Flawless Consulting

Author: Peter Block
cf.: http://www.designedlearning.com/index.htm (a Peter Block Company)

Preface to the Second Edition

p. xvii- For whatever the reason, authenticity continues to be rare in our workplaces.

p. xviii- The alternative is to realize that a crucial part of implementation is the art of engagement, the ways to bring people together to create and plan how to make something work. This approach rests on the idea that shifts in the intangibles–relationships, commitment, accountability–are what makes implementation succeed.

Chapter 1 –  A Consultant by Any Other Name…

p.2- A consultant is a person in a position to have some influence over an individual, a group, or an organization, but who has no direct power to make changes or implement programs. A manager is someone who has direct responsibility over the action. The moment you take direct responsibility, you are acting as a manager.

p.3- The client is the person or persons that the consultant wants to influence, without exercising direct control.

p.4- When you act on the behalf of or in the place of the manager, you are acting as a surrogate manager. …
The attraction of the surrogate manager role is that, at least for that one moment, you assume the manager’s power — but you do the manager’s job, not yours.

p.5- The consultant’s objective is to engage in successful actions that result in people or organizations managing themselves differently.

p.6- When consultants talk about their disasters, their conclusion is usually that the project was faulty in the initial contracting stage.

p.7- There are many options for ending the relationship, and termination should be considered a legitimate and important part of the consultation.

Five phases of consulting:

  1. Entry and Contracting
  2. Discovery and Dialogue
  3. Feedback and the Decision to Act
  4. Engagement and Implementation
  5. Extension, Recycle, or Termination

p.8- One of my beliefs is that the preliminary events are in many ways more crucial for success than the main event. An understanding of consulting skills is really an understanding of preliminary events.

p. 8- The power balance in lateral relationships is always open to ambiguity–and to negotiation.

p.11- Each act that expresses trust in ourselves and belief in the validity of our own experience is always the right path to follow. Each act that is manipulative or filled with pretense is always self-destructive.

p.11- The desire to be successful can lead us into playing roles and adopting behaviors that are internally alien and represent some loss of ourselves.

Chapter 2 Techniques Are Not Enough

p. 13- In acting as a consultant, you always operate at two levels. One level is the substance, the cognitive part of a discussion between yourself and the client.

p 15 – When you start a program, communication on the program is often required –when it is, what the arrangements are, why you’re doing it.  It’s important that the client go to the trouble of writing the letter and doing this communicating, not because it’s a task that only the client can do — in fact, the consultant might be in a better position to do it — but it’s a way of visibly expressing to the organization that the client is taking at least 50% of the responsibility for the program.

p.15- It is equally important for you to pay close attention to your own feelings during the consultation, particularly during the early stages, and use these as valuable data on how the organization functions and how this person manages.

p.16- Skill in consulting is not only skill in providing a program, a process, and procedures that respond to the client’s needs. It’s also your skill in being able to identify and put into words the issues around trust, feelings, responsibility, and your own needs.

p.17- Teaching the managers skills in solving the problem themselves next time requires that they understand that disturbing employee behavior is a symptom of more basic problems, and that they should not ask others to confront problems that belong to them.  …
Each of us doing consulting ought to be very clear about our own beliefs. Our own consulting behavior should be consistent with the style of management we advocate to our clients. If we are recommending to our clients that they tighten up controls, be more decisive, and set clear goals, we will be undermining our credibility if we operate without controls, are indecisive, and aren’t quite sure where we are headed. If we think our clients should work on being more participative and collaborative, we undermine ourselves if we keep tight control of our consulting projects and don’t act collaboratively with the very clients we are trying to encourage to try collaboration.

p.20- Each situation has two elements: The technical/business problem that has to be resolved and the way people are interacting around that problem.

p.21- Our impact is determined by the client’s commitment to our suggestions. Building this commitment is often a process of removing obstacles that block the client from acting on our advice.

Roles: Expert, Pair of Hands, Collaborative   (pages 22-30)

Expert Role Pair-of-Hands Role Collaborative Role
I have neither the time nor the inclination to deal with this problem.  You’re the expert; find out what’s wrong and fix it.  You have a free hand to examine the operation and do whatever analysis is necessary.  Keep me posted on our findings and what you intend to do. I have neither the time nor the inclination to deal with this problem.  i have examined the deficiencies and have prepared an outline of what needs to be done.  I want you to get it done as soon as possible.
The manager elects to play an inactive role. The consultant takes a passive role. The consultant and manager work to become interdependent.
Decisions on how to proceed are made by the consultant, on the basis of his or her expert judgment. Decisions on how to proceed are made by the manager. Decision making is bilateral.
Information needed for problem analysis is gathered by the consultant. The manager selects methods for data collection and analysis. Data collection and analysis are joint efforts.
Technical control rests with the consultant. Control rests with the manager. Control issues become matters for discussion and negotiation.
Collaboratin is not required. Collaboration is not really necessary. Collaboration is considered essential.
Two-way communication is limited. Two-way communication is limited. Communication is two-way.
The consultant plans and implements the main events. The manager specifies change procedures for the consultant to implement. Implementation responsibilities are determined by discussion and agreement.
The manager’s role is to judge and evaluate after the fact. The manager’s role is to judge and evaluate  from a close distance.
The consultant’s goal is to solve the immediate problem. The consultant’s goal is to make the system more effective by the application of specialized knowledge. The consultant’s goal is to solve problems so they stay solved.
in a climate of fear/mistrust, consultant might not get what they want/need.recommendations carry no sense of ownership for the client. Inappropriate assessment by manager means implementation will be flawed.Managers preferring this role for consultants see collaboration as questioning managers authority, experience, or both. Those preferring expert see this as foot dragging.Those who prefer pair-of-hands see this as insubordination.
Source: Peter Block’s Flawless Consulting, pp. 21-27,
based on Ed Shein’s Process Consulting Revisited: Building the Helping Relationship.

Chapter 3 Flawless Consulting

p. 37- Authentic behavior with a client means you put into words what you are experiencing with the client as you work. This is the most powerful thing you can do to have the leverage you are looking for and to build client commitment.

p.38- It is a mistake to assume that clients make decisions to begin projects and use consultants based on purely rational reasons. More often than not, the client’s primary question is: “Is this consultant someone I can trust? Is this someone I can trust not to hurt me, not to con me–someone who can both help solve the organizational or technical problems I have and, at the same time, be considerate of my position and person?”

p.41-  1. Negotiating Wants. Setting up a project requires the client and the consultant to exchange what they want from each other and what they have to offer each other. Too often, consultants understate their wants and clients understate their offers.

2. Coping with Mixed Motivation. When clients ask for help, they always do so with some ambivalence. They want you to get involved and be helpful, but at the same time wish they had never met you. One hand beckons you, the other says stop. A requirement of contracting is to get this mixed motivation expressed early in the project so it won’t haunt you later.

3. Surfacing Concerns About Exposure and Loss of Control. Most of the real concerns clients have about pursuing a consulting project with you are expressed quite indirectly. They ask about credentials, experience, results elsewhere, cost, timing, and more. Often what they are really concerned about is: (1) Are they going to be made to look or feel foolish or incompetent? and (2) Will they lose control of either themselves, their organization, or you the consultant? These concerns have to be addressed directly as part of the contracting phase.

p.43- Presenting data to the client is only a part of the agenda: The main goal is to work on the decision about what to do.

p.44- If you are not meticulously aware of how your own project is being handled, you will simply become the latest casualty.

p.44- The resistance you encounter during the process is resistance to the prospect of having to act on difficult organizational issues. Don’t be seduced into taking it personally.

p.46- …the consultant’s desire to have the client manager support the project and tell his or her people about it.

p.46- …discuss the client’s motivation to proceed with the project.

p.46- When we bend over in the beginning, we are seen by the client as someone who works in an bent-over position. When we avoid issues in the beginning, we are seen by the client as someone who avoids issues. It is difficult to change these images and expectations of us–particularly if the client wishes us to bend over and avoid.

p.47- If consultants really believe that they should be responsible for implementing their recommendations, they should immediately get jobs as line managers and stop calling themselves consultants.

p.48- Our clients will know, even if they cannot name it easily, what contribution we made to their effort. Our need for concrete demonstration of our results is either to reassure our doubts or to serve our needs to market our services.

p.50- Pressuring clients to feel we have immediately helped them can be a tremendous obstacle to the learning we are trying to promote.

p.50- A second reason consultants can’t judge their work just by managers’ reactions is that, like it or not, client managers have a right to fail. Managers have a right to avoid dealing with operator problems on the furnace, to keep loose controls on petty cash, to have inconsistent pay policies for the field sales force. Managers also have a right to suffer, and as consultants we are usually too much on the periphery of their lives to really change this.

p.51- Taking over the manager’s rights, including the right to fail, leads to consulting errors. It can also lead to frustration and despair, for you may be taking on a task that you are just not positioned to accomplish.

Chapter Four Contracting Overview

p.58- What’s important to remember here is that you only undermine your leverage if you underplay your own needs and wants at the beginning. The contract needs balanced consideration to be strong.

p.59- It is always necessary to talk about control, vulnerability, your wants, and chances of success.

p.59- For most internal consultants, the real value of a written contract is to clarify the understanding with the line manager before the project begins. It is a good test of whether you have a solid contract. Writing down the agreement forces you to be more explicit about what you are going to do.

p.62- Despite what the line manager says to you, there is always some desire for confirmation that the organization is doing the best that can be done under the circumstances. This desire at times can be stronger than the desire to solve the problem. One way to hedge against this ambivalence is to be very explicit at the beginning about what kind of information you need.

p.64- It is the client who is going to actually deliver continuing results, not you. You can guarantee a solution to the problem, but you can’t guarantee that the solution will be followed.

Chapter 5 The Contracting Meeting

p.69- The personal interaction between the consultant and the client during the initial contracting meetings is an accurate predictor of how the project itself will proceed.

p.70- Clarify what outcome is expected from the meeting. Is it a meeting to decide how to get started or whether to do anything at all?

p.70- What do you want to discuss? Who is the client for this project? Who else will be at the meeting? What are their roles? How much time will we have? Do you know that you want to begin some project, or are we going to discuss whether we do anything at all?

p.70- One of the ground rules of contracting is that you cannot contract with someone who’s out of the room. If their are major actors not present as you are setting up a project, you can’t assume that they support the project until you actually meet with them.

p.71- …it is a difficult thing in organizations to ask for help.

p.73- …before the consultant comes on the scene, clients have made their best efforts to solve the problem themselves. It is understandable that they are frustrated by the lack of a solution and somewhat skeptical about the consultant’s possible contribution.

p. 74- …the real problem is often quite different from the client’s opening problem statement.

p.75- Your reassurance has to be genuine. You are stating that you can help find a solution and not that you know the solution right now. Your expertise is really knowing the steps that have to be followed to find a solution. This is what you have to offer.

p.76- There is a difference between what the client wants from the project and what the client wants from you.

p.77- …ask the client whether there are any specific notions about how you should proceed or what the constraints on this project are.

p.78- After hearing what the client wants from you, you next want to ask what support the client can offer you on the project.

p.79- These wants have to be expressed in the contracting phase. The risk of not expressing your wants is that the project will not succeed, and an unsuccessful project is worse than no project at all.

p.81- Tell me about problems with the projects as they happen.

p.83- When we identify what we want from the client, the want comes first, the justification afterward.

p.84- Operating improvements can only be a joint promise between consultant and client, not a unilateral consultant promise. If I offer results of simply my own efforts as a consultant, I am presenting myself as a magician.

p.85- For most of us doing consulting, there are two things we need to constantly work on: 1. Stating clearly, sometimes running the risk of overstatement, what we need and want from the client to make this project work. 2. Being cautious, sometimes running the risk of understatement, about the results we alone will deliver on this project.

p.86- It forces them to take responsibility for the fact that they too are beginning a project without supporting it fully. Sometimes the act of clients’ acknowledging they are acting under some coercion can actually serve to increase their commitment to a project.

p.86- Having the conversation about commitment to the project near the end of the contracting meeting is important. Do it.

p.89- You are stuck when you hear yourself re-explaining something for the third time.

p.90- When you are saying to yourself, “The client really doesn’t understand what I am talking about,” the truth is that the client really does understand what you are talking about and does not agree.

p.90- You are stuck when you notice the client diving into the third explanation of the same idea.
Your body will give you clear messages that you are getting stuck.
Your eyes give you the best cues that the contracting process has bogged down. 
Trust what you see. Believe nonverbal messages.

p.91- Resist the mind game of interpreting specific gestures. Do trust the general messages.

p.95- Despite the risk, it is in the consultant’s and the client’s best interests to refuse projects that do not have a reasonable chance for success.

p.96- The reason to say no is simply to avoid failure and the waste of your resources.
Saying no says that we have limits, that we have a right to declare boundaries and decide on our own what we commit to.
If we cannot say no, then yes loses its meaning.

p.96- If you can’t postpone the project, minimize the scope of the job and the time it will require. Narrow the objectives of the project. Do what you can to reduce the visibility of the project and reduce the drain on your time and energy. The key is to be honest with yourself about the limitations of the project.

p.97- So be realistic about unattractive projects.  …  It is just not good for business to take on low-chance-of-success projects.

p.101- The way out of the resistance is to help the client express directly, in words, the negative feelings. The more the client can express the feelings of distrust, the freer the client will be to really consider my offer on its merits.

p.103- …more is probably learned from watching consultants than from listening to them. This is why authentic behavior is an integral part of your consulting flawlessly.

p.104- The contracting meeting is a leading indicator of how the rest of the project is going to go. Examining your answers to these questions will give you an idea of what problems you are continually going to have to deal with on the project.

Chapter 6 The Agonies of Contracting

p.110- Because the client both wants you on the project and at the same time wishes you to be more distant, your role definition with the client becomes subject to the process of ceaseless negotiation.

p.114- The timing of your renegotiation is also very important. It has to take place as soon as you sense the client is treating you differently, that something has changed.

p.114- Still, no matter how long the time lags, the discussion of a changed contract needs to take place.

p.126- This “identifying the client” is a critical issue in the entry phase. The consultant needs to clarify and get agreement on mutual expectations before any work is done.

p.128- It is important to realize that Jim’s vocal objections are condoned by the quietness of the others. This keeps us from branding Jim as the problem.

Chapter 7 The Internal Consultant

p.131- An external consultant’s status and level are more ambiguous, so they can bounce around from level to level more easily.

p.136- The clarity of understanding and agreement with your boss greatly affects your ability to respond appropriately and flawlessly with your clients.

p.137- First, list the key wants you have of your boss. Then ask your boss to make a list of the key wants he or she has of you. After you have both completed your lists, exchange lists and then meet together to see whether you can agree on a contract that represents a reasonable balance between what your group or department requires to meet its commitments to the overall organization and what you need to be responsive to the needs and priorities of your clients. If the conversation does not go well, you are ready for the next two chapters–on understanding and dealing with resistance.

Chapter 8 Understanding Resistance

p.139- The key to understanding the nature of resistance is to realize that resistance is a reaction to an emotional process taking place within the client. It is not a reflection of the conversation we are having with the client on an objective logical, rational level. Resistance is a predictable, natural, emotional reaction against the process of being helped and against the process of having to face up to difficult organizational problems.

p.140- Be able to identify when resistance is taking place. View resistance as a natural process and a sign that you are on target. Support the client in expressing the resistance directly. Not take the expression of the resistance personally or as an attack on you or your competence.

p.143- The manager’s fear of surprise is really the desire to always be in control.

p.143- See the client’s desire not to be surprised for what it is–a form of resistance and not really a reflection of your work.

p.143- Silence never means consent.

p.144- When this happens, your task is to bring the discussion back to actions, away from theories.

p.145- Moralizing can be seductive to the consultant.

p.145- Resist the temptation with as much grace and persistence as possible.

p.146- Repeated questions about method or suggestions of alternate methods can serve to delay the discussion of problems and actions.

p.146-7- As you get closer and closer to the time for the client to face the issue and act on the problem, you begin to hear about how much better things seem to be getting.

p.147- You talk to the client in May and agree to start the project on June 20. When  you call on June 10 to confirm the beginning of the project, the manager says, “We can still begin the project if we want to, but for some reason, it appears the problem is not so severe.” Nothing can be identified that changed the way the group does business… what happened was the group realized that on June 20 they would have to start confronting their problems, so it seemed easier to act as if the problems weren’t so important now.

p.148- If all of a sudden the client is telling you that the symptoms are improving, I would be concerned that they are grasping for improvement too dearly and are smoothing over what should be the real focus of your consultation.

p.148- The desire for solutions can prevent the client from learning anything important about the nature of the problem.

p.148- It is not you the client is defending against. Resistant clients are defending against the fact that they are going to have to make a difficult choice, take an unpopular action, confront some reality that they  have emotionally been trying to avoid.

p.149- Difficult Realities– Someone may have to be fired or told that they are not performing adequately. People in the group may be very dissatisfied and the manager may be reluctant to surface the dissatisfaction. The manager may feel inadequate in some part of the job and not want to face that inadequacy. The political situation may be very risky and the manager doesn’t want to make waves. The talk at hand may require skills that do not exist in the organization now. This may mean getting rid of some people, which is always hard to do. The manager’s boss may be part of the problem, and the manager may not want to confront the boss. The organization may be selling products or services to a declining market and this is too discouraging to deal with. The manager knows he operates autocratically, doesn’t want to change, yet sees the negative effects of it. A developmental project in which a lot of money has been invested is turning up some negative results. This means bad news has to be sent up the line, and promises made earlier will be taken back.

p.150- Most very technical or business-related problems are in some way caused or maintained by how that problem is being managed.

p.150- When you encounter resistance, you are seeing the surface expression of more underlying anxieties. Two things are happening. 1. The client is feeling uncomfortable, and 2. The client is expressing the discomfort indirectly.

p.150- The manager’s direct expression of underlying concerns is not resistance. Resistance occurs only when the concerns about facing the difficult realities and the choice not to deal with them are expressed indirectly.

p.152- As you move up an organization and deal with people at higher and higher levels, you realize that the feeling of being judged and having to prove yourself again and again is part of every position in the organization, all the way up to the chief executive officer.

p.152- Politics is the exercise of power.

p.153- Summary: When you encounter resistance, try to understand it. Look for client concerns about control and vulnerability.

p.153- We are getting paid to consult, not to manage.

p.155- The process of dealing with resistance helps the client move from a position of helplessness, alienation, and confusion to a position of choice, engagement, and clarity. The consultant accomplishes this by internally moving from feelings of low impact, distance, and poor information to a position of high impact, authenticity, and clarity.

p.155- Resistance comes in part from the discomforts of being dependent and asking for help.

p.156- When the manager is feeling very pessimistic that the project of being helped is remote, this stance itself is your immediate obstacle to solving the problem. No technical solutions will suffice if the manager has no energy to try it.

p.156- Resistance is an  emotional process, not a rational or intellectual process.

p.156- When we help the resistance get expressed, it diminishes and we are then working with a client who is ready and willing to learn and be influenced. Flawlessly dealing with resistance is understanding the two-headed nature of being in the client position–and accepting it as OK.

p.157- The wish of systems to remain predictable (don’t surprise me) is a defense the consultant has to deal with continually.

p.158- Ogres are not really consumed with vengeance for consultants–they are worried about the people who are giving them a hard time. Behind the ogre’s blustery facade are the same concerns al managers have–about losing control and becoming vulnerable. The more aggressive the client, the more intense are the concerns and the more the client needs support.

p.158- This wish to be the heroic consultant more than anything else leads into taking bad contracts.

p.158- If it has no reward, the project should be challenged.

p.159- This heroic impulse in the consultant is the consultant’s own resistance against facing the realities of a difficult project. Resist taking unstable or unrealistic contracts. If you can’t say no, say later. If you can’t say later, say little. Heroes have a hard life. The rewards are overrated. Most heroes, unless you are the best in the world, get paid just about what you are making right now.

Chapter 9 Dealing with Resistance

p.161- There is no way you can talk clients out of their resistance, because resistance is an emotional process. Behind the resistance are certain feelings. You can not talk people out of how they are feeling.

p.161- Feelings pass and change when they are expressed directly.

p.162- This is the way to deal with resistance–to encourage full expression of the concerns so that they pass.

p.163- When the client’s concerns are stated directly, the consultant knows what the real issues are and can respond effectively.

p.165- There are probably certain phrases you hear a lot that signal difficulty. Take the time to make a list of them now, and update your list as you grow more skilled in picking up the cues of resistance.

p.169- Dealing with resistance is harder than actually doing data collection and much harder than coming up with good ideas for implementation. The meat of consultation is dealing with resistance.

Chapter 10 From Diagnosis to Discovery

p.174- Better to define our talk as a process of discovery and dialogue more than as an act of diagnosis and prescription.

p.174-5- We cannot ignore that we are dealing with human systems, and human systems are not amenable to technical solutions.

p.175- The stance we want to take is that we can be a guide through a process of discovery, engagement, and dialogue, in which our clients will find an answer to their question and launch an implementation that will be enduring and productive. It may seem like playing with words, but it makes a difference in what we do and what we leave behind.

p.175- This chapter details the kind of discovery, engagement, and dialogue that gives us our best shot at building client capacity and solving problems so they stay solved.

p.176- The purpose, then, of discovery is to mobilize action on a problem. Action that will improve the organization’s functioning.

p.178- This action orientation makes the assumption that client readiness to accept your input is as important to discovery as the technical analysis of the problem to be solved.

p.180- Here’s an example of how presenting problems get redefined.

p.182- …there is a part of us (with support from the client) that does not want to get into the “personalities” or “politics” or “relationships.” It is a mistake to avoid these areas.

p.183- Technical/business problems almost always have accompanying management problems that affect how the technical/business problem gets resolved.

p.183- Engineers so busy with crisis after crisis that new developments get low priority.

p.186- To not address the organizational side is to see your technical recommendations distorted and only partially implemented because of the difficulty the organization has in communicating, trusting, and managing itself.

p.186- At a minimum, each assessment you do should have one section devoted to how the problem is being managed.

p.187- Withholding data on the interpersonal or process dimensions of a problem is to collude with the organization in not dealing with them. Part of the reason they can’t manage their business as well as they would like to is because they can’t articulate how to handle conflict and authority and communication.

p.187- To summarize, remember to do these things in discovery. Ask questions about the client’s own personal role in causing or maintaining the presenting or target problem. Ask questions about what others in the organization are doing to cause or maintain the presenting or target problem. Plan the data collection jointly with the client. Involve your client in interpreting the data collected. Recognize the similarity between how the client managed you and how they manage their own organization. Condense the data into a limited number of issues. Use language that is understandable to people outside your area of expertise, Distinguish between the presenting problem and the underlying problem. Elicit and describe both the technical problem and how it is being managed.

Chapter 11 Getting the Data

p.190- Remember that asking people questions creates expectations that they will get feedback on the results.

p.190- Don’t over invest.

p.192- They should be within the control of the group who requested the study.

p.196- You can also assume that how the organization manages its current situation will be identical to how you and your suggestions will be managed.

p.196- If you want to be of unique value to your client, then you have to take the risk of offering unique information. Accurate information about how the organization is functioning is not available to most managers. The people they work with have such a vested interest in the organization that no one is trusted to be objective. You have less of a vested interest and are in the best position to deal with sensitive issues.

p.198- Top Layer What is the technical or business problem that you are experiencing?

p.199- The objective of the discovery (especially with an individual) is to discover a statement of the problem that is enlightening and “actionable”–something someone can do something about.

p.199- Uncovering deeper layers of a problem is really the search for unused resources the line manager has to solve the problem.

p.203- If you want to understand the client’s management style, you simply have to observe how you are treated.

p.203- Paying close attention to how you are managed by the client early in the project gives you more guidance on what to explore in determining how the technical/business problem is being managed.

p.208- …remember that your goal in each consultation is to catalyze action, not just to have an accurate assessment.

p.209- The strength of any third-party strategy is objectivity. Third parties offer an independent point of view, an outlook that is not colored by being so part of a culture that they cannot see it in a new way.

p.210- People will resist change being inflicted on them, no matter how compelling the case.

p.215- It demands that we develop our ability to design learning experiences for others.

Chapter 13 Preparing for Feedback

p.217- If you have presented a clear and simple picture of why the problem exists, the client will have as many ideas for recommendations as you do. The reason the manager has run out of recommendations to believe in is because of the inadequate picture of the problem the manager is now working with.

p.219- The first is to develop explanations for problems that leave the solution outside the client’s control.

p.219- The second way we tend to collude with clients is to play down the impact difficult relationships have on the problem.

p.219- Don’t avoid dealing with it. Helping the manager face up to the connection difficult relationship have to the problem may be the most important contribution you can make.

p.219- Don’t project your feelings onto the client. Make statements to the client and then ask how the client feels about the statements.

p.220- Even though many clients say they only want to hear about the problem, don’t you believe it. Give support even if it is not requested.

p.220- The hardest data to report may be about the client’s own personal style: Just confront the client with this information in as straight and supportive a way as possible. If the consultant avoids information that creates tension, then why does the client need the consultant? The client already knows how to avoid tension. Your role is to help the client move toward the tension and face the difficult reality that has been skirted.

p.221- Assertive feedback is stating to the client how you see the problem without implying that they client is a bad manager.

p.221- Aggressive feedback is stating the problem in a way that emplaces the manager is incompetent, immoral, unfeeling, uncaring, or stupid. If “you dummy” fits nicely at the end, it was an aggressive statement.

p.221- Nonassertive feedback occurs when you don’t present the client information on how the problem is being managed, or how the management style of the manager is affecting the problem.

p.221- In wording feedback, then, the goal is to describe what you have found and not to evaluate it.

p.225- People need support in order to have the strength to take responsibility for problems.

Chapter 14 Managing the Feedback Meeting

p.227- The excitement of the feedback meeting is that it holds the promise of someone’s deciding something.

p.228- The data should focus on a few central aspects of the problem. The mistake with most presentations is that they are too long and too intricate.

p.229- Problem statement  Why the problem exists  What happens if the problem is not fixed  in the short term  in the long term  Recommended solutions  Expected benefits

p.233- Presenting a perfect package at the feedback meeting is a mistake.

p.234- How the client reacts to the data is more important to implementation than the data itself.

p.235- The goal here is to move toward any tension in the situation and to elicit any unexpressed resistance.

p.237- If the client makes a decision when you are not present, the chances are somewhat less that the decision will really deal with the difficult realities your study has surfaced.

p.237- The reason the client would want to exclude the consultant from the decision is to maintain control. To keep the consultant from the decision is really another form of resistance.

p.240- Many of the issues explored in the discovery phase that deal with dysfunctional ways of operating will be acted out in this meeting. Being conscious of this will help you resist getting stuck in the meeting.

p.243- There is always going to be some segment of the group that is going to feel tremendous anxiety and resist.

p.244- …you have to have some political sensitivity about where the power really is in the group and whose opinion is really going to sway the group. Invest your energy in those people, rather than in the most verbal or vocal people who are raising questions. You might say at some point, “Well, we’ve heard several questions from Bob and John. I don’t know how the rest of you are feeling. Jean (if Jean is the boss), what do you feel about this?” On the other hand, if your client gives you quick compliance to a suggestion–beware. Many styles of handling conflict are to deal with it in either a passive or compliant way, and I would be very suspicious of that.

p.246- In your work with managers, you need to model the same kind of authentic behavior that you’re suggesting they engage in when dealing with their subordinates. You’re always acting as a model for a style of working problems and, in fact, the most meaningful vehicle for managers’ learning about problem solving is to have them experience how you handle problems. That may mean much more than anything you say verbally or any kind of process you would have them engage in with their subordinates.

Chapter 15 Implementation

p.248- Any implementation requires not only a shift in what is tangible, such as methods or structure, but also a shift in what is intangible, such as relationships and personal faith and commitment.

p.249- Implementation does not actually begin until the people who do the work decide whether they are going to make real changes or simply go through the motions. Real changes require real commitment, and part of your role is to help fire that spark.

p.249- In our adoration of leaders and stubborn belief in individualism, we think that when the boss’s mind is made up, action will follow. This is rarely the case. No single person runs a business, no one person makes or delivers a product, no one general ever fought a war.

p.250- Change in human systems has much more to do with the consent of the governed than the will and ability of those who govern. Even in a monarchy.

p.252- The fact that everyone wants to know the vision of the top does not make it meaningful.

p.252- If we all threw our vision statements in a hat and drew one out, we would think it was ours regardless of where it came from. I finally realized that it was the act of creating a vision that matters, not so much the content of what it was.

p.252- Vision is more a dialogue than a declaration. It is an important conversation, a significant stretch of the imagination, and it needs to emerge as a collective work-in-progress from each unit.

p.253- To have high expectations of others is to have faith in them. It is an expression of optimism and hope in the capacities of another. It is an expression of the connection between people and is experienced as support. Standard setting, as it is most commonly used to trigger change, is not born of support, but born of disappointment and demand.

p.254- What corrupts the process is the belief that one group knows what is best for another.

p.254- If managers believe in higher standards, let them set them for themselves and live according to them for a while.

p.255- In its simplest terms it implies that behavior can be purchased. If we can just define the behavior that we want and place a price tag on it, the buyer (management) and the seller (employee) will be satisfied.

p.255- Father Knows Best played well on television forty years ago, but the script calls for compliant, well-behaved children to complete the deal.

p.257- Why not have our change strategy recognize this and make the demand that if people need a better understanding of something new, they’d best get to work figuring it out?

p.257- The desire for a common language is a mask for the wish that everyone think and act similarly.

p.257-8- No argument with the need for measurement; it’s just a question of how central it should become and who should provide it. When we impose measurements system-wide, we have to be very careful that we really need and can make use of the measures that are collected.

p.258- We move on to soft ground, though, when we invite the economist in to develop common measures for how we are working together, what processes will create quality, and, in general, anything in the realm of how human systems operate. Every measurement of the human or qualitative dimension of work leaves more untested than it covers.

p.258- Each of us wants feedback on how we are doing. But the feedback does not create the doing. Imposed measures on the qualitative aspect of work may actually get in the way of the doing.

p.259- Trying harder, pressuring, and persuading have limited impact on changing a social system. And when they do help, they soon develop their own immune system.

p.259- A social system is a living system and not that amenable to linear or mechanical beliefs about organizations. Whenever management or consultants bet on definitions, inducements, measures, and standards, they unintentionally reinforce the bureaucratic mind-set that we are trying to reduce. They are the engineer’s and economist’s tools. Engineering and economic strategies do not build commitment and accountability, despite their appealing face value.

Chapter 16 Strategies for Engagement

p.263- The decision to support change is not just based on logic and reason; we need to help our clients deal with attitudes and feelings as well.

p.263- Results are achieved when members of a system collectively choose to move in a certain direction. It is this act of choice that is critical.

p.263- Leadership behavior is not as vital as membership behavior.

p.264- Leaders can no more induce action on the part of their followers than consultants can induce action on the part of their clients.

p.265- The most technical content will not be acted on without a different interaction within the client system. If the quality of the interaction does not change, no amount of rewards, standards, and measurement will have an impact.

p.265- Implementation of any change boils down to whether people at several levels are going to take responsibility for the success of the change and the institution. This is it. Period.

p.266- Even if we were great speakers, the impact of using broadcast methods for implementation is to increase passivity, deepen the dependency on the leader who just made a great speech and reinforce the feeling that the program is buttoned up and predetermined–all characteristics of the day-to-day experience we are trying to overcome.

p.267- A presentation-based meeting, even with questions thrown in as a bone, carries the message that only the top has something important to say and the employee’s job is to sit and listen and politely question. The answers are on the stage and the people are here to seek them.

p.267- We feel connected to the institution more by our relationships with our peers than by our identification with the bosses.

p.267- It may be important for the leader to speak, so let the leader talk for fifteen minutes, with no rehearsal or overheads. Let them write their own comments and talk from memory. Then we will know what is really important to them and what is good to know.

p.268- You may be thinking that the importance of the simple balance between presentation and participation is being overstated. Trust me, it has more meaning than we have realized: As straightforward as the concept is, most of the times when we come together we put great energy on presentation and attend to participation as an afterthought.

p.268- Doing this allows for a restoration of faith that is central to any change or improvement effort. Until we can speak in public our sense of what is real, our doubts and reservations, and past disappointments, we are unable to invest in a different future. If we cannot say no, our yes has no meaning.

p.269- If all the real discussions take place only in small groups, little faith will be built in the larger community.

p.269- If we believe the redistribution of power is critical to a shift in accountability, the shift will begin when the public conversations shift.

p.269- While somehow management has the right to express their “grade,” the reverse is not true. When employees express their complaints, it is called whining or a “bitch” session. If management needs to challenge their staff, fine. But there will be no forward movement until the staff in turn has the opportunity to challenge management. Providing public space for this to happen is the first step in shifting a culture, in implementing a change. And it is the task of the consultant to help make this happen.

p.269- The Straight Story Every technical and business change destabilizes the human system in which it is embedded. Relationships change, influence shifts, boundaries are threatened, and dialogue, widely held, is the only way to find new stability. Management reassurances don’t help. Nobody believes them because it’s their job to reassure.

p.270- We waste meetings that are designed more to reassure, calm the workers, and tell a story than to have a conversation. They are lost opportunities. The question in people’s minds is whether they are getting the straight story. If the speaker does not speak of doubt and uncertainty, and talk about failure if it has occurred, there has been no straight story.

p.270- People’s trust in management comes down not so much to whether management is right, but to whether it is willing to tell the truth.

p.270- What makes this project mine grows not out of any logic, but out of my engagement with it. The more I join in its creation and its shape, the greater my accountability for its success. There are few ideas that are better understood and less acted on than this one.

p.271- Change efforts become the flavor of the month when they are embraced only by the top.

p.272- I don’t know that people are really resistant to change; I think they are resistant to change being inflicted on them.

p.272-3- For the new conversation to have meaning it needs to help employees feel connected to one another in this room at this moment. For this to happen we need to avoid the old subjects and provide dialogue where people can be vulnerable and personal.

p.274- The problem is they all are an expression of helplessness; they say that someone else has to do something before we can become players.

p.274- The intent is to surface doubts and reservations without reinforcing the helplessness.

p.275- The antidote to history is to keep asking, “What do we want to create together?” Some history can be useful if it tells a personal story that brings us to the moment. Limit the time and  make it personal. Use questions such as “What in your experience impacts your capacity to support this plan?

p.275- Change is the experience of changing our thinking first, actions second. If we rush to action, we stop learning and make tomorrow a reenactment of yesterday.

p.276- To say that the technology connects us is a myth. It confuses information exchange with human interaction. There is nothing wrong with the technology; we just exaggerate its usefulness.

p.279- No change, no matter how wise and needed, will help if there is not a widespread and deep sense that each individual must make this work. This is real accountability–the willingness to personally care for the well-being of the institution first, and of my unit and self second.

Chapter 17 Some Tools for Engagement

p.281- Change will occur to the extent we use each particular event as a sample of the way we wish the larger implementation to proceed.

p.282- There is great emphasis on structuring and conducting meetings because the way we meet becomes a metaphor for the way we work together day to day.

p.282-3- The key is to tell the whole story. This includes weaknesses and failures. Don’t protect people from bad news in the name of protecting them from anxiety. Anxiety is the natural state, best handled in the light of day. My only caution is to keep it short and informal. More from the heart than from the head.

p.283- What is not needed are upbeat motivational blessings or homilies from managers or important sponsors who will not be part of the whole session. To have an executive show up for the beginning, express commitment to the process, and then leave is oxymoronic. To say, “I care, I am committed, and I’m gone,” does not play well. It is regal and patronizing behavior, demeaning the proceedings and those who stay.

p.284- This is an investment question.

p.285- This is a question about learning.

p.285- This is a Samaritan question.

p.288- Keep in mind that, at the core, what has shifted is the ownership of the room.

p.289- Rearranging the room is a wonderful example of how freedom will create at first its own chaos and confusion, even irritation, and then its own order.

p.289- What matters is that everyone is engaged in adapting the structures to the task at hand.

p.290- Designing time for public doubts and concern is the way faith in an institution is restored.

p.290-1- The way react to doubt, cynicism, even anger, tells the world whether we want negative feelings spoken or not. Our response becomes either an invitation or refusal for the next discussion. In fact the stronger the negative reaction, the more acknowledgement is required. Many of the skills of dealing with resistance outlined earlier in the book are appropriate here.

p.291- Freedom of speech and freedom of assembly do not become real except in moments of conflict and disagreement. The fact that the most alienated people in the organization are given a platform to speak does more to build commitment from those watching the conversation than any compelling presentation or financial incentive program ever can.

p.291- Our institutional history has valued reacting and responding over creating and initiating. We have the rhetoric of innovation and initiative, but we are hardly organized to provide it. We use grades in school, appraisals in the workplace, and spin doctors in society to keep us in line and under control. When we decide what we want to create, we are emotionally  joining the organization in defining its future and in that way moving against the culture and our own habit. This may be why when we ask people to define their vision, the first try is quite dull. What you hear is a series of fashion statements fed back to you. People say their vision is continuous improvement, great customer service, a humane workplace, and, of course, economic success. My all-time favorite vision statement was a heartfelt commitment by a quality group to “accurate gauging.”

p.292- When the question is “What do we want to create?” the demand is for an answer that is unique to this group. That is the work: to ask each group to construct a unique future that is right for their function. This is another way we confront people with their freedom. Asking people what they want to create forces the issue, even if the response may initially be pale.

p.292- Most of the time when I have asked groups what they can create together, they return with a list of cooperative actions that each group can do alone.

p.293- A change in action is preceded by a change in the conversation. Old conversations lead to old actions. The challenge is to have a task-related conversation that people have not had before. Holding onto the old conversation, the old way of naming problems or explaining answers, is a way of seeking safety and maintaining control. We each have our favorite answers: clear roles, clear goals, more structure, less structure, high standards, more training, better communication–and everybody’s favorite theme is that someone else has to change before this will work. All of these ideas have value, and none of them is that helpful.

p.293- Answers that were helpful at one point into time become obstacles after a while because they keep us from moving on. They got us this far but, if we hang onto them too tightly, we cannot move forward.

p.294- Meetings are neither entertainment nor a spectator sport.

p.295- The alternative is to have faith that there are conditions in which people want to be accountable: They want to set high goals, care for the well-being of the larger organization, and know how they are doing. One of those conditions is a crisis. In a crisis the rules are suspended, status and self-interest are put aside, and the task and purpose override habit. The challenge is to find the same willingness without a crisis.

p.298- A personal commitment means that we agree to do something that is not conditional on the response of someone else. That is why the word promise is so appropriate. If we make our commitments conditional on the response from another, they are really not commitments; they are contracts or other forms of barter.

Chapter 18 Ethics and the Shadow Side of Consulting

p.307- Being clear about the dark side of consulting has a practical as well as a moral side. It makes a difference in the quality of our work, for when we get caught in our own self-interest or our need to assume a central or inflated role, our client feels it and withdraws from us for reasons rarely spoken.

p.314- Clients have a right to expect the consultant to decide whether what the client is willing to buy will deliver what the client really needs. If the client manager asks for a service that will not help, or may even be harmful, then when does the consultant say no and turn away the work? It is a tough thing to do, especially for internal consultants.

p.316- The industry is led by authors and ex-chief executive offers who, in many cases, have found more meaning teaching leadership than providing it.

p.317- All of the emphasis on leadership these days is disturbing because it holds on to the belief that organizations are the creation of those who run them and will forever live in their shadow.

p.318- The ethical question arises from the disparity between the claims and the reality. The promise of culture change was essentially that a shift in power was needed: Teams close to the work had to have more control over how the work was done and how money was spent.

p.319- If you talk to the top management who sponsored the effort or the internal and external consultants who implemented it, they think the effort was very successful and the culture has indeed shifted. But if you talk to employees in most companies that made the investment, you generally find fear is still a daily part of their lives; they work in some teams, but individualism is still the dominant mode of operation; and while they may have more budget and spending authority than before, top management is still very much in control and patriarchy is alive and well.

p.319- Whenever the change effort serves to build the business of the service provider more than the client, or when the change effort serves to simply reinforce the existing culture and belief systems about control and power, then the work is open to question.

p.320- But most of the time the thinking is that the real change needs to take place at lower levels. When consultants affirm this belief and become its main economic beneficiaries, we are on thin ice.

p.321- If an organization believes in high control, speaks high control, and hires consultants to tighten it all up, this is well and good. When consultants sell services to create high-involvement packages that mask the reality that businesses will continue as usual, then we deserve the arrows we receive.

p.322- Unless the consultant has become a surrogate manager and taken over the manager’s task, no credit accrues; organizational results are earned by those living in the system.

p.322- No matter that reengineering author Michael Hammer states that 70 percent of reengineering efforts will fail, everybody wants one.

p.323- It is the timidity of our captains of industry that drives these uses of consultants, but we need to own the nature of our participation.

p.324- Start measuring your work by the optimism and self-sufficiency you leave behind. Consulting is fundamentally an educational and capacity-building function.

p.325- If there is more demand for your services than you can handle, give the business away. Build a network of people who do what you do and you respect and send the business to them. Don’t take a finder’s fee, or talk about mergers and partnerships that are driven by economic opportunity. If this seems bizarre and counter-cultural to you, it means you are on the right track.

p.325- If we are in the business of joining with the top to change others, we have become an agent of top management–and a part of the problem.

p.325- Ask whether you would be willing for all members of the client organization to be witnesses to the selling and planning conversations you have with the client–a fresh-air test to the promises we make and the plans we develop.

Chapter 19 The Heart of the Matter

p.327- Consulting is primarily a relationship business. No matter how research-based or technical the project, it will always reach a point at which the success of the work will hinge on the quality of the relationship we have with our client. This relationship is the conduit through which our expertise passes.

p.327- Consulting cannot be done well without genuine caring for the client, and the challenge is to find ways to embody our care in the way we do the work.

p.329- Clients are so conditioned to be passive in the teaching/learning process that, given the choice to manage their own learning, they will pass and turn the floor back to the consultant.

p.329- Tim Gallwey: In most training and instruction, there is a great deal of teaching and very little learning.

p.330- To bring value to the participant or the client, we need to design our efforts to support learning at the expense of teaching. This means we need to build elements of surprise, discovery, and not knowing into our interaction with the client.

p.331- We lose the benefit of the unique ideas at the two poles when we compromise for middle ground.

p.331- …make sure that the complexity of the question is acknowledged before action is chosen.

p.331- Whatever we choose, we will pay a price for it. So why not acknowledge this, see the struggle as the path, and resist the temptation of certainty and speed?

p.331- We get stuck by asking the wrong question. The most common wrong question is that of the engineer who wants to know “how” we get something done. This question quickly takes us down the path of methodology and technique. It assumes the problem is one of what to do, rather than why to do it. Or whether it is worth doing.

p.332- Questions of communication are most often the easy way out of questions of will, courage, and commitment.

p.333- …they shrink the problem to manageable size by treating it as a matter of skills, rather than questions of purpose and the use of power.

p.333- To move a living system, we need to question what we are doing and why. We need to choose depth over speed, consciousness over action. At least for a little while.

p.336- The tension that was expressed in the desire to get to an action plan was really a defense against the deeper conversation about ways they were apart and the caution they felt in yielding positions that would be required for significant movement to occur.

p.336-7- When the tension surfaces, it needs to be named–and discussed and acknowledged. The consultant has to push the discussion into the difficult areas. We have to ask ourselves when we will be in a better position to move ahead. When will be a better time to discuss failure, conflict between individuals and groups, feelings of futility and doubt? More structure is not what is needed at these moments; it is courage that is in short supply. By naming the tension and supporting a discussion of what it means, we gain some learning about the emotional part of work.

p.337- John McKnight: In his language, it turns citizens, people with rights and power, into consumers, people with weaknesses and needs. He believes that in this shift from citizen to consumer, the one who benefits is the service provider.

p.338- When we look at what is missing in other people or other organizations, we put them in a lesser position, even if we do so with the claim that we just want to be helpful. Our attitude implies that they have work to do and we do not.

p.339- If we are working in systems that breathe competition, we may not be able to change that, but at a minimum we can refuse to reinforce it.

p.340- If we want to see change, we had better not wait to leave this session for it to happen. How can we have hope in tomorrow if today is not different? Each moment has to carry within it an element of the destination. This is why the way we come together is so important. It offers hope–at this minute–about how the future might look. It leads us to give great attention to how we design this moment, this meeting.

p.340- Also we would see that we can implement the future without having to wait for it. How long does change take? Well, are you ready to begin it at this moment? Want to bring trust, honesty, more or less structure, cooperation between units, clearer focus, alignment into the organization? Now is the time to begin. Our action plan is what we do in the next hour. Not what we say, but what we do together. This meeting becomes the tablet on which the future is written. Each intention of cultural change needs to find expression in the present or it loses its credibility.



Primary Goals sits at the intersection of three core ideas about communication:
  • Leaders create vision by communicating a compelling future to their teams.
  • Teams create success based on how effectively the communicate and coordinate with each other.
  • Entrepreneurial ventures are successful only when they communicate value to people with a concern that the business can take care of
In all cases, it’s about Conversations for Committed Results.  That’s our Primary Goal.  



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