Tuesday, January 9, 2007

'wisdom-level' consulting

I worked as an external consultant for the first five years of my HR career. Consulting allowed me to play to my strengths and it gave me an opportunity to do some decent work. It also enabled me to get exposure to various domains in HR and to the various roles in a consulting firm. So it was a good way to invest the initial years of my career. I moved on to other kind of roles after that to broaden my perspective/expertise.

I still want to go back to consulting at some point in my career. However, the kind of HR consulting that I look forward to do is somewhat different. In the initial years of my career, the kind of consulting that I was doing was mainly at the level of applying tools/ techniques/ methodologies/ approaches. Of course it also involved choice of the tools/approaches & customizing them to suit particular contexts, and, in a few areas, developing new tools/approaches. Still it was essentially tool/methodology driven. This is likely to happen in most large consulting firms, as this (tools/methodology driven way of functioning) helps the firm to create leverage and scalability that are essential for profitability and growth/size.

The kind of HR consulting that I now look forward to do goes beyond tools/ techniques/ methodologies/ approaches. It is highly customized (to the client context) and highly 'personal' (that would enable me to 'bring more of myself into the work'). In addition to the difference in terms of the degree (of customization /personalization), there is also a difference in terms of the intention (see the note below). This way of consulting mainly uses patterns/broad principles (and not methodologies) so that effective solutions can be developed and implemented in complex and dynamic environments. While it uses tools/analysis as an essential input & to validate the output, the core of diagnosis/solution design is driven by a highly intuitive/non-linear/apparently discontinuous process perfected by years of individual experience/capability building/evolved consciousness ! The output reflects simplicity at the other side of complexity !! This is what I call 'wisdom-level' consulting !!!

I am not saying that 'wisdom-level' consulting is appropriate in all contexts/for all problems. It is needed only for special problems in complex contexts where a purely analytical/ methodology-driven approach can't arrive at the optimal solution. Now, many of the typical HR consulting assignments do not fall into this category and hence it is appropriate that they are handled in a tool/methodology driven way. My point is just that there are situations that require a type of consulting that goes beyond tool/methodology driven consulting and that I hope to do that kind of consulting (wisdom-level consulting) at some point in my career.


Even in methodology-driven consulting, some degree of personalization happens by default (as the work is being performed by a particular human being/consultant). However, in the case of large consulting firms, in the case of 'main-stream assignments' often the implicit attempt is to play down the personalization aspect. This is useful for managing risk (after all it is the firm's reputation that is at stake and hence the deliverable can't get too person dependent) and for creating leverage (so that less experienced people can be trained to do most of the work). However in the case of 'wisdom-level' consulting, 'personalization' of the output (by a highly skilled consultant) becomes a key part of the consulting value proposition. Similarly, the pressure to ensure scalability (across many client contexts) makes too much customization (beyond the absolute minimum required) not so attractive for large consulting firms. More importantly, customization requires a relatively higher level of skill and hence it works against 'obtaining leverage' objective . Thus, similar to our discussion on the aspect of personalization, high degree of customization of the output to the client context (by a highly skilled consultant, who is not looking to maximize the volume of work) becomes a key part of the consulting value proposition in the case of 'wisdom-level' consulting.


Anonymous said...

Hi Prasad,

Nice thought on consulting approach, however i couldnt see a clear difference between your approach and "wisdom-consulting". The consulting solutions are still customized (unless you were working for the big five or four) and personalized and thats how the independent consultants n strategy and HR usually deliver. Would like to know about "wisdom-consulting".

Prasad Kurian said...

Thanks for the comment. In terms of the immediate appearence, there are similarities between 'methodology-driven consulting' and 'wisdom-level' consulting. However, in terms of the underlying form there are major differnces. As detailed out in the 'note' at the end of the post, in addition to the difference in terms of the degree of customization /personalization, there is also a difference in terms of the intention.

Bill said...

What is missing perhaps One System Thinking?

Simplicity or one system thinking reveals hidden dynamics that make it much easier to do things such as manage enormous complexity, build a high performance organization and effectively empower people.

So the question: Which end of the elephant are you dealing with simplicity or complexity - one system thinking or reductionism? Each have there place, should the ‘wise’ manager / consultant know the difference and there applications?

Ludwig Wittgenstein said: "The things that are most important for us are often hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity."


Prasad Kurian said...

There was a question on the 'profile' of a wisdom-level consultant. I haven't really done much work on developing the profile of a 'wisdom-level' consultant (beyond what I had mentioned in the post). Actually, I feel that a purely 'behavioral profile' might even be misleading in this case. 'Wisdom-level' consulting work might often be characterized by 'great refinement underlying common place appearances' at both process and output level (see http://prasadokurian.blogspot.com/2007/02/of-shibumi-aret-and-personal-excellence.html ). So in terms of 'immediate appearance' (that gets captured in a behavioral profile) wisdom-level consulting might not appear to be too different. The paradox here is that it might take quite a bit of wisdom or refinement on the part of the client/observer to recognize wisdom-level consulting immediately. The real superiority of wisdom level consulting becomes apparent in terms of 'outcomes' especially over a period of time. Thus, a system or a process designed by a wisdom level consultant might look rather simple. But over a period of time, after the system proves its effectiveness under a wide range of conditions, the true merit (or wisdom) of the design becomes apparent. Then it becomes known (at least to the discerning few) that the apparent simplicity of the system is the simplicity on the other side of complexity (i.e. that has been achieved by recognizing and working through the complexities involved). Thus wisdom level consulting might lead to a very complex design that hides behind 'simple user interface'. The same would hold good even for 'process facilitation work' done by a wisdom-level consultant.