Okay, so for those who didn’t grow up with 3 channel black and white TV in the fifties, Curling is a Canadian sport involving ice, brooms, and large tubs. (For those from NYC, think of ice Bocce.) When I was a kid a thousand years ago, Curling used to come on one of the snowy channels we got and the season started after football season in the old days, before the playoffs extended to Valentine’s Day. In fact, Curling is now an Olympic sport, if you can believe it, and can be interesting to watch if you understand the rules. It occurred to me several years ago that Curling and consulting are the same sport. Keep reading. I promise to make sense of my analogy.
Curling begins behind a start line where a player moves forward and lowers the moving tub onto the ice with the goal of hitting a target 100 feet away. If the tub moves too fast, or if it strikes the target too hard, it will careen outside the scoring circle and the fans will shout obscene comments on the players’ ability and family heritage. The pace and direction of the tub down the ice is influenced by two players with brooms who will sweep the ice ahead of it in order to change direction and speed to enable it to hit the target and remain in scoring position, unless it is pushed aside by the opposing team. Got it? Now let’s compare the game to consulting.
- Every BCP consulting engagement has a target, whether it is a Business Impact Analysis, or a Business Continuity Plan, or a Disaster Recovery Test. It is conducted often on a rather slippery field with outside influences, some beyond your control, which will attempt to effect the outcome. Some of the players will have separate agendas entirely and some of your players will not be very adept at keeping things on target. The difference between curling and consulting is, unfortunately, that the target can move if it isn’t written in stone in the Statement of Work (SOW). Mission creep outside the scoring zone is a real possibility if you’re not careful.
2. BCP Consulting engagements are a team sport. Any consultant who thinks he can accomplish the target without help will have no supporting players to keep the goal firmly in mind and the project on track. Cultivate cooperation toward your shared goal. Remember you are there to help your team navigate the mine fields and produce a mutually beneficial result. You are there to serve, not rule.
3. As in curling, consultants are not allowed to smack the tub with the broom to keep it on track. This is sometimes very tempting, but don’t do it. It’s against the rules. Treat every opinion with respect, no matter how idiotic, and work hard at gaining consensus. Resist pontificating on BCP dogma and project management methodology and you’ll stand a better chance of hitting the target. Always remember, you can drywall with a sledgehammer but the cleanup is messy. You can make your point without leaving a gaping divot.
4. Use influence by getting out in front of the project. That’s what the brooms are for, influencing the project by smoothing the way toward the goal. You can use influence by subtly arranging the way for things to go at the speed and direction which will accomplish your goals. Recognize the staff power structure and the important players and enlist their help in keeping the project on target. Inexperienced consultants need to learn how to convince already busy people to do one more damned thing, for them. Consultants who don’t do “subtle” are rarely successful and don’t get return engagements.
5. The game is over when the official (client) says so. Sure, I have had clients that were like Lt. Colombo (“Ah, one more thing…”) and they’ve tried to drag the project out before final approval (and payment). But always remember your goal is to deliver an end product that’s sits squarely in scoring position. The client should be confident that he got what he paid for and that his goals, not just yours, were reached. For me, the most efficient way to accomplish this is through consistent feedback throughout the project and vetting both the data and the conclusions. Don’t drop your final report off like a drive by newspaper delivery. Use drafts and rewrites until you both know your data collection is complete and accurate and that any conclusions and recommendations make sense and are on target. No surprises. I learned this while doing bank risk reviews for Lloyds of London in Latin America. At the end of the week, I would have all my findings and recommendations written down and would meet with the board of directors to lay it all out for them. Any changes that needed to be made were made with them so there would be no surprises when London took my report and made the recommendations requirements for renewed insurance coverage. If you take the same approach, you will have much happier clients and they will consider you for future engagements.
Hopefully, this advice makes sense and will help you to leave the clients happy and cheering as you hit the target and scored a successful project conclusion. And remember, the same analogy works for internal projects if you are an employee. Use persuasion and don’t just rely on policy to gain cooperation. Leave me any comments you might have, including any correction of my insight into a fine Canadian sport. Happy consulting!
© Copyright and All Rights Reserved Howard M. Peace