Consultants as Coaches
August 9, 2011 3 Comments
“A baseball manager is a necessary evil.”
–Sparky Anderson, Major League Baseball Manager
For almost a decade I’ve been coaching baseball for my town’s park district leagues. Even though my son Jacob and his friends are in high school now (and some, including Jacob, are playing on the high school team), there is still a need for coaching at their level. The kids are little less open to it at this age, but the coaching is still needed. That coaching opportunity is the same one I see at some of the companies Slalom has the fortune to consult for: while they may not believe they need it, support is still needed.
My favorite part of coaching is being the first base coach. I enjoy working with kids on the fundamentals (i.e., stopping a grounder or improving their pitching mechanics). But I especially like being on the field. From my vantage point–someone removed from the play (I’m not the one running the bases after all)–I am able to help the runner do better. Whether it is by providing another set of eyes looking for the pick-off move at first base, or whether it’s helping the batter gauge the risk of trying to take an extra base off his hit, I can provide the support to help make the players more successful. Coaching isn’t just standing there looking pretty (though some coaches in our league think that’s all it takes).
As much as the players are certain that they know the game, they always need encouragement (for a hitting slump or a bad day on the mound) and reminders on what to do (get a secondary lead on the pitch). For as long as these kids have been playing ball, they are still developing and learning. One of the great managers I had the opportunity to work with used to say “I can always accept a physical error on the field. A mental mistake is simply not acceptable.” As coaches we are there to help players avoid the mental mistakes.
Consultants as Coaches
Management consulting is very similar to coaching. As business consultants, we are called into environments where a dispassionate, third party expert view is required. We may never have run a large corporate claims adjudication function. We might not have managed the financial operations of a supply chain organization. However, with our skills and knowledge of process, management, tactics, and metrics, we are able to provide assistance to leaders who do run these organizations.
My particular niche is helping companies run large-scale initiatives. I’ve worked with numerous businesses over the years to improve their capabilities in this space. Just as I am surprised that some high school players have made it through the ranks without some of the key basics (like catching a pop-fly), I am also surprised at the inner workings of some of the top corporations I’ve been privileged to serve. Even in profitable operations, the opportunities for increased efficiencies are tremendous. How did these companies get this far without the basics?
Whether developing the base capabilities of the project managers or designing and implementing a project management organization, I’ve contributed to the development of a number of PM delivery teams. My understanding of the inner workings of project management fundamentals, their related value to the organization, and my ability to communicate, train, and coax change has led my clients to improve their game.
The value of an outsider’s observations is significant. (I have had the opportunity to coach from within corporations as an employee; however, the timelines are much longer and the role is almost more difficult from within.) As the second set of eyes, I can help organizations understand where their process inefficiencies are and how to improve and implement proven practices tailored to meet their organizational maturity.
As business consultants we are able to remind PM’s, teams, and organizations about the basics. We should be constantly working with clients to remind them why, even as it appears to be “extra work,” that there is great value in the administrative contributions of project management. With our experience, we should be able to see where to help veteran “players” improve their game. We understand how to develop a game plan for improvement, and we have the experience and record to prove it works. Analogous to my coaching friend’s creed, I can accept a mistake in the execution of a project management framework; however, I cannot accept the omission of basic fundamentals.
By leveraging the framework and proven practices of the Program & Project Management framework, Slalom has the chance to make sure all our clients get the best stats and have the best season possible. I feel just like Sparky did, in some cases, business consultants are a necessary evil.
This is the major leagues people…let’s play to win!
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