EDGAR H. SCHEIN: HUMBLE CONSULTING
Key Point: There is not a straightforward process and method to provide good help as a consultant. If we rather acknowledge that we do not know, we open ourselves to the possibility to unlock the complex problems we face.
This book is building on, and to some extent summarizing Edgar Schein’s 50 years’ experience of organisational consulting. Schein is, for those that do not know his work, perhaps THE reference of organisational management and corporate culture of both the 20th and 21st century.
As any book that is summarizing an approach that has been refined in 100’s, or 1000’s of projects, situations, and engagements over half a decade, Scheins makes the work of Organizational Consulting look simple and elegant. For us mere mortals, behind the simplicity and elegance, there is a lot of difficulty and messiness to discover when we apply the learnings in our own practice, whether we do so in the capacity of a consultant, or a manager and leader of a team or organisation.
The key premise is that we, anyone who is leading, managing, or consulting to an organisation today is standing in front of an extremely high level of complexity. The idea, as the title suggests, is to stay humble in front of that complexity.
The complexity Schein is referring to is the mix of the tangible artefacts of the organization, structure, titles, authority, processes, and procedures and so on, as well as the intangible factors such as emotions, group dynamic, behavior, values, and beliefs, etc. And as the world external to the organization is changing fast, it triggers events inside the organisation that makes the situations and problems opaque and blurry.
Being humble in front of such complexity requires that you:
- Engage with authentic curiosity and good intentions to help!
- That you separate the content from the process from the person in the way you analyze and focus your attention to help!
- That you consider “adaptive moves”, experiments, rather than attempting to find conclusive answers.
- That you establish a personal relationship of trust with your client.
- That you recognize and are conscious about the fact that everything you say and do as a consultant influence the outcome, form the first introduction.
Schein describes in quite simple terms and with practical illustrations how to practice humble consulting, step by step, chapter by chapter.
This book is not providing a step-by-step method of how to intervene to help, however. It is rather providing a set of approaches that you can adopt into your own existing method or process, to make it stronger and more impactful. This is beneficial and makes you a better in your job, regardless of if you operate as an external consultant, coach, or as a manager and leader in the organisation.
I use it as a handbook that I pick up regularly, sometimes during breaks, for no reason, sometimes when I am in the middle of an engagement or writing a proposal. Every time I pick it up, I get valuable reminders that help me check my own behavior and approach, and it helps me focus on the most important thing, how I can be of best help for the person in front of me.
I wrote this piece, not with the intention to transmit the knowledge of how to become a Humble Consultant (that would have been an act of Hybris), but hopefully trigger enough curiosity in you, dear reader, to read it yourself. And then I would be happy to discuss and compare notes.
Call me for questions and comments