Volume 50, Issue 1 - January 2015

theBusiness

The Consultant
(An almost totally true story)

by Lyle R. Hill

He was often an easy read for me, so I could tell from the look on his face that this was going to be a serious meeting. The fact that he had scheduled it for 5:00 on a Friday afternoon was also an indicator.

“Hill,” … he rarely called me by my first name … “would you like a cup of coffee?”

“No thank you, Coach” … I often called him coach because I thought he liked it … “I’m okay.”

“Well then,” he continued, “let’s get right down to the topic at hand. It will save us time.”

“I’m good with that, sir.”

“Hill, you’re in a slump and I’m concerned. You see, for more than three years your department’s revenues and profits have been on a very pleasant upward trend. The pattern has been as consistent as anyone could hope for and you haven’t missed a quarterly forecast in three years. But these past four months have been anything but pleasant. As I said, I am concerned, quite concerned actually.”

“If I can, sir,” I stated, “I would like to explain what I believe is the cause of this slide and then further tell you what I see ahead for us.”

“Hill, I’m not looking for explanations or excuses. I am looking for results. And we won’t get the results we want by being defensive or trying to explain away our failures.”

I liked the man I often called coach. He was, at heart, a very good person, but he sometimes lacked patience, and was prone to listen to comments from people who often had their own agendas. I knew we had slipped a bit in the past few months but it really was quite explainable. We were just coming out of one of the worst winters in recent memory. This had caused a number of good sized projects to be delayed and our largest project had been pushed back due to supplier issues beyond our control. Sure, I was concerned, but not at all worried because while the past few months had been bad, the future looked particularly good. You see, the numbers that I had come to trust and rely on for our financial health were to be found in the “backlog” report. And our report was quite positive, having grown substantially and now predicting an unusually strong finish for the rest of the year with very solid margins.

“So Hill,” he continued after a bit of a pause, “I am bringing in some help for you. Specifically, I have hired a top-notch consulting firm by the name of Frick, Frack and Folly to help get you back on track.”

If the coach had a flaw, and being human he had a few, it was that he rarely relied as much as he should have on his own people’s judgment. Consultants were regularly brought in to “help out” even when they weren’t needed. If a given suggestion came from a subordinate, it might get “reviewed” but if the same suggestion were to come from a consultant, it was immediately implemented. I had watched other department heads suffer through these experiences but thus far had avoided them personally. But now I was trending downward and so I too would now receive help. Knowing that any further argument or explanation on my part would be futile, I bought into the process … more or less.

“Okay, sir,” I said, “I look forward to meeting and working with the consultant and I’m sure between us we’ll get this thing figured out.”

“That’s the attitude I was hoping for, Hill. He’ll be here first thing Monday morning.”

I dutifully worked with the consultant the next several weeks. He asked dozens of questions and went over everything in great detail. He also interviewed virtually every employee in the place. He regularly went to lunch with some of us and as winter became spring and spring became summer, he even started coming to company softball games. He seemed to get along with everyone. Now the work that had been delayed during the earlier part of the year was in full swing and we were very busy and when we were busy, like most companies, we made money. As predicted, sales and profits picked up dramatically and once again, I was summoned to a Friday afternoon meeting with “The Coach.”

“Hill,” he began, “I am quite pleased with the turnaround that has taken place in your department and I think you would agree that the consultant has been quite helpful in helping you get back on track.”

While I liked the consultant, I could honestly say that he did not once make a suggestion or come up with a usable idea for us. Nor did I receive a written report or analysis of any kind. But he was a nice guy with a young family.

“Coach, I can’t argue with the facts.”

“Good, Hill, good. Now let me read you his report which I told him I would give to you for future reference and use. He also said you could call him at any time. Here goes;

‘Gentlemen: I have enjoyed working with you these past many months and the following are my final comments … From a management point of view, it is imperative that guidelines not interfere with objectives as established and coordinated by the responsible party. At first, this may seem ambiguous, but on further consideration, you will no doubt concur that the priority sequencing by such an approach is beneficial to all. Additionally, a sense of urgency, not to be confused with an urgency of the senses, will necessarily dictate how robust any given effort needs to be to activate the implementation of all sequential objectives. Lastly, do not confuse overall organizational methodology with your performance capacity as it may relate to restructuring and subsequent control criteria. The ultimate question is always whether or not relevancy is attainable within the cost benefit matrix ... remember, relevancy is never in conflict with sensibility unless logic has become the integral enemy of your long-range objective.’

“Wow, Coach. Can I get a copy of that?”

“You sure can, Hill and after hearing that, do any thoughts come to mind?”

The only thought I had was that I needed to quit my current job and become a consultant but I didn’t think saying that would be prudent. So I chose a different route.

“Well, all I can say is that he was everything I thought he was and maybe even more.”

the author

Lyle R. Hill
is the managing director of Keytech North America, a company providing research and technical services for the glass and metal industry. Hill has more than 40 years of experience in the glass and metal industry and can be reached at lhill@glass.com. You can read his blog on Wednesdays at lyleblog.usglassmag.com.

USG
Copyright 2015 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved.
No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.