Corporate marriage counseling

By | August 2, 2015

Organizations have trouble talking to themselves.  Ask any consultant and she will tell you that a good portion of her job is helping one part of their client organization talk to the other part.  Odd, I know.  For those not working with Fortune 500-size companies, you may assume that big companies communicate effectively.  Many times they don’t.

Business is increasingly complex and fast. Thomas Friedman made this abundantly clear in his 2005 masterpiece The World Is Flat; market forces and the digitization of information makes it a free-for-all of global, competitive. . . complexity.  Any $10+ billion company has business units, regions, functions which all fight for the attention of their customers and internal sponsors.  Each sub-optimizes their own little piece of the pie. Everyone is doing their one small thing very well, which leads to the sum total of chaos.

Intra-company confusion.  It is a surprisingly common for one part of the company to be unaware or completely misinformed on the activities of the other part.  The right hand does not know what the left hand is doing.  There are many potential reasons:

  • Different data sets; lack of system integration of data
  • Excessively changing leadership and directions
  • Excessive layers of management creating lots of “mailmen” of information
  • Lack of a trusting culture; over-reliance on reports, documentation, and approvals
  • Large number of acquisitions with limited post-merger integration
  • Recruiting of leadership from outside the company and competition

Corporate marriage counseling.  I joked with a consulting friend the other day that 1/5 of what we do is marriage counseling.  Now I wonder if I under-estimated that.. . . 1/3?

We call these activities different things, but at the root. . . it is focused on using data, and collaboration tools to provide structured thinking, and clear communication.  Yes, it takes skill, nuance, and verve, but it is also a form of corporate marriage counseling:

  • Surfacing internal best practices from different divisions
  • Driving alignment on shared goals, outcomes, and expectations
  • Getting cross-functional stakeholder buy-in
  • Analyzing the value chain and synchronizing complementary processes
  • Standardizing roles and responsibilities for job leveling
  • Running post-merger integration across businesses
  • Conducting strategic planning processes
  • Developing governance and operating models
  • Casting vision and mission statements
  • Cascading performance metrics and creating dashboards

You get the idea.  I could go on for another 4-5 pages, but all these activities have 1 thing in common – it involves bringing different parts of the business together and getting some agreement.  Getting the two spouses to talk.  Fred and Ethel.

Consultantsmind Corporate Marriage Counseling

I am not a licensed marriage counselor, but. . .  here are 12 things I have found useful in bringing different groups of clients together:

  • Get the client talking and working through their own issues
  • Listen first and understand; people assume consultants don’t listen well
  • Be authentic; find a way for clients to relate to you personally
  • Aim for your client’s success and tell them explicitly
  • Document what you heard, structure the thinking, get feedback
  • Pre-sell your thinking ahead-of-time, and separately with people
  • Assume the best; have positive intent.  Consultants create change
  • Find win-win for the clients; and ruthlessly promote them
  • Don’t fall into the trap of talking bad about the “other team”.  Stupid.
  • Don’t call pointless meetings.  Do the work, use deliverables to drive agreement.
  • Use the power of awkward; use logic to make it obvious what the right thing is
  • Call in the big guns; sparingly use your executive sponsor to reinforce behaviors
  • Bring people back to the main vision, mission, purpose; root them in the WHY

What other tools, methods, principles, tips, and chicanery do you use to get clients to better communicate with each other?   What works?

Do you agree with my analogy of corporate marriage counseling?

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2 thoughts on “Corporate marriage counseling

  1. Alena

    Hi,

    Just wanted to tell you that i greatly enjoy reading your blog!

    Something that worked a few times for me already: Go there! (Gemba… Not only true for the shopfloor)
    It happens a lot that we sit in a meeting and there are discussions about “oh, i don’t know if john from sales will approve’
    Ok, where does john sit? Two levels down? Cool, i pack up the two responsible people from my meeting and go visit john. If he’s not there, maybe a colleague can help us to clarify something.
    Much better than inviting for another meeting straight away, writing an e-mail or calling.

    I actually joke with my colleagues about kindergarten. Force people to talk to each other and shake hands. Marriage counseling fits 100%!

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