The future of Organizational Consulting in a Vortex of Disruption
Organizational consultants will no-longer be able to manage the chaos of the post-Corona world unless they dive into its turbulent waters spot-on and ride the waves.
By Nili Goldfein and Galit Diamant
During Corona lockdown, I was invited to deliver a zoom lecture for Organizational Consulting students in an international Graduate program at a leading university. At first, I prepared a grand presentation, but after thinking it over, I decided to have a simple and authentic talk with them instead. This turned out to be a smart decision.
At 9 PM, nearly 50 students from all over the world zoomed in. Wonderfully open and terribly worried, they shared their concerns with me regarding the future of the profession which they have invested their time, effort and money in. One student from the US shared that his friends warned him that in face of the Coronavirus, Organizational Consulting will soon become extinct. “You should learn something practical instead,” they advised him, “how about engineering?”
As my mom would say, “The devil knows better not because he’s the devil, but because he is old.” I’m no prophet and certainly not the devil, but after 30 years of professional management consulting, my perspective on the current crisis tells me otherwise: Organizational Consulting is here to stay. Yes, it will change abruptly. It will jolt, mutate and even become lean, but it will remain an integral part of the new business world, and for all the right reasons.
From Change to Transformation
The Coronavirus was just a taste of the ‘Black Swans’* rattling the business world. The facts speak for themselves: numerous states and businesses in the Western world have dealt with the pandemic miserably, the economy as a whole is suffering and this is only the beginning of a long and winding road of change. Contrary to friendly changes we have been comfortably accustomed to in the past, we’re in for more surprises and they are far from being pleasant. Indifferent to theories by Kurt Lewin* or John Kotter’s 8-step model*, these changes have replaced linear with chaotic and have traded-in change for transformation.
The word transformation, common in contemporary management literature, is not synonymous for change. Metaphorically speaking, change is like a boy who expectedly continues to grow into a teenager and later into an adult, while transformation is like a caterpillar, that becomes a cocoon, and then reinvents itself as a butterfly.
The Dance of the Devil
Today’s global corporate transformation is like a spectacular ballet show with many dancers. In this powerful performance, each dancer has its own significant solo within a collective tornado-like choreography, also known in contemporary jargon as a vortex of disruption. Like a dance of the devil, it sweeps organizations and managers off their feet while disassembling and rapidly shaking macro-economic systems and aspects:
- Technology – Technology is not only developing exponentially: it is changing the face of humanity, through constant reshaping of complex relationships between man and machines. This has presented a 21st century paradox: the very technologies we are constantly developing to improve the quality of our work cannot function if we do not constantly change ourselves in the process.
- Diversity – Five generations are now sharing the same workplace: The Silent, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z, also known as iGens. Born into technology and social media networks, the two youngest generations are continuing to present needs, desires, habits and limitations, that are extremely different from their senior peers. These differences are challenging organizations to constantly rethink how to sail the company ship in a way that old and new generations can work together efficiently and happily.
- Regulation – The regulator is rapidly changing worldwide. While each country promotes a different agenda, they all share a common dynamic, as Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand* is being harshly shoved away in favor of government intervention. Although this usually and unfortunately happens for all the wrong reasons, it occasionally brings about some good.
- Globalization – Globalization and fragmentation require our rethinking of the term ‘Glocal’: What should be performed locally, what can be performed globally, and what does globalization mean in a world where viruses trespass international borders.
- The War of the Worlds – Advanced communication systems such as Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality, have intensified the diffusion between physical and virtual worlds. In Post-Corona times, this is particularly evident where office work and remote work are concerned. We are yet to formulate the accurate hybrid combos between the two and keep on making adjustments according to changing needs.
In other words: today more than ever, as the vortex of disruption is constantly storming through the corporate world at 360 miles per-hour, organizations need all the assistance, support and guidance they can get.
Organizational Consulting: where do we go from here?
So why all the talk about the end of Organizational Consulting? Because transformation is in the working, and we ourselves – the masters of change, have not changed enough. While the world is moving forward within this shaky crisis, many consultants are moving backwards, as they continue to rely on outdated models we learned in graduate school. Be it theories of Wilfred Bion* or Industrial Revolution models, these methods are insufficient and irrelevant to the business world today.
In face of these desperate times, many of us are taking desperate measures to earn a living and allowing our egos to take the lead. We lack the courage to refuse to do the wrong thing and refrain from telling our client “hey, this process is unnecessary”. We are reluctant to recommend another colleague, even when we know they will be a much better fit for the job. Some of us are even still afraid of technology and rather than cooperate with it, continue to hard-headedly ignore it. These examples of dangerous behaviors may indeed send the profession of organizational consulting out to exile. So, what can we do about it?
Ask the Buddha
In an ancient Buddhist story, a Master and his student are standing on the bank of a gushing river, searching for a way to cross over to the other side. “It’s impossible,” the student says: “If we enter the water, we will definitely drown.” After quietly examining the river, the Master responds: “Follow me.” He dives into the river – and disappears. Frantic, the student searches for his teacher, and miraculously finds him a few hundred yards away, on the other side of the river, safe and sound.
“How did you do it?” he yelled in astonishment, “what’s your secret?”
“It’s simple”, the Master replies: “I entered at the exact right spot, didn’t resist the current and let the water carry me without any struggle. “
This story is a great demonstration of what the future of Organizational Consulting can and should look like. When facilitating change in a world that is constantly transforming itself within a vortex of disruption, chaos cannot be managed unless we dive into its turbulent waters, spot-on, and ride the waves.
Insights and Tips for organizational wave-riders:
- Bye-bye amateurs: Amateur consultants who will continue to say yes to any project, including those that are not in their field of expertise – will not survive these challenging times. The world is becoming transparent; clients are now trusting their gut feeling on what is good for them and who is professional. Your pitch can be excellent and you might even be able to seal the deal, but you won’t be able to ride on false pretense for long.
Tip – Stay in your element. Specialize in what you’re great at and continue to learn and develop your expertise. Set clear and honest boundaries for your range of services, and in case of a job offer outside of your range, be brave and refer your clients to better fitted colleagues that can get the job done. Generosity to others will reward you with generosity towards you and will help you stay in your element and keep on doing, being and loving what you do best.
- Embrace Hollywood Casting: This work-mode is borrowed from the world of showbiz, when performing different scenes with different talent in different locations and time frames is needed. Once the scene is completed, the temporary cast is dissolved, and each member moves on to his or her next project.
Tip – Cast away! Meet other professionals, learn to work with a wide variety of talent and whatever you do – don’t try to do it all alone. Invite colleagues who complete your expertise to join you in your project, and do not settle for less than a spot-on expert for the job. Don’t be afraid to trust people you’ve met for the first time or who are different from you. This is a great learning experience that can reveal new personal strengths you never knew that existed in you. Be bold and do it. Cast your crew, be awesome, complete your mission and move on to the next great project.
- Technology is not our enemy: it is a complementary asset. You don’t have to be a scientist, an algorithm wizard or an engineer to understand the importance of technology to scale, measure and analyze any 21st century project. If you love technology, use it intensively. If you’re not a tech-fan, bring a partner on board to complete the tech aspects of your project.
Tip – If you can’t beat them, join them! In today’s chaotic world of work, cross-disciplinary collaborations that used to be ‘nice to have’, are now a must. Respectively, as Information System departments have become integral strategic bodies in every organization, collaborating with them and with their technologies is no less than mandatory. Deal with it and try to have some fun along the way.
- A brief history of time: In the past, we used to conduct intensive diagnostics, interventions and assessments, submit massive reports and deliver long management workshops. Today everything is shorter and messier. If you don’t know how to work at short intervals, your consultation will soon become irrelevant. Stop telling your clients that they do not understand processes, because they do, and for heaven’s sake, stop using the loathsome cliché that “like pregnancy, some processes can’t be cut short.” That’s disrespectful, arrogant and ignorant. Understand that your clients really have no time, money or patience for an excessive combat theory that becomes irrelevant within minutes.
Tip- Processes are no longer linear. They are chaotic. Long, linear consulting processes are not welcome anymore. Do not try to convince otherwise. Instead, listen to your clients and go with their flow. They know their business much better than us. If they say they only have an hour and a half for a workshop or that they prefer to complete the diagnosis by themselves– believe them and help them.
- ‘Passing the Torch’ – There will be much more torch-passing between inhouse projects and consultants that specialize in a specific expertise that is currently missing in the organization. Organizational consultants will have to agree to put their egos on hold and willingly pass the torch back and forth. It is far less financially lucrative, but during these times it is the right thing to do.
Tip – Listen well to your clients and help them do the right thing, with the right people and the right processes while passing the torch back and forth. When doing so, we should keep in mind that our tendency to ‘educate’ our clients is annoying and damaging to our professional image. Remember: the question for our clients is no longer “whether or not to do it”, but rather “how can I help you do it”.
- Academia must transform, as of yesterday: If the academia will not radically change, it will not survive. We may get our basic training in college, but character traits and skills are becoming far more important than memorizing theories or conducting research. That is why our learning and development work is mostly about ourselves. A clear understanding of who we are, our value proposition and our professional and personal callings are the new trade currencies, far more valuable than any diploma or degree. Learning, development and change will make all the difference between a sought-after consultant and an unemployed one.
Tip – Invest in yourself. Professional knowledge is important, but in a multi- disciplinary world, it is not enough. Engage in new worlds of content such as emotional skills, science, spirit, art, or anything that you feel will make you better acquainted with yourself and with your value proposition.
Closing with a blast from the past
Many years ago, one of my favorite organizational consultants at NGG handed in her resignation letter after being offered a job in a large global organization. When I asked what brought her to resign, she answered: “I’m willing to constantly tiptoe and I’m willing to constantly run, but I don’t want to constantly run while tiptoeing”.
But that was then. Today we all need to constantly run while tiptoeing. Those who chose to do this willingly and with passion to help shape the new world of business, will rise to become great professionals. If you are in it for money, prestige or ego, learn something else. There will always be a need for more talented engineers. Whatever you decide, remember Jacob M. Braude’s famous quote: “Life is like a grindstone; whether it grinds you down or polishes you up depends on what you’re made of.” Good luck 😊.
References and reading recommendations:
- Nassim Nicholas Taleb; The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable
- Ram Jaulus; The Age of Urgency: Organizational Survival in a World of Disruption
- Kurt Lewin – Change Management and Group Dynamics Thinker
- Kurt Lewin: groups, experiential learning and action research
- Steven H. Appelbaum, Sally Habashy, Jean‐Luc Malo, Hisham Shafiq: Back to the future: revisiting Kotter’s 1996 change model. Journal of
- Management Development, ISSN: 0262-1711, August 2012
- Economic Times, Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand
- Malcolm Pines, Robert Lipgar; Building on Bion: Branches; Contemporary Developments and Applications of Bion’s Contributions to Theory and Practice