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From the author of Community of Professionals

Community of Professionals

Many firms with serious dysfunctions tend to have ingrained a sense of "us versus them" that makes any kind of collaboration very difficult. Sometimes it's management versus technologists; sometimes developers versus quality assurance; many other common forms exist. The reality of the situation is that once respect for your colleagues breaks down and you start assuming the worst about their intentions, it's awfully hard to focus on navigating the client politics that require your attention. It's bad enough having client politics that present one set of issues that are a known job hazard; negotiating two is crippling.

Consultopia's Corporate Immune System

I'm presuming here that you're not doing your own level best to raise the jerk factor at the office. Consultopia has an immune system of sorts that rejects the people Bob Sutton was talking about when he wrote his book The No Asshole Rule (Business Plus, 2007). Ideally, you would find out during the hiring process that a candidate is a jerk or a bully, but, just like vampires, such people tend to be good at camouflaging themselves, revealing their true natures only after being firmly ensconced in their new surroundings.

At Consultopia, such people reveal themselves when they start to act out. These people survive in good firms for only so long, after which the system will reject their behavior. Ultimately, the person either gets fired or, more likely, finds out that such tactics don't work, quickly leaving to find a new place/victim where his or her tactics are more likely to succeed.

We Are All Adults Here

When a firm reaches a point of having active defenses against such negative people, it has the opportunity to become a place where every person is respected as a fellow professional. This means expecting coworkers to be able to deal with reality—part of why financial transparency is important. This "no kid gloves" treatment can be harsh, but helps to keep people rooted in reality.

But the concept is more than that. It's really part of how people walk, talk, and act in management. Although someone may rank above or below you, in a well-run company it rarely feels that way. There will be differences in responsibility levels, reflective of the skills and attributes of the individuals, but, simply put, the better the organization, the less rank matters—and the more reality matters—in how decisions are made. Not only will people be able to operate with more dignity (that is, not having to kiss the ring of the boss to keep him or her happy), but decisions will be better.

Evidence-Based Decision Making

When you get used to making decisions based on data and evidence, rather than persuasion capabilities and politics, you start to wonder how and why anyone would do things any differently. Admittedly, making decisions via data wasn't always possible. Without systems capable of measuring performance (that is, based on good evidence), rank and relationship become the only real mechanisms—better than raw chance, perhaps, for making decisions. Inertia is powerful!

Consultants have ample ways of measuring performance. We can determine the effectiveness of sales by looking at revenues and profit margin, for example. Engagement management can be measured by client retention. Consultant performance can be measured by client satisfaction surveys and utilization reports. Recruiters can be measured by close ratios, successful hires, and so forth. Estimators can be measured by accuracy of their estimates. Tools exist to capture every one of these measurements. Any firm that isn't using these tools is really making a choice to be less evidence-based than it could be, and thus less effective.

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