Archive for January, 2012

This Consulting Life

Sometimes I’m standing in the middle of a big conference room and I think: “I love my job”.  I’m surrounded by a group of smart, capable, usually passionate people, and it’s as if I’ve been thrown the keys to an Aston Martin DB9 V12 Vantage, and the salesman has said, “Here, go take this for a spin.”

I’ve spent the last couple of days with the committee of an iconic sporting club, along with their senior staff.  The committee members all do their governance job for nothing, other than their love of the club and their passion for the game.  They are planning their strategy for the next 4 years.

I get to twirl the baton.  All I really have to do is set up the framework and let their talent and accumulated wisdom fill it up.   Then I just synthesise it a bit, and play back their own cleverness and insight to them.

I also get to spend a couple of days in an idyllic spot in regional Victoria, hang out with interesting people, and learn things myself.  Then they pay me for it.  Life’s good.

I sat on the plane coming back and thought about what had worked well.  A few things stood out:


I only like taking on a major job with clients when we’ve been able to suss each other out beforehand.  I have previously spent time with this committee, when I had sat through one of their committee meetings.  The chairman had virtually dictated to them that they had to spend an hour listening to this alleged expert about “what good committees do”.  While I waited for my turn on the agenda, I amused myself by timing each agenda item.

I played the timings back to them in my presentation, and noted that they had spent 42 minutes on one minor operational item; 15 minutes discussing one of the bar staff who had recently resigned; 5 minutes on finances; and 6 minutes on strategy.  They took it pretty well, and I suppose after that they concluded I wasn’t just a finger-wagging pointy-head.  Anyway, they asked me back to run their strategy retreat.  I certainly felt there was the right chemistry for us to work well together.


We spent some time at the outset establishing just where on the Strategy Continuum the committee wanted to be (see Avoiding Strategy Ping-Pong).  They felt they would like to be slap bang in the middle, where strategy is developed jointly by the committee and management.  That worked for them because they would get some solid input from the staff, who would also feel shared ownership of the strategy and shared responsibility for executing it.

As ever, it doesn’t necessarily matter where you are on the continuum, as long as you are there consciously and by choice.  The joint ownership of strategy was referenced a number of times during the retreat by both management and the committee, and they felt good about it.


There was a potential wobble early in the retreat, when one of the committee members said, “This is a club, not a business, and the members just want to come and play their game.  They don’t care about this strategy stuff, so what are we doing?”  We had a chat, based on that view, about the responsibilities of governing bodies.

The members’ wants and needs are fair enough, but in the end the conclusion was that in any member-driven not-for-profit there will always be those (relatively few) people prepared to step up and be the custodians, planners and executors –  that’s why the rest of the membership are able merely to pay their fees, turn up and enjoy their club.  And that’s the way it will always be.  The up-steppers and the beneficiaries of the stepping up.


The concept of club v. business continued to rattle around, cropping up at various crunch points.  Then Tom, the youngest and most junior person there, dropped in this: “My dad says he thinks of organisations like ours as a ‘not-for-loss’ “.  That really clicked with everyone, and put the whole “are-we-running-a-business” debate into a different perspective.

For the rest of the retreat they referred to themselves as a not-for-loss.  Thanks Tommy.  You never know whence a nugget of wisdom may drop.  I’ll certainly be using that one again.


The club’s general manager was keen for me to play the “what kind of car are we?” game with the committee and staff.  I thought it was a bit corny, but if that’s what the client wants …. So we played the game, and 4 groups went off to have a discussion which was really about what kind of organisation they needed to be to reach their intended 2016 destination .

They came back with some thoughtful and insightful responses framed around car brands.  As a bonus, out of that work we have started to distill the essence of the club’s brand.  In the end-of-retreat debrief, they rated the “what kind of car” game as one of the best sessions.  So I should be less snooty in future about corny visualising games.

(Note to self – why does the “what kind of car” game so frequently end up with people wanting to be Audis?)

One other bit of visualising got the team particularly engaged – we threw up the Google Earth view of the club’s land on the big screen, and it very effectively grounded the discussion on the property strategy:  “Ah, so that’s where our tenant is growing the bok choy garden …  maybe we could do something better with that land.” Wish I had thought of the screen shot, but it was the idea of one of the committee members.


As we walked back to the car park after the retreat, one of the committee members said to me, “Thanks David, I guess you did what consultants always do – we give you our watch and you tell us what time it is.”  Actually mate, what I think I do is just help you pull up your sleeve, so you can tell the time all by yourselves.

Now that’s a real job

You may (or may not) have noticed that I haven’t posted here for a while.  I’ve had another career going – full time carer.  And it’s been, well, full time.

The Squadron Leader had an accident at work.  (Anyone who knows my wife Brigitte knows why she’d be called the Squadron Leader, and it’s not just because that was her rank when she left the Air Force.)  She only slipped down one little step at work, but managed to give herself a catastrophic foot injury, the kind that is severe but rare, and gets the specialists excited in their own morbid way.  A buzz went round the Emergency Department when the orthopaedic registrar gushed: “We’ve got a Lisfrank’s fracture!”  Talk about schadenfreude.

So I haven’t been blogging much.  But I’ve been learning plenty.

“Full time carer” is an often repeated phrase, frequently used but perhaps spoken a little dismissively.  Having had a go at it for 7 weeks, I have much more sympathy for anyone who is actually doing it.  You still have your own stuff to do, plus the patient’s stuff that they can’t now do, plus the actual caring part.

Luckily, not having a real job (well, not a full time one anyway), I have had the flexibility to adjust my schedule and ease back on the fee-earning part.  How people without that flexibility manage in similar circumstances, I can hardly imagine.  There have been a couple of assignments I have absolutely had to do, and then I’ve had to arrange respite care for the patient.

The impact on the caree is probably underestimated as well.  The Squadron Leader is generally a clone of the Eveready Bunny, so only being allowed to move from the bed to the toilet to the couch has been particularly tough.  Even watching box-set after box-set of DVDs pales after a while.  The frustration of the patient is understandable, but it’s something extra the carer has to manage as well.

I for one will never underestimate what it takes when someone describes themselves as full time carer.  I know, now, that is a real job.

The Squadron Leader is on the mend, although still condemned to the couch.  And I am back on the blog. (And posting this from a new blog editor program – fingers crossed!)

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