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Passion, People and Principles

We Just Don’t Want to Do That!

post # 441 — October 1, 2007 — a Managing, Strategy and the Fat Smoker post

As everyone who reads this blog regularly knows by now, the theme off my new book STRATEGY AND THE FAT SMOKER is that if you don’t want to get on the diet, you can’t achieve your goals.

Stated that way, it’s a pretty tough message, and I sometimes struggle to find a way to soften it while maintaining the point.

For example, in my seminars, it’s almost always the case that people ask how to make their practice groups more effective.

As a starting point, I feel it’s necessary to go through the (simple, familiar) points that (a) the key is the group manager’s time and skills and (b) that it is economic and effective to allow — even require – group leaders to take the time to manage the people in their groups, and not just expect them to carry a full personal “sell and deliver” load, and then manage their group on top of that.

Yes, I know these are old points, but that’s the message — “eat less, exercise more” is the answer to losing weight, and everything else is commentary.

But that frequently doesn’t satisfy my audiences and clients.

“But what do we do if our culture and systems don’t reward people for managing, and pays them on their personal production?”

OR “What do we do if none of our partners wants to take on the role of being a manager, each preferring to build his or her own book of business rather than taking the time to helping other people succeed?”

In essence, I say (with as supportive and comforting tone as I am capable of) “Well, if you don’t want to do what works, then just don’t expect to get the benefits. Your choice!”

Not surprisingly, people are often frustrated with this “tough love” answer. All of us want the “magic pill.”

So, here’s the challenge: What do you do if the problem posed by your client is presented with excessively binding constraints?

It is remarkably common to hear clients ask “We don’t want to change how we do things, that’s our culture, but tell us how we can get more of what we want!”

Can anyone shed some light on the best way to help when people pose things this way?


Duncan said:

This is a great post – thanks David.

After (a) blunt message and (b) tough love, I end up at (c) – coming up with a creative solution that goes someway towards what they’re asking for but allows for the difficulties that they will incur along the way. (All the while clearly communicating the problems with this.)

I spend a lot of time doing this.

I learnt early on to give people clear options (with ramifications), let them choose and do your best to optimise from there.

(I learnt the technique the hard way a long time ago when I was still juggling legal and veterinary practice before I started my IP Strategy firm. To take the veterinary example – the perfect solution is sometimes an MRI scan and brain surgery – but do you know what? – not that many people want to do that for their dog or cat – for many different reasons.)

Coming up with the creative solutions can be a lot of fun. It’s not the perfect option, but that’s not life.

It’s not uncommon for the client to later come back and want to take the next jump towards nirvana – actually sticking to the diet. From the creative intermediary step, they often have a smaller jump. Sometimes in many areas (including IP Strategy, as well as veterinary practice) it’s too late by then – but that’s ok as long as the client was aware from the start and made the decision based on that.

To do this, I had to let go of the perfect solution and grab hold of the client’s needs.

posted on October 1, 2007

Stuart Cross said:

I agree with Duncan’s point about providing options and going from there. The other thing that I have done is to really spend time and effort working with the client to understand the consequences of not changing. Involving the client to get to the bottom of the question, “what will happen in the future if we carry on behaving as we are now?” has helped me unlock at least some inertia.

In the end change and development is about leadership. We are not the change agents or the change leaders – that is our client’s job. Our job is to help our clients understand the implications of the situation, to find some positive ways forward and to give them the support they are willing to accept to make it happen.

posted on October 1, 2007

Stephen Ruben said:

The client has responded predictably. Why should they as an organization want to change? Obviously, if they want to change, are motivated to change and know how to change, our job is simple…..but it never is.

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People don’t want to change; they want the results from change…….duh!! More importantly then is what DON’T they want to change. Here is where we add significant value by working with them to drill down more deeply into their statement to determine what they define as culture and what they include in the subset of unalterable cultural norms. What are their fears and resistance points etc.? It is up to us to find within the creases, the opportunities in which change can be initiated.

Our job is to sift through the dialogue to find what are the behavioral untouchables and where there might be some elasticity and then to help them determine what, if anything, can be conceived of, conducted or pursued that will get them (one or several steps) closer to the results they want. Then the work going forward begins.

For you fixer upper types….Before renovating an old house…check the blue prints. Be cautious when messing with the load bearing walls.

posted on October 1, 2007

Duncan said:

Hey Stephen – Great comments – what if the client wants to move the load bearing wall? Shouldn’t you just find a way to do that? Get another beam in here to support that sucker?

what do you think?



posted on October 1, 2007