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A PhD Worth Her Weight in Platinum

June 2, 2007

I want to preface this post by stating that the Corporate Cynic will always give credit where credit is due. If you’ve read 160 Degrees of Deviation: The Case for the Corporate Cynic as well as some of my other posts, you know how I feel about most consultants. However, I do not consider this individual to be part of that general catagory. I am even going to ultimately file this post under the “Real Leadership” category. Though not an official member of our management group, Dr. B. helped us mold our division managers into a great team.

I was thinking about an old colleague over the weekend and reminiscing about the time he recommended a consultant to help our division develop its new management team. Although skeptical at first, I found the experience enlightening and extremely beneficial. The rest of the division management did as well.

Our division was in its fifth year of phenomenal growth and we were a rather fragmented hodgepodge of operations comprised of units stretched from coast to coast. Each unit had a supervisor and fell under the jurisdiction of a district manager. The districts reported up to regional superintendents. We were lead by a general manager. Unlike most of our company’s divisions that would have normally evolved from our Midwest headquarters outward, our division had started on the both the East and West coasts and grew toward the middle of the country. Most of our supervisors and even district managers had started out as line workers themselves and were thrust into these positions due to the rapid growth. There was very little administrative support from our corporate offices. I do not believe they ever envisioned this division taking off as quickly as it did or even lasting very long. Our management group was comprised of a diversity of personalities and management styles. The units displayed an equally wide variety of practices and policies. It was becoming more and more difficult to foster a sense of teamwork and uniformity. Our new division HR manager had convinced the GM that we needed some professional help. As regional superintendent for one half of the country, I could not have agreed more.

My chum in HR said that he knew of a certain industrial psychologist that could perfectly fit the bill. Having suffered through previous interactions with consultants in the past, I was decidedly suspicious at first. Brother was I in for a pleasant surprise!

We flew our district managers in from around the country and began a three-day stint with Dr. B. Everyone including the GM participated. Dr. B was extremely down to earth, intelligent and well-spoken. She understood the audience and could get down and dirty when necessary. She was always in control but never cited any “mandate” from management to affirm her authority. No one felt intimidated by her credentials. We were treated like adults and professionals.

Dr. B’s program was not “canned” and unlike most other management consultant’s exercises I had been involved with over the years, it did not appear to be designed around the lowest common denominator. We were not forced to wear funny hats, perform silly role-plays or fold origami geese out of construction paper. It was definitely not your typical “Management Training.” We were each given a battery of tests and surveys that were designed to analyze the way we thought about things and solved problems. How we used our brains. Dr. B explained that there were no right or wrong answers and that we should be as honest as possible. She guaranteed that our individual reports would be kept confidential. The results were tabulated and we were each given an individual profile.

Dr. B then began to explain how to interpret our profiles. Of course she brought loads of overheads and charts. I will not dwell on Dr. B’s presentation about how the human brain works, the differences between people who use different parts of their brain and how these differences could work together to develop a “whole brain” approach to problem solving. That’s not important. What was important was the increasing interest being displayed by our group’s members in what the results revealed about themselves and others.

The discussions were lively and insightful. Even old Doug, the cantankerous curmudgeon (and smart ass) of the group had to admit that it was a worthwhile exercise. He even publicly confessed that he had purposefully answered the questions incorrectly hoping to skew the results. He openly apologized and asked to take the survey again, so he could learn and participate in a worthwhile exercise. If you knew old Doug, this was a real breakthrough.

In the end, everyone walked away feeling that they had benefited from the process. Dr. B had crafted her session well. She was never judgmental. The thrust of her exercise was not to determine whether we “fit” but rather how we “fit” and how as individuals we could interact with each other to benefit the whole. I still rely on this information today.

The take-away from all of this was not an assignment, new “buzz words”, or acronyms. It was self-awareness. It was about teamwork.

Dr. B’s program drew such rave reviews from our district managers that we rolled it out to our unit supervisors. Dr. B. was flawless again. She started making a lot of friends within the group and was held in deservedly high esteem. She was extremely accessible and even made herself available to individuals during off hours. Although, we only worked with Dr. B. for perhaps a total of four weeks over a three-month period, we most definitely saw positive and long lasting results from her efforts.

Based on our success, my pal in HR recommended Dr. B to the Corporate Vice President of Human Resources as someone who might also prove beneficial at corporate headquarters or the other divisions. Dr. B was even asked to a hold a session with the senior staff of the company. That was the beginning of the end! I had heard that she was asked to leave right after lunch on the first day. I believe she reported back to my friend that she had never experienced such a dysfunctional and closed-minded group. Perhaps they just wanted to wear funny hats, perform sill role-plays and fold origami geese out of construction paper.

Here’s to you Dr. B! For your help with our team, you are worth your weight in platinum. For your insight into the senior leadership, you’re worth your weight in diamonds.