All these conversations must be “safe” — while the consultants will freely share what they heard with the client’s leadership, who said what remains private, for consulting team consumption only. Write this requirement into the assessment project’s statement of work.
Pro Tip: The consulting team should meet every evening for a daily de-brief, so everyone on the team has a handle on what everyone else has been hearing. The CIO should not ask to sit in on these meetings, as doing so would invalidate the safe-conversations rule.
And now we get to the hard part, made hard because those pesky human beings make it hard: Everyone the consultants talk to will lobby for their position on every aspect of IT’s organizational dynamics they care about.
Sometimes the lobbying effort will be overt and duplicitous — an attempt to make the consultant their interviewee’s inadvertent backstabbing ally.
Sometimes it will be an honest recounting of what the interviewee thinks is going on, to persuade an assessment team member to sign up for their point of view.
Either way, this is where consultants need to have had a course or two in practical epistemology in their academic repertoire, because while those consultants afflicted with charming naivete think they’re being paid to uncover “the truth,” those with more seasoning understand the best they can ever get is honesty — they expect lobbying, backstabbing, and deceit and take the potential for them into account in every interview.
Changing metaphors, consultations on organizational effectiveness are akin to art critics who need to discover the picture in a pointillist painting by documenting its dots. It’s less formal logic — major premise, minor premise, conclusion, Q.E.D. — than pattern recognition, where shapes emerge from what seems to be randomness as the consulting team gains perspective.
CIOs who engage a consultant for an independent perspective on their organization’s overall effectiveness and how to improve it need to commit to a single, simply stated but very difficult bit of self-awareness: Knowing what they want the result to be, and carefully refraining from even hinting at it to the consultants they engage.
Until, that is, the consultants have completed their discovery process. It’s then, when they’re assembling their findings but haven’t yet switched gears to formulating recommendations, that their sponsor should point out where they might have been excessively influenced by some of the more convincing lobbying efforts they were exposed to.
Because if you’re hiring a consultant to prescribe your preferred outcome you’re paying for political cover at best, or someone else’s preferred outcome if the consultant falls for their story. Which means one of two things: Either you’re paying the price for a consultant’s naïveté, or the CEO is paying the price for yours.