Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Effectiveness is a miracle

I am busy preparing with colleagues a program on transformational leadership. Pretty pretentious. What does really transform a business, a mission, a work situation?
I remember a client, a Brazilian engineering firm, who, in the seventies, spent 1,5 million dollars on a motivation program for its employees by a prominent US consultancy firm. What difference did it make? Half a year later, bosses and employees couldn't tell.
I think of seminars I attended by famous authors. What did I really learn from them? From a lecture by Carl Rogers I just remembered one example he gave. That example stuck in my mind and taught me something.
I recently met a Finnish colleague. In the early eighties I gave a workshop for his new consultancy firm how to do strategic consultancy. He remembered only two things I taught them. Interestingly, those were exactly the only two items I remembered teaching them. At least, I didn't teach them wrong things, because they became the premium strategic consultancy firm in Finland. But the encounter reinforced my general impression that teaching that is not part of the real daily work, has a moot chance of being remembered or, more important, having effectively improved practical work. Therefore, I am a great fan of Action Learning. If people have been to a 3-year MBA-program and they are asked years later what it meant to them, quite a few mention first and foremost the contacts and business relations they won, not the course content.

Though I don't come across as a particularly modest person, I have always felt very modest about the real and durable effects of my seminars, training programs and consultancy assignments. I am relieved when I hear years later that at least some people had some real benefit.
Few subjects are more important than leadership. Few subjects are more slippery and more intangible. So to start a program on leadership that really will make work situations more effective, more meaningful, more rewarding and more successful, is pretty pretentious.
I want to concentrate on the few interventions and exercises that at least have helped some managers or some consultants in my experience. I did (and I still do sometimes) with a colleague a program called 'Management and Intuition.' How more intangible can you get? To my amazement, I got the highest evaluations on any management program I ever did, on the item I expected it least: practical applicability. That taught me something.
Once a prospective client asked an other manager what kind of a consultant I was. The answer was "a no-nonsense consultant." That was a great compliment, especially because I deal in intangibles: strategy, mission, leadership. If a new type of gearbox in a car is nonsense, it wont survive the test phase. But in consultancy and coaching the difference between meaningful and meaningless, effective and ineffective is much more difficult to establish. And it may change between one person and the next, one situation and the next.

I want to present a program that is effective. That may be pretentious, but that's my ambition.
I think I am about ready. I will blog and tweet about it when it's presentable.

Meanwhile, if you have any experience of a lesson you learned that really changed your way of working, share it in a reaction to this blog. Others may learn from it, I may learn from it.

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