These are thoughts to ponder on relating to connecting the dots between people, work and technology.

How complexity kills communication

The network effect is generally seen positively. It refers to the idea that as a network gets bigger it becomes more valuable.

The value of owning the first fax machine is effectively zero because there is no one to send a fax to. But add a second fax machine and there are two faxes that can now be sent (A to B and B to A).  Add a third and it goes up to six, add a fourth and it increases to 12. By the time you add a fifth fax machine there are 20 different faxing possibilities. Buying a fax machine when there is already a large network of fax machines is far more valuable than buying the first. The value of the network grows as it gets bigger.

But there is a flip side  to the network effect. As networks grow in size and complexity, maintaining communication and coordinating activity becomes harder. If we were to frame this in terms of business, by the time you reach the status of ‘medium sized business’ and hire your 20th member of staff, you have created the potential for 380 different one on one interactions within your organisation. This means that for every message that is sent there are 379 opportunities for another message to conflict with yours.

Complexity grows exponentially as your business grows and as complexity increases communication suffers. That’s why we end up spending so much time in email and (often pointless) meetings. Research by organisations such as McKinseys and Harvard Business School indicate that in larger organisations, less than 45% of the average employee’s time is spent doing the work that matters to customers.

The rule of three and 10

Hiroshi Mikitani, the CEO of Japanese online retail giant Rakuten, came up with a rule that elegantly captures the challenge of growth. The rule of three and 10 simply stated is ‘Every time a company triples in size – Everything breaks’.

The processes and systems that work well for a sole operator won’t suit a team of three. What works for a team of three will be ultimately unsuitable for a team of 10, and if that team of 10 grows to 30 everything will break again.

Although the organisation only got three times bigger, at each point it becomes 10 times more complex and difficult to manage. This means that as the organisation grows, each member of staff spends more time managing (or being managed) and less time doing the work that matters.

The digital advantage

Thankfully, just as the industrial revolution created new ways to scale production, the digital revolution is creating solutions to address these information challenges.

The digital revolution is a broad shift away from people using predominantly analogue technologies such as pens, paper, typewriters and Australia Post to using Information Technologies such as apps, tablets, keyboards and email.

These Information Technologies, or I.T., have three distinct advantages over analogue technologies in terms of speed (information can be shared faster), cost (common processes can be automated), and accuracy (information is less likely to be misunderstood).

Put another way, digital is the antidote to things that are either slow, expensive or potentially wrong. All of which are considerable barriers to future growth.

If you represent a Not-for-Profit or values-driven business dealing with the challenges of growth, you might be interested in applying for the 2020 Digital Champions Club scholarships. The Digital Champions Club is where I help SMEs find and implement digital solutions to growth problems. If you don’t represent one of these types of organisations you might be interested in checking out the program anyway.

IT is not a cost centre

I have ranted before about the shortfalls of budgeting and how budgeting encourages us to think of projects in terms of cost rather than in terms of value creation. This is particularly troubling for parts of the organisation known as Corporate (or Shared) Services. Corporate Services generally include areas such as Legal, Human Resources, Procurement and IT. These services are necessary for the smooth operation of the business, but unlike Operations, they are generally not considered to be income generating. As they aren’t directly involved in income generation, they are often seen by the rest of the business as a necessary evil where their cost (and often their involvement) needs to be minimised (for IT this challenge is often particularly acute because in many large organisations the Head of IT reports into the CFO).

The problem with this approach is by focusing on cost minimisation, organisations inadvertently also reduce value generation.

In the modern workplace, technology improvements have become an increasingly fertile ground for innovation but ‘innovation’ is often in direct conflict to the IT department’s primary objective of platform stability and security. Perhaps the simplest definition of innovation is ‘change that creates value’, but change both contradicts the goal of stability and also necessarily comes with attached risk, and risk is often viewed in conflict with the goal of security.

This perceived conflict has created a certain inertia in how IT departments operate that somewhat ironically results in more but different types of risk. Organisations might think they are reducing short-term operational risk by focusing on stability and security, but in doing so they are creating medium-term implementation risks (as change shifts from being small, relatively simple and continuous to large, relatively complex and sporadic) and longer-term strategic risks (as competitors identify and implement technology innovations at a faster rate).

An alternative is to re position IT (and perhaps all corporate services) as innovation catalysts. Rather than passively waiting for people to tell them what they need, IT could be proactively engaging with the business to find out what could be done better (and then working in partnership to make it happen). I often talk of IT as being Digital Champions but like many terms that have entered our collective lexicon, its familiarity has led to it losing some of its meaning. A Digital Champion is someone who keeps abreast of emerging technology opportunities and then champions its potential within the organisation. Championing something is unavoidably and unashamedly proactive. It requires constant engagement, education and ultimately a sense of (shared) service.

If this feels like a seismic shift, it doesn’t need to be. Like any change it is best if it’s started small. It should not be focused on investing in or developing new platforms and instead aim to unlock the latent potential in the platforms an organisation has already invested in. Perhaps the biggest change requires is a change of mindset. Like other Corporate functions, IT are often treated as second class citizens, and as a result many have come to believe it. But by giving the IT team the tools and training, and subsequently the belief that they can drive innovation and add ridiculous amounts of value to the organisation, we can change this perception.

At the end of the day, the best way for IT departments to change the perception that they’re more than a cost centre is to prove it. All they need to do is take the time to understand people’s challenges and then share the know how they already have.  Person by person, team by team, department by department.

 

I’ll be hosting a two-day intensive program on 15-16 October in Sydney where we will take your champions through the process of identifying, investigating and delivering technology improvements with sustainable success. As a special offer, use the promo code INTENSIVE20 to avail of a 20% discount on the ticket price. Click here for tickets and further information on this insanely practical event. 

Some things are good in theory but better in practice

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to deliver a brand new keynote for the first time. As a professional speaker, a new keynote is like a newborn child. About 12 months ago, I was talking to my team and suggested we should try for another keynote. We already had a couple of keynotes that we loved and it was difficult to see how we were going to have time for another one. More content to change, more sleepless nights wondering if they’re OK, and ongoing concerns about how you will love them all equally. But once you have the idea in your head, it’s hard to shake. So after a couple more discussions we decided to take the leap and get serious about it.

Between that point of inception and the delivery date (which again, just like a newborn was also about nine months), it felt like this keynote could be anything it wanted to be — the possibilities were endless. But as the delivery date draws closer, the reality starts to kick in, your fears start to kick in.

What if it’s ugly? 

Will other people still love it? 

Will I still love it? 


What if I neglect it, and as it gets older it starts hanging out with the wrong sort of keynotes — the ones that mumble and are hard to understand. 


Or even worse, the boring ones that send everyone to sleep, or the weird looking ones with dot points all over their slides and who are always trying to say too much…

…hmmm, I think that analogy is done. Let’s move on.

This new keynote was called Thrive on Disruption and my idea was to explore the characteristics of organisations that not only propelled them to outperform their peers, but who (in doing so) often drove the disruption of whole industries or created entirely new ones. The good news was this related to a whole bunch of research I’d done as part of my Master of Leadership thesis a few years ago. The bad news was I had no idea about how to present such big and complex ideas in a truly engaging and meaningful way.

Enter storytelling

There is little doubt that the idea of corporate storytelling is having its day in the sun. Incredible books such as Hooked: How Leaders Connect, Engage and Inspire with Storytelling by Yamini Naidu and Gabrielle Dolan, as well as Gabrielle’s follow up book Stories for Work, and Shawn Callahan’s Putting Stories to Work (just to name a handful written in Melbourne) have all highlighted the power of storytelling in making ideas memorable and relatable and I was keen to see how I could use storytelling in my new keynote. So as part of the keynote development process, I worked with an incredible story crafter in Megan Davis to help design the narrative of the keynote.

The outcome was uncomfortable

Although I’ve read extensively on the power of storytelling and even engaged a story telling consultant to help me, the outcome (more so than the process) was incredibly challenging. In reflection, the biggest challenge was to my self-perception. I had felt that as a professional speaker I was meant to be the ‘expert’, someone with the answers, or at least, with thoughtful and thought provoking ideas to share. And yet, for the first 20 minutes of my new keynote I wasn’t going to share anything thoughtful at all. I wasn’t going to share any of my expertise. I was just going to tell a story of the time I went hiking in the mountains of New Zealand with seven friends (there is more to the story than this but I don’t want to ruin it for you). To say the least this felt incredibly awkward.

And yet it entirely worked

The saying goes that some things are good in theory but not so good in practice. I can only suggest that my experience of storytelling is entirely the opposite. Although I already knew that storytelling was good in theory, the experience in practice was far better than I could have imagined. Ultimately, the hiking story served as an easily understandable analogy for how organisations operate in disruptive and challenging environments. It provided a safe way for participants to reflect on their own organisation’s behaviours and practices, to better understand what is working and also what could be improved, and it provided a relatable way for sharing how cutting edge organisations operate differently. Finally, I think the story shed light on my own mistakes and my own vulnerabilities, which in turn perhaps made the ideas I did share more relatable and achievable. In hindsight, this is everything you get told about storytelling, but sometimes struggle to believe.

And why do I share this with you all? It’s not because I want you to use more story telling in your work, though I sincerely hope you do (and please check out some of the links to the great books and people above). It’s because theory and practice often bear little similarity to each other. It’s not just that some things are good in theory and yet bad in practice. It’s just as likely that something is bad in theory but good in practice or, as in this case, something I believed to be good in theory was in fact incredible in practice. Ultimately, the only thing that matters is practice, not theory. So if you really want to know if an idea is a good idea you need to stop reading about it and thinking about it…and actually do it.

Check out Simon’s LIVE Speaking Guide to get a taste for what he does or get in touch to discuss how he can add something special to your organisation’s next event.

Exploring your unknowns

I recently returned from an incredible adventure with my two girls sailing in the Kimberley region of the Western area. It is so remote that it took us nearly five days of sailing to get there and another five days to get home again. In between, we had some truly unique and special experiences that I have no doubt we will look back on for the rest of our lives.

We live in a world where genuine adventures seem to be harder and harder to come by. This is because a real sense of adventure requires certain elements to be present. First, there needs to be a sense of discovery, the ability to explore something unknown or experience something unfamiliar. Second, real adventure must contain an element of risk.

The challenge is that the unknown and the unfamiliar have become increasingly rare commodities in our world. Finding places that are truly off the beaten track has become harder as roads and transportation links have gotten better and information more freely available. We also live in an increasingly risk-averse society. Even if we go to visit a previously unexplored part of the world (or at least unexplored by us) we can pre-arrange accommodation and transfers, read reviews or book an all inclusive 10-day tour. Now I appreciate that there are a select few out there who shun such comforts but my feeling is that this has become very much the norm.

So in planning and preparing for this trip, and faced with this uncertainty, it was interesting to see how my girls responded. But perhaps what was most interesting was seeing an incredible parallel between how they responded and how people in business respond to the unfamiliar as well.

The first part of the response is an over-analysis and over-statement of risk. In our early family conversations there was a lot of concern about crocodiles, getting sea sick, falling over the side of the boat, getting sun burnt and even being bored on such a long trip. Some of these were genuine concerns and there was value in ensuring that high impact risks were adequately managed but it was also true that these risks were given significantly more air play that they ultimately warranted.

The second part of the response is to understate the benefits. Did we really need to go to such a remote and inhospitable place? Is it really THAT special? Wouldn’t they have just as much fun going camping? Again, some of these are reasonable questions to ask but the reality is without personal experience we generally struggle to imagine something dramatically different from what we already know.

The combination of these two responses is that by systematically overstating the risks and underestimating the benefits of doing things differently, we subtly reinforce the status quo. In fact ‘risk’ has increasingly become a rational for inaction even when the risks of inaction may in fact be higher than risks associated with well considered change.

I’ve written before about the trade off between execution risk and strategic risk. Change projects unavoidably carry with them a certain level of execution risk: the risk involved in moving from one way of doing things to another. But generally these types of risks can be contained and managed and as we do more change projects we get better at them and the risk reduces over time. On the other hand, the strategic risk associated with not changing –  the risk that our organisation becomes increasingly out of sync with its operating environment and no longer either provides the goods and services or operated in a way that the market values – is always going to be large and always going to be difficult to manage.

For me, this is the difference between improvement projects which involves small execution risks, and transformation project which involve large strategic risks. In fact research by McKinsey suggests that the strategic risks of transformation projects are so high that only 16% of them result in sustained change over the long term.

The truth is that although it might be more adventurous than most holidays, my sailing trip through the Kimberleys was not a trip into the complete unknown. I had been there once before myself, we were with my parents who had done the trip at least half a dozen times and while we were there we saw at least a dozen other boats go in and out of the King George River. In fact this reminds me of the quote by William Gibson ‘the future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed’. Although this was an adventure into the unknown for my two girls, it was something that many had already experienced (and survived) before them.

As I said, real adventure is hard to come by, but we don’t need to BASE jump into an active volcano to grow and learn as people and we don’t need to completely restructure our organisations to maintain our market relevance. We just need to be willing to continually push ourselves to take calculated risks and continue to explore our unknowns.

 

Whether you’re looking for one-off short courses or longer term support within a community of like-minded organisations, the Digital Champions Club is committed to helping its clients maximise the returns and avoid the risks of digital transformation.

I’ll be facilitating immersive two-day intensives on the dates listed below. In this insanely practical two-day program, you will not only learn the framework and a suite of simple tools for use back in your organisation, you will leave with a real world, value-adding project to complete over the next couple of months. 


Digital Champions Two-Day Intensive

 

4 – 5 SEPTEMBER | MELBOURNE
15 – 16 OCTOBER | SYDNEY

Click here for information and tickets

How trust helps us overcome fear

This weekend I’m setting off with my two girls on an incredible adventure. On Saturday we fly from Melbourne up to Darwin where we meet up with my parents aboard their yacht Natsumi. After a night on-board in the safety of the harbour, we will set off on a three-week adventure that will take us across the Bonaparte Gulf into the Kimberley region of Western Australia. We will sail up incredible gorges, shower under waterfalls, swim in waterholes, and have the opportunity to view ancient aboriginal rock art that perhaps only a few hundred westerners have ever seen.

I had the incredible opportunity to do a similar voyage through the Kimberleys when I was 16 years old and I still hold amazing memories from that trip. More than anything, I can’t wait to share these memories with my two girls…

…but unfortunately they are far less excited about the trip than I am.

Actually, it is not so much that they aren’t excited, it’s more so that their excitement is tempered by worry and fear. They are worried about being away from their Mum for three weeks (the longest they’ve ever been apart), they are worried about crocodiles, but perhaps more than anything there is a huge fear of the unknown.

It was really important to me that they made their own choice to come on the trip so we have talked about it extensively as a family. I think ultimately their trust in myself and their grandparents means that their excitement exceeds their fear. As a result, they are nervously looking forward to going.

I actually think this equation, that the excitement (or perceived benefit) needs to exceed the fear (the perceived cost and risk) needs to be true for any major change to be successful. And given that both the benefits and the costs are not always well understood by each individual, we often need to place trust in others. In effect, trust is the lubricant that makes change easier.

At our last Digital Champions Club Bootcamp a couple of weeks ago, the focus was on personal leadership and the role that digital champions play in supporting change for others. In our group discussions the themes of integrity and trust came up over and over again. The rapidly changing nature of technology and its history of redefining industries and replacing jobs means there’s often a large amount of fear when it comes to technology projects. More than ever before we need peer experts in our organisations that can be trusted to lead projects that are in the best interests of not just the organisation but also the people in it.

A question to consider is whether the person who leads technology projects in your organisation has trust and integrity in the eyes of end users? Are they helping people overcome their fears or is a lack of trust potentially fueling them.

The Digital Champions Club will be having a series of two-day intensives starting August. This is the course to attend if you want a structured approach to improving efficiency and driving competitiveness by using technology better in your organisation.

*Up until the 30th June you can also use the promo code EOFY20 to get a 20% discount on tickets. 


Digital Champion’s Two-Day Intensive Upcoming Dates

 

14 – 15 AUGUST | PERTH
4 – 5 SEPTEMBER | MELBOURNE
15 – 16 OCTOBER | SYDNEY

Click here for information and tickets

What is the minimum rigour?

When it comes to getting technology projects approved in organisations, there is almost always a detailed process to follow. This process is designed to ensure that each project is rigorously assessed and the right projects get approved. But is it possible to have too much rigour?

The difference between making things and improving things
Most project assessment processes are designed for making new things. Project management methodologies such as PRINCE2 and PMBOK provide lengthy processes for identifying stakeholders, collecting business requirements, creating business cases, getting project approval, assembling the project team and planning the project…all before anything actually gets done. Now it’s not to say that these processes don’t have value, but for smaller ‘improvement projects’ they can also add unnecessary complexity and friction.

Rigour makes things rigid
Long convoluted approval processes that define projects to exacting requirements can in fact make projects unnecessarily rigid. Not only can excessive planning make us option-blind (unable to see previously unconsidered but potentially beneficial courses of action) research also suggests that increased planning is not necessarily correlated with greater value generation. There is a real risk that too much rigour means we’re developing worse outcomes, not better ones.

Rigour adds friction
The secret to promoting certain behaviours within an organisation is to decrease the friction associated with more preferable behaviours and increase the friction associated with less preferable ones. If we assume that organisations want to be more innovative, and that a simple definition of innovation is just ‘change that creates value’, then we need to decrease the friction associated with identifying and approving change initiatives. If we make it hard and time consuming for people to identify and implement improvements in how they work (or with the technology systems they use) then their most likely response to a new idea is ’stuff it’.

Rigour is often opaque
The process for getting a project approved is often unclear, and sometimes intentionally so. In fact, there are often vested interests in saying ’no’ and maintaining the status quo (for instance this might happen where the value of a project accrues to one part of the organisation, such as marketing or operations, but the cost of implementing and maintaining the project falls on a different part of the organisation, such as IT). The more complex the approval process and the more variables to consider, the less transparent the process becomes.

In praise of minimum rigour
If we were to apply the Pareto principle, we could estimate that 80% of the risk of a project can be removed by applying just 20% of the rigour. What’s more, reducing the amount of effort (and ‘sunk costs’) that go into the assessment process means that even after a project has been approved, we are less likely to feel beholden to it if conditions or information changes. So what exactly does minimum rigour look like? Well this might change from one organisation to another but there are certain characteristics you might look for

  1. It fits on a page – The plan on a page approach is common in improvement methodologies such as Lean Manufacturing. I’ve seen the ‘plan on a page’ concept extended to two sides of an A3 piece of paper but my belief is that a good plan can be presented on one side of an A4 page.
  2. It answers the big questions – There should be some clear questions that need to be answered as to why the project is being done (including a clear value proposition), how the outcome is going to be achieved, and what is going to happen.
  3. Anyone can use it – As soon as you require a Business Analyst or some other specialist person to complete the project plan, you have added unnecessary friction. The process should be available to everyone and the process for getting to ‘Yes’ should be quite clear.

The Digital Champions Framework teaches an approach to minimum rigour for IT improvement projects based on just nine questions. If you’d like to learn the approach and understand how it can be applied check out our upcoming two-day intensive training programs in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney.*

*Up until the 30th June you can also use the promo code EOFY20 to get a 20% discount on DCC event tickets.

 


Digital Champion’s Two-Day Intensive Upcoming Dates

 

 

14 – 15 AUGUST | PERTH
4 – 5 SEPTEMBER | MELBOURNE
15 – 16 OCTOBER | SYDNEY

Click here for information and tickets

 

 


See Simon Speak

Simon will be joining a panel of five awesome speakers who will be presenting at the Getting Sh!t Done Events on the following dates:

 

 

11 JUNE | CANBERRA
13 JUNE | MELBOURNE

 

Between the suggestion box and shadow IT

What is your organisation’s approach to identifying technology opportunities? One common approach is some form of suggestion box. Just pop your idea (somewhat ironically) onto a piece of paper and drop it in the box. At some later undefined date, an ‘expert’ will assess the idea and determine whether it is valid (often with little understanding of the person or job that it relates to) and affordable (often including an assessment of cost but rarely an assessment of value).

Then, assuming it meets the required criteria it will then be added to the backlog of other projects that the under-staffed IT team is currently trying to wade through. When it finally gets to the front of the queue, it will then take another indeterminate amount of time to write and approve a requirements document and scope of work which is the precursor to getting something done.

Unfortunately this approach is slow, opaque and full of friction. This in turn results in people not bothering to use it, even if they have genuinely good and easy to implement opportunities. In fact, the friction of the suggestion box method is a major contributor to another method, commonly referred to as ‘shadow IT’.

Shadow IT is when technology products are procured and deployed without the knowledge of the IT department. It involves individuals identifying a problem themselves and then playing around with a few different apps to see if one can help fix it. After signing up for half a dozen free trials and testing each of the apps with potentially sensitive corporate data, they then select their preferred solution, enter in their credit card details and the work is done…unless of course they didn’t test their requirements completely and they then find out the app didn’t work as they hoped.

Clearly, this approach also has its shortcomings. Not only is there no real consideration for information security, there is also a complete lack of rigour. These issues mean that most organisations don’t generally condone the shadow IT approach.

So what sits between the suggestion box and shadow IT? Could we add a little rigour and process to the shadow IT approach or potentially improve the speed, transparency and effectiveness of the suggestion box? Could we perhaps bring those two things together and get the best of both worlds?

The Digital Champions Framework provides a way for your citizen experts (those people in your organisation who are digitally savvy but sit outside the IT team) to identify, investigate and deliver simple yet valuable technology improvements. Not only does the development of internal digital champions facilitate the delivery of technology improvements without unnecessary burden on already stretched IT resources, it also creates ‘bottom up’ support for larger digital transformation projects.

To find out more about the Digital Champions Framework my Digital Champions Club is running a series of two-day intensives in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney. I will also be running an introductory breakfast event in Sydney at the end of this month where you can find out more about the framework and how to implement it successfully.

*Up until the 30th June you can also use the promo code EOFY20 to get a 20% discount on tickets.


Digital Champion’s Two-Day Intensive Upcoming Dates

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14 – 15 AUGUST | PERTH
4 – 5 SEPTEMBER | MELBOURNE
15 – 16 OCTOBER | SYDNEY

Click here for information and tickets

 

 

 

Automate the task, not the relationship

One of the biggest challenges with the constant barrage of new technologies is making sure we look past the novelty of the new to find meaningful use. This is particularly the case when it comes to automated marketing and communication.

It makes sense to automate low value repetitive tasks that no one enjoys doing. But we need to be very careful that we don’t allow technology to take over the personal and the meaningful. Don’t ever confuse a blog post sent out to your 3,000 followers as a relationship building exercise. That’s just information sharing, real relationship building is far more intimate than this.

Our ability to create meaningful relationships is also incredibly limited. Research suggests that we struggle to maintain more than 150 meaningful relationships which forces us to choose who we want to have each of those relationships with. But these limitations are core to us seeing value in the relationships we have. If we could automate relationships and have as many as we wanted, they’d just become worth less.

These are basic forces of supply and demand at play and this is why we ultimately value the things in life that can’t be mass produced. So embrace technology, embrace automation, but also be very careful you don’t accidentally take something that is meaningful and valuable and just make it cheap.

This blog has been lifted from an interview I did…

Three indicators your current approach to technology isn’t working

‘We operate in a conservative industry and suddenly it became really fast paced. We knew we needed to use technology to drive efficiencies and be competitive but we didn’t know where to start. We didn’t know what to do.’

The above quote comes from one of my clients. We were having a conversation recently and this is how he responded when I asked him why he joined the Digital Champions Club. I’m not sure he realised it at the time but in just a couple of short sentences he identified three excellent indicators of whether an organisation’s current digital transformation approach is serving them.

In fact, if any one of these things is true for you, it’s probably time to step back and make sure your approach is keeping you on track.

Things are getting faster, faster than you are

This particular client runs an accounting and business advisory practice. Accounting is not one of those industries that you’d generally describe as dynamic. Yet over the last few years, a combination of cloud and mobile technology, outsourcing and, more recently, A.I. has started to dramatically change the way the industry operates. If you’d describe your industry as generally conservative and yet you’re finding that things around you are starting to move faster than you are, it’s probably a sign you’re not keeping up with technological changes.

Your margins are being squeezed and you’re facing more competition

Two of the biggest benefits that organisations achieve from successful technology projects are improvements in quality and increased efficiency. Both of these have the potential to dramatically shift an organisation’s value proposition. In addition, the shift of work away from individual premises and onto the cloud is removing geography as a barrier to competition.

You don’t know which technology project to do next

Often not knowing what to do next is not because you can’t identify opportunities but rather because you have more opportunity than you can possibly manage and you may also lack the internal expertise to manage the projects well. This is particularly the case for small and medium sized organisations who don’t have the scale to justify a full time Chief Digital Officer or other technology innovation type role. Instead, often relying on a more traditional IT function whose primary focus is to ‘keep the lights on’ and lacks the expertise in innovation and change management to identify, prioritise and implement new technology solutions.

I have four events coming up where I will be talking through my game plan for successful digital projects. If you’d like to find out more check out the links below.

__________

Next week I will be presenting two events in Perth. If you’re available on either the 9th of April for 5:30pm or 11th or April from 7:30am you might like to come along and find out about my Game Plan for Successful Digital Projects.

  • Use the promo code ISUBSCRIBE to get half price tickets

I’ll be one of the keynote speakers at the Getting Sh!t Done Club on the 11th June in Canberra and again on the 13 June in Melbourne. Tickets won’t be released until after Easter but if you’d like to be one of the first to know, send us a message and we’ll keep you up to date.

Is the consulting model broken?

The Digital Champions Club recently celebrated its third birthday. At our most recent bootcamp, I shared with members the story of how the program came to be. Prior to starting the Digital Champions Club, I had spent a few years working as a consultant. I would go into organisations and work with them to map their internal processes and information flows. From this we would identify improvement opportunities where technology could create a competitive advantage. On the back of the process mapping, I would then often get asked to come back and help implement solutions.

But somewhere around three and a half years ago I became increasingly disenchanted with the approach I was taking. Although I would always enter into a consulting relationship with the best of intentions, I realised there were systemic issues with the approach that would always stop me from creating the best outcomes.

My goals weren’t necessarily aligned with the client’s goals
The client was looking for long-term sustainable change, but as a consultant I was generally paid a fixed price to deliver short term outcomes (either the mapping process, a report, or ‘implementation’). As it is difficult (and often unappealing) to structure consulting arrangements with long term incentives (consultants don’t like being tied to outcomes they have little control over and businesses generally don’t like paying consultants to do more work than absolutely necessary) the structure of most consulting agreements encourages consultants to do ‘just enough to be invited back’ rather than ‘everything they can’.

I left and my expertise left with me
One of the biggest challenges with consulting relationships is that at the end of the agreement the consultant leaves, and when they leave most of their expertise leaves with them. But perhaps even more perversely the consulting model incentives consultants to keep their intellectual property secret. The more they share the less the consultant is required next time.

As a result, it makes little sense to hire consultants for work that is critical to long-term success and enduring in nature (consultants are most suited to providing specific expertise in small amounts over short periods). For critical, enduring work we are better off employing someone directly or developing the skills internally. Given the increasingly significant role that technology plays in organisations, I felt the identification and implementation work really needed to be managed internally (even if I might be needed for some technology-specific expertise).

I didn’t know the organisations intimately
As an outsider there was always much information and many people I didn’t know. This meant I was generally guessing when I gave someone a proposal. It was an educated guess based on what had mostly worked for similar organisations in the past but it was a guess none the less. You could quite accurately describe this as a ‘cookie cutter’ solution.

The nature of the relationship also meant I had a vested interest in diagnosing a ‘problem’ and recommending a ’solution’ that aligns with my expertise, even if it wasn’t the primary problem the client was facing. This was not something that was done unethically but the limits of my expertise would have undoubtedly blinded me to alternative ideas.

Finally, a lack of intimacy would always negatively impact implementation. Without a deep understanding of an organisation’s systems, how they were used, and the people who used them, it was always difficult to know where to focus change efforts and to do them in a way that stuck.

From consulting to coaching
This was the catalyst of moving from consulting to coaching. I realised that all these three issues could be addressed by working with my clients to develop internal champions to do the work that I had previously been doing. Much like the software as a service model where you pay for software on a monthly basis (and stop paying if you stop getting value) coaching resulted in a longer term engagement that better aligned my goals with the goals of the client.

This approach also ensured that expertise was developed and retained internally. Not only did this provide clients with a certain peace of mind, it also meant that change happened continuously and, as a result, became easier. The coaching model also solved the problem of intimacy. By training up internal experts who already had knowledge of the organisation’s systems and the trust of their colleagues it meant that the right opportunities were identified and individual needs could be better understood and addressed.

I think the idea of coaching to develop internal experts over hiring consultants makes sense intuitively. It’s perhaps why all three of the clients I was consulting to when I launched the Digital Champions Club were all willing to make the move to a coaching approach.

This is not to say we should have a world without consultants. There are undoubtedly situations where access to short-term specialist expertise is required (in fact members of the Digital Champions Club are often encouraged to engage them on specific projects). But rather it is reminder to understand the limitations of the consulting model and appreciate there are other approaches that have the potential to offer better value and greater long term success.