great benefits; however to be successful, I reckon they need to be driven from the top – not the middle.

Do you agree, or can organisational leadership be successfully influenced from within?

Coping with change

Mark Twain once remarked “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles but most of them never happened.”

A little bit of anxiety about the future can be part of a healthy and balanced outlook. It means that we are paying attention to the future, anticipating problems and making plans. But in times of change, there can be so many more problems to think about, so much more to deal with, and (yes I’m going to say it) so little time. This is then some people’s behaviour can become less than helpful, and any feeling of wellbeing can melt away by a poorly timed moment of dread.

Anxiety is one of the reasons why change is said to be painful. Even mild cases of anxiety can lead to reduced performance and mental capacity at a time when you probably need these resources most. If you are a leader, signs of your anxiety and emotional outbursts can have a devastating effect on the people who are looking to you for guidance and help.

Feeling anxious about change? Here are some things you can do:

  1. Get organised: Take the time to organise your problems and thoughts by writing them down. Basic prioritisation and brainstorming can help to break counterproductive thought cycles such as catastrophising (an unrealistic estimation that the worst things will happen), repetitive thinking, and self-doubt. Getting things off your mind and onto paper can be used as a practical first step in dealing with change.
  2. Manage fear: When stressed, people have a tendency to overestimate the likelihood and consequences of bad things happening. Recognising your reactions and challenging your initial judgments can help you again perspective. Having a rational conversation about your concerns is a great way to gain perspective and manage fear.
  3. Find a good listener: Talking things out is process where you can clarify your own thoughts and needs. A good listener is someone who lets you do the talking and asks questions that help you to clarify the situation and provide perspective. Someone who likes to solve your problems for you may not be that useful, especially if they boss you around and overload you with their opinions. If you start hearing too much of “what you need to do is”, consider finding someone else for the job.
  4. Challenge yourself to adapt and grow. The way you see yourself and how you want others to see you might need to shift. Perhaps some thoughts or ideals you have about yourself are unrealistic or overly demanding for you to live up to. Use the change as an opportunity to evaluate what’s really important to you and as an opportunity for personal growth – perhaps in a new direction.
  5. Take care of yourself: It’s obvious, but warrants a mention. Do some exercise, eat well, socialise, laugh and get a proper amount of sleep. Also, be on guard against using overindulgence as a way of getting through.

What advice would you offer to help people deal with change and to manage anxiety? Also, is there anything organisation can do to make things easier? 

Leadership: It’s not your call

I think most people are sceptical about leadership development, and perhaps rightly so. There is an absurd abundance of nebulous blog posts and discussion threads on the precious topic of leadership.  One idea that I would like to highlight to readers is that leadership is in the eye of the beholder. Just like beauty, leadership is an abstract attribute that is judged by others.

With this idea in mind, perhaps an approach to leadership development is to help people focus on making their unique and appreciable contribution to the lives of others.

What roles do you play that makes a difference, and how does your contribution make you a leader?

Are industry accreditations worthwhile, or just a fast track to mediocrity?

Brady Bunch Wheeler DealerCaveat Emptor

Caveat emptor” (buyer beware) was the advice offered by Mike Brady to Greg in the Brady Bunch episode where Greg purchased a much desired  yet unsuitable car from his pal Swift Eddie.  Greg got his money back, but the trouble he had along the way cost him so much more, especially when trying to impress the girls at school.

Caveat emptor is also good advice for anyone looking at industry accreditations as a way or boosting their career.  My concern with accreditations, especially in the field of Change Management, is that everyone involved in the accreditation game seem to have a commercial interest at heart. I’m not saying that assessments are rigged, or the training is poor quality, but I am asking if industry accreditations really provide the assurances that they are supposed to? I’m inclined to think that they don’t.

So, What’s the Problem?

Professional associations which provide certification, more often than not, have a vested interest in ensuring that their members are advantaged in the service market place. Ways they achieve this are through the establishment of accreditation and membership grading systems, creating the perception that the associations themselves (and their members) adhere to strict professional standards and should be seen as authoritative barriers of entry to the profession.

Consumers of accredited services (i.e., organisations seeking expert help) are typically unaware of what those standards are and are  usually happy to know they’re dealing with someone who is a recognised, bona-fide professional. What goes unnoticed is that it is often the case that these “professionals” need something to lean on to confirm their worth as a practitioner. In short, rather than cultivating their own professional standing and excellence they have paid an association to bestow it upon them.

Where the Trouble Begins

Professional associations are often mistakenly viewed as the source of excellence in a given field. In reality, their objective is to create an air of expertise. They do this while funding their self-promotion from their members and delivering what I think are services of questionable value to them and the end consumer.

Case in point: If after paying hundreds of dollars for membership alone you were “rewarded” with a $10 discount on a $50 workshop would you be excited? I certainly wouldn’t.

This is where it becomes clear to me that the value offered by professional associations is the public recognition and endorsement of one’s capabilities.

Professional Recognition For Sale

Given the current state of Australia’s professional services market, there’s some advantage in distinguishing yourself from the pack. Yet, “stand out from the pack” rhetoric is often used to cajole consultants into believing they must become accredited and earn the right to wear industry-endorsed labels – by paying for them: Labels which are usually accompanied by post-nominals, the right to brandish a related logo and the opportunity to post a profile on a website that industry clients never visit.

The real question is: “Does accreditation provide any real assurance that a consultant is any good?” Perhaps, more importantly, we should ask: “Are they any better qualified to serve your organisation and cater to its unique set of requirements?” My bet is that what you can actually be assured of is that their accreditation is at best only a small part of the capability required to truly meet your needs.

Let Experience Speak for Itself

When recruiting or engaging consultants, I think it’s crucial to understand their level of experience and get a sense of their working reputation. While seeking out a candidate with industry accreditation is not in and of itself detrimental, but you must consider what the individual’s ulterior motives are if they promote themselves solely on the basis of a professional designation. The best consultants out there don’t bother with accreditation; they know they’re good at what they do and their clients know it, too.

I’m quite cynical and immediately suspicious of accreditation-toting consultants; I’d prefer to engage a consultant based on less tangible yet far more important criteria. Take one short cut in this process and the only thing you can be confident about is the fact that you’ve identified a consultant who has a rote understanding of change management and had the means to purchase a “seal” to prove it.

Finding Out What’s on Offer

A consultant’s ability to meet situations head on, demonstrate versatility and exercise flexibility can be difficult to test upfront – but, not impossible. Request a list of references and follow-up on each one. Industry accreditation for consultants should be the last thing you turn to when hiring a true professional, as it provides little assurance that a consultant will provide a good return on your investment.

After all, much like what our project management colleagues have witnessed, industry-wide accreditation has become commoditised. It’s a competitive business which, more often than not, serves only the people who head those organisations that churn out cookie-cutter consultants with rubber stamps on their letterheads. There’s nothing at all reassuring about that.