The value proposition of management consulting services is simple: we help organizations create more value. This places great responsibility on us, as we work at a fundamental level with organizations and their systems to improve performance overall. If our work is poorly done, the company could be harmed. As consultants, we have the duty to our clients to provide them only with the very best services so that indeed we can help to drive social and economic success.
As management consultants, we abide by a Code of Conduct and Ethics that compels us not only to do good work, but to do work that adds value to our client organization. Unfortunately, everyone at some time in their career will encounter an organizational issue that threatens the success of the consulting effort. This could, even if inadvertently, damage the consultant’s reputation. In other words, your client may blame you for their own inability to implement your recommendations.
As consultants, we don’t have much authority within our client’s organization. We only have the authority that our clients give us. This limited power constrains us from directly implementing our recommendations. By the very nature of consulting, we are external to the organization.
Accountability in Organizations is not Clear
But what about within the organization? Does your client understand how accountability works in the organization? How can we as consultants help clients understand the nature of accountability? Even more so, how do we help our clients create a culture of accountability?
Accountability matters. Intuitively we know that when people are held to account, performance is better. But what is accountability? How does an organization “become” accountable?
Effective delegation should ensure a single point of accountability, as low as possible in the organization. Single points of accountability keep organizations effective and efficient. The lowest point of accountability keeps decision-making as close to the front line as possible to keep the organization nimble.
The greatest challenge to establishing a single point of accountability is the complexity of today’s organizations – almost everyone relies on others for success in their work. And if an individual can’t be successful because a colleague let them down, the result is either conflict in the workplace, or the individual finds it easier to do the work themselves – the employees begin to build silos.
Managers Are Not Managing
To add to the accountability issues, or, more likely, because of these accountability issues, managers in organizations are not managing as they should. The managers in our client organizations are typically dealing with the urgent, instead of the important.
Our research, in partnership with the Telfer School of Business, has developed a deeper understanding of the effectiveness of managers. It shows that managers in a cross section of various sized organizations report spending only 55% of their time on value-added work. Managing subordinates is a key part of that value-added work.
Almost half of their time is consumed doing work that is not adding value in the way it should and could. We also found that while 98% of managers agree that they are held to account for their work, only 46% believed that they are delegated clear objectives with statements of quantity, quality and timeliness.
This creates a vicious circle where managers – throughout the organization – are not clear about their priorities, but their own managers are not spending the time they must spend on managerial leadership activities to set context for work, to clarify priorities, and to resolve conflicts in cross functional work. These are frustrations shared by organizations ranging from small enterprises to multinational corporations all over the world.
Managers May Not be Capable
This session is about capable individuals. How can organizations ensure that when managerial appointments are made, that these individuals are fully equipped for success?
There are two factors that are related to ensuring capable managers are in role:
- the correct organization design and
- an effective talent pool system.
Having the right organization design requires an understanding of complexity of work, and how it is different at different levels of the organization. The recruitment and job assignment processes must then appropriately match managers to positions taking into account this complexity of work by appropriately aligning the candidates’ capabilities to do the work.
An effective Talent Pool system helps to ensure that managers have the right knowledge and skills, will value the work of management and do managerial work, and most importantly, have capability that is higher than their subordinates and appropriate to the complexity of work their role requires.
How do Management Consultants Deal with These Issues?
Issues such as these are a problem for management consultants, as project initiatives risk failure because the managers who must implement change are not doing the managerial work necessary for this change to be successful.
For example, most organization have a strategic plan. But 70% fail to achieve their strategic goals, and only 5% of organization achieve their strategic objectives. This same failure rates apply for major organizational change initiatives. These failures indicate that there is a fundamental, underlying issue at the root of the organization’s inability to implement change.
These are the factors that set top performing organizations aside from the others. As management consultants we need to be aware of these dynamics, and should be able to diagnose them. In this way we can advise our clients not only on the requirements in our specialty area, but also on potential hurdles they will have in implementing our recommendations.