Three Rules for the lost Consultants & HR Professionals

Have you forgotten your ‘why?’ Have you lost the plot?

All too often management consultants and HR professionals get so caught up in the day-to-day delivery that it’s easy to lose sight about what’s really important. We know that ‘strategy’ is important but it’s as if the tactical ‘getting stuff done’ becomes so overwhelming that we miss the real reason we are there in the first place. Sometimes, the strategy and tactics will diverge so completely that it’s impossible to reconcile them in any reasonable manner.

There are no universal laws of business, management or leadership that work everywhere around the world and with every company. None. There never have been, but we try to make our lives seem less complex pretending that there are. We don’t like complexity and our brains help by trying to simplifying things for us to be more comprehensible.

It’s all too easy to fall back on old aphorisms, like ‘don’t miss the forest for the trees,’ ‘think global, act local’, ‘go slow to go fast’ or ‘people are first’ or something similar. However, when you are in the ‘heat of battle’ of modern corporate life and trying to get your deliverable executed; good advice falls by the wayside just like the good advice you received from your parents when you were sixteen…that you then promptly ignored.

So, what does one do? The old strategy dictum states … when conditions are good, have a simple plan. When conditions are complex, have a very simple plan.

Here is my very simple plan.

These are three rules that I have found work effectively well no matter which country I am in, which client I am working with and no matter how complex the issue is to be solved. When a project is going poorly it usually means that I have skipped one of these rules.

  1. Know your business and what it’s trying to achieve.
    Really think about this deeply. Knowing the specific goals and outcomes the company is trying to achieve is critical. For most companies it’s ‘profitable growth.’ (And if it isn’t then be sure the client pays in advance). Many consultants can grasp ‘growth’ part and understand, for example, that Coca-Cola makes more money with the more bottles of Coke it sells. So, therefore, it’s good to design the organization and set the people systems to sell more Coke. Fine. That’s step one (which a lot of consultants miss by the way).The most important part is the other word – ‘profitable’ – and how ‘profitable’ and ‘growth’ interlink for a particular company. Knowing exactly how a company generates cash and growth and the impact it has on leadership and company culture is vital. It’s a rookie mistake to think that the cultural and leadership dynamics in high volume/low margin environment are the same as in a low volume/high margin environment. Equally, fast-growth and declining growth will produce very different stresses on corporate culture and leadership. Benchmarks? It’s far too easy just to ‘benchmark’ and look at what other companies are doing and just copy without considering if it really fits your clients’ situation. Another ‘rookie mistake.’ Every company is unique in terms of the outcome it is trying to produce. So, your solutions will also have to be unique. Don’t be a rookie!
  2. Know your leaders and what they both want and need.
    Leaders are people … and as human as the rest of us. And, just like for you and me, sometimes there is a difference between what they think they want and what they really need. Sometimes they realize this and sometimes they don’t. When this situation happens, your role as the consultant is to point that out to the client. I have often seen consultants forget this in the aim of ‘client satisfaction’ delivering only what the client has asked for or the opinion they will likely accept. It’s as if the consultant has changed their role to waiter. Don’t be an ‘order-taker.’ The business world is complex and there are no ‘sure-things’. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why you are there in the first place… provide some new thoughts or perspectives?
  3. Don’t ever forget that you are affecting people’s lives and livelihoods with your systems and programs.
    It’s all too easy to get caught up in our own cleverness and innovation and forget the impact a program will have upon those that are the recipients. Never forget whom you are serving! Empathy is key here. Your suggestions and programs will have an effect others. How would you feel if a family member or close friend was the recipient of your decision or program? Too many restructuring, performance improvement and change management programs have unintended negative consequences because the designers forgot that there is a real person with a real family on the other end.I was working with a client once that wanted to close a manufacturing plant the week before Christmas. The company wasn’t going broke, but the Division’s numbers would look better and the executives in charge might better their chance at a large bonus if they shut down this plant before the year end. The week before Christmas in a predominantly Catholic country?! Not cool and not a sound business decision!


  1. Know your business and what it’s trying to achieve.
  2. Know your leaders and what they both want and need.
  3. Don’t ever forget that you are affecting people’s lives and livelihoods with your systems and programs.

These three rules have helped me and many others I have shared them with. I hope they will serve you as well.

Robert Kovach is the Director of Leader Success for Cisco’s Leadership and Team Intelligence Practice Area. He has been an advisor to leadership teams of Fortune 500, FTSE 100 and FTSE Global 500 companies on driving business strategy through executive leadership effectiveness and organizational agility. The opinions expressed in this blog are his own and not those of Cisco. Contact him for speaking enquiries.

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2 thoughts on “Three Rules for the lost Consultants & HR Professionals

  1. Such great reminders, Robert! As I was reading your article, I remembered a book I had read years ago: Analyzing Performance Problems by Bob Mager. It was one of my earliest lessons in figuring the differences between symptom and a problem and truly getting a sense of what is needed vs. what the client thinks s/he wants. Thank you for your insights. Love reading your articles 🙂

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