BriefConsulting 1.1: Bare Naked

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Where did they go, those who used to inhabit those empty suits? Where are they now? Speaking for myself, I’ve become the bare naked kind, no flash suit to deflect any naked truth. Pimples, dimples, and scars quite obvious. I figure, “Why suit up for what will have to become a bare naked engagement?”

My transition from Empty Suit to Bare Naked consulting will never end. Vestigial misgivings remain, tugging whenever I start a new engagement dance. I’d quite honestly rather hide behind the protective starched shirt chest plate armor, dabble in nice-nice banter, then ‘suggest’ some solution, but I don’t. Not anymore. I never once saw the formality accomplish what I’d quite foolishly promised. The problem I’d been asked to resolve was never once even half the problem that the formalities turned out to be. If we can’t do this naked, we won’t be doing anything at all.

One of my final attempts at Empty Suit consulting found me surprised in Silicon Valley between gigs, summoned into one of the foremost brokerage houses —this must have been back when a brokerage could still qualify as foremost—to sort out some system problem. My partner at the time insisted that I really needed to rush over to Nordstrom’s to buy an appropriate wardrobe, so I did. She critiqued my choices until I’d purchased just what she liked best, and I left looking every bit the Montgomery Street slick. Next morning, I appeared wearing this absolutely awful tie. Everyone I met with that day commented on that tie. I’d expected that this place would have a never-ending Most Outrageous Tie competition, and they did not disappoint. That day, I won.

They won, too, but they won a different competition. Their system problem was not a system problem, and could not be fixed by any technical means. It didn’t need process improvement, schedule scrubbing, or a Come To Jesus Meeting, but patience, generosity, and understanding.

See, the CEO had purchased stock in this start-up contact management system, insisting that it be installed for immediate use in every one of the company’s offices world-wide, and that every broker begin using it yesterday. Of course, the contact management system didn’t work, and could not be made to work. Yet. With time, perhaps it might work. Now? No way! This was never a system problem, but a political one.

And everyone knew the truth already, long before I’d been invited in. The poor devil responsible for implementing this pseudo system really, really, really wanted to satisfy his bosses, and he knew he could not. His boss and her boss, on up the line, everyone knew and nobody wanted to confirm what they knew everyone knew. Perhaps their Most Outrageous Ties were choking them.

By the end of the day, the mutely suffering project manager had decided that he didn’t want to be a project manager anymore. He would leave the company shortly thereafter. God Bless him! The message got back to the CEO, and he shrugged, unsurprised that his grand vision had encountered a few blockages. Nobody died. The contact management system survived to become a de facto standard, and I suppose everyone was fine in the end.

Bare naked consulting isn’t really about showing up bare naked, but about quickly stripping down to the essence of a difficulty. Formality easily layers upon formality to create a barrier to resolving anything: process improvement prolongs the pain, schedule scrubbing swaps fantasies, and Come To Jesus meetings coerce conversion. We all know we’re naked under there, and we mostly already know the source, nature, and resolution for every difficulty we encounter, but we struggle—I struggle just like my clients struggle—to own up to what we, what I, already know lies underneath.

No, I do not waddle into an initial client meeting in the altogether, and I don’t expect any client to strip as a precondition for engaging. We each show up suited up for an engagement we most certainly will not have. Whether we can ever get bare naked might be the sole determinant of whether we can resolve whatever the complaint might be.

©2012 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved














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