Oct 31, 2018

Knowledge and Responsibility

Posted by Jeannette Cabanis-Brewin | 0 Comments

The customer is not always right. Sometimes they need to be led in the right direction, and that's where true expertise shines.

Earlier this year, I wrote a blog featuring some interesting research on the impact of management consulting. The main point was that companies that had undergone management consulting engagements continued to experience positive impacts based on that knowledge transfer for months ... even years, according to some of the research cited ... after the engagement ended. The research validated what our consultants in the field reported anecdotally, and what I've observed happening with some clients whose relationships with the consulting and training practice stretch across decades and different initiatives, departments, and changes in leadership.

At a recent conference, however, I had the occasion to realize that the reverse might also be true: That when expert status conceals a lack of useful knowledge, the knowledge transfer relationship can actually cause damage. "Professional services" is an umbrella that covers a wide variety of realities, from the truly expert to the mostly bluff. A string of credentials can mean someone really knows his (or her) stuff; or it can conceal a void of hands-on experience. It's frustrating for the outspoken among us (okay, mouthy might be more accurate) to sit quietly and listen to a self-pronounced expert mislead a room full of people who came there to learn, but I managed. Barely. This column is my way of having the last word.

Someone who tags himself "expert" -- as we do, in the PM Solutions consulting practice -- should feel some responsibility towards those who seek his advice. Rather than spouting theory, a

When you have the floor, people will listen. Make sure you know what you are talking about.

true expert treads carefully, gauging the best way to be helpful in a particular environment. I've seen, over the years, that for true experts, the customer is not always right. Sometimes they need to be led in the right direction, tactfully. I think that is why even when a client company has a specific wish list, we often advise starting with assessments: of capability, of change readiness, of maturity in various areas of project management practice. If we ever change our tagline "the project management experts" it might be to something like, "first, know thyself," because this is what the assessment and discovery phases of an engagement help organizations to do. Sometimes, knowledge transfer isn't only -- or even primarily -- from external consultant to client organization, but from untapped resources of knowledge within the organization discovered and capitalized upon with the help of a fresh point of view.

I think this is why, once again, our newest research study, The Adaptive Organization: A Benchmark of Changing Approaches to Project Management shows that companies in the "high performing" quartile of respondents are far more likely to reach out to external contractors for assistance with both implementing adaptive approaches and training staff in them. It's hard to say if the companies are high performers because of the value brought in by the contractors, or if it is simply that the type of company with the wisdom to ask for help will rise to the top. Either way, this is a consistent result across dozens of research studies: high performers use external resources far more often to implement PMOs, to perform activities related to strategy execution, to train project managers, and so on down the list.

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