Why hire an employee when you can rent one?

imageLeveraging on “Are we better off leveraging experts?”, this is a question a US consulting firm caught my attention with this week when they followed me on Twitter  In their web site they asked “Why hire an employee when you can rent one?” Their message pitched to sell their value also just makes so much sense as it goes to the very heart of the issue.

This small firm, called Kettle River Consulting, with its unlikely yet instantly recognizable self branding name,  grabs readers well with some clever well placed business basics. One is a challenge they suggest you chew on to “Make Your Server Room Get Along with Your Board Room”.

In their offering on managed services, they present their  case to engage with a compelling argument that the cost is less than staff costs of full-time employees.

They expand this by saying,

Some companies hire one team to write their application and another to maintain it.

The latter team is instantly at a disadvantage, because all of the knowledge of the business processes and the application itself resides with the software developers.

A second drawback might also be personnel-related. To manage an enterprise application, a company needs the continual services of talented developers, database administrators and network operations staff.

If these were all full time employees, the cost of running the application could become burdensome.

When I looked more into Kettle River Consulting, also at twitter.com/KettleRiver, it seems it was founded on an opportunity to delver real customer service that so many others in reality only have in their mission.

According to their site KRC, as they also refer to themselves, was started when an a German marketing firm, who had previously acquired a US software business, then changed direction and decided to close it. This left stranded many long-time and loyal clients with an ongoing  need for the expertise they had relied on for many years.

Another perspective of this company shows up in the “Favorite Quotes the KRC Team have on their profiles; such as,

  1. Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.
  2. Data outlives the application in nearly every business.
  3. Don’t fear technology, use it to make your life better

I enjoyed reading the KRC site and learning from them on how to be humble and still look very professional. This very human looking company makes so much sense and one I would definitely feel I would like to deal with if I were a local to Minnesota.

This firm albeit small teaches by example some big and valuable lessons for doing business from its equally small yet famous area located in the southwest corner of Carlton County.These days of course with communications being so good even in the Asia Pacific regions, they could ofcourse be local and help others in need on that side of the world.

Here is something else i found out.  The Kettle River area of Carlton County Minnesota, was settled by a large concentration of Finnish Immigrants in the years leading up to the First World War and the influence of those immigrants is still noticeable even today.

Every August the town hosts Ma and Pa Kettle Days, an annual festival that includes a pancake breakfast, parade, a Miss Kettle River pageant, a mud bog on Saturday afternoon and street dances on Friday and Saturday night. . (if you want to learn more on Kettle River my source for this post was Wikipedia)

Are we better off leveraging experts?

imageUse of consultants in business is commonplace for many reasons. Consultants are often used to focus undistracted on change work, especially as they are bonded to bring about change. They can be seen to be more capable to be effective when perceived as having no vested interest or legacy systems baggage. 

They can also provide expert advice on finite or given change objectives and bring high end objectivity on such things as blue ocean opportunities. Using consultants for decision management is also useful to mitigate risk of internal limits.

On a past consultancy engagement, I got some valuable experience on what all care and no responsibility means. While advising a large US based multi-national on a change process, part of this work involved my attendance at a high level internal think tank as an invited observer. There my client, the VP for Planning, made an impromptu request of me to present his corporate strategy on a change program we had been working on together. His compelling reason was that it is was far better I delivered it, as a so-called credible expert advisor, so they could be objective to discuss any buy-in issues.  This also highlighted another high value I brought. In the event that the plan failed to get buy-in, it would then be easier to just shoot the messenger without any collateral damage. Needles to say my facilitation was focused to make that sure they bought it so the change was a success.

At a  recent workshop, one of my colleagues attended in Singapore they were discussing the value questions there about consultants and their employee counterparts. The group comprised of a mix of employees and consultants all engaged in business to advise on change processes and related IT based projects Specially they looked at the decision making of short term thinkers who may cause long term harm to organization stakeholders.

The debate was initiated with the assertion: 

“When making long term decisions, management may be better off leveraging experts rather than relying only on internal resources.”

Clearly, knowledge and skill in the organization is vital to decisions. But it is necessary to mitigate risk of decision making by employees especially as most do not see themselves in the company for the next 5 years. 

One assertion often made is that a company must seek ways to obviate the risk this presents so long term decisions benefit the company without compromise. The short term aims of individuals who made them,  is often to use that experience to get a better job elsewhere, long before they can be held accountable for the results.

In random order here are some of the pros and cons from the discussion:

  1.  Employees often make short term business decisions on Long Term Strategy because they want to “lock in” the rewards that are tied to short term results. (Example: year-end bonuses and next year increment/promotion).
  2. Professional employees actually consider themselves as in-house consultants, with reputations to lose and live up to, so short term gain is less likely to be a compromising factor.
  3. Employees in management jobs are expected to have  the ability to deliver sustainable outcomes by meeting short term objectives as proof.
  4.  In high staff turnover business generations of employees will change previous decisions anyway.
  5. In low turnover companies a short term trade-off culture is not tolerated.
  6. Too much long term thinking could lead to Companies becoming stagnant.
  7. Consultants, especially those tied to a solution may by nature be biased to fixed ideas and may also present short term compromise.
  8. Good consultants provide expert input based on a wide range of experience.
  9. Employees as they change roles and jobs can often be more effective than consultants.
  10.   Business consultants must rely on internal expertise anyway for information and support relationship for internal selling ideas.
  11.    Compromise potential is reduced when an experienced export  consultant leads the decision analysis process.
  12.   Consultants and advisors can have an advantage as many think naturally about the long term as part of their business.
  13.     Consultants relate to customers not as employers and act to ensure relationships  last way beyond the short term. Short term success on their decisions gives them this so they can maintain continuity to support long term executions.
  14.   Developing customers is a strategic aim of consultants for customer retention.
  15.    If consultants do not think strategically they will show up  as being just contractors, with no more value to add than the cheaper version of employee.
  16.   Consultants work in the same culture and face the same compromise to meet short term goals of their business. This may equally translate to their customer.
  17. To survive business must think short term. Long term is never more than 5 years.
  18.   Consider an ideal that a culture can be established in an organization where everyone, employees consultants and  extended service providers alike, think of themselves as their own boss with only the customer holding them accountable.
  19.   Consultants by nature generate new ideas and stimulate clients to achieve something that the are capable of. They challenge the norm.
  20.   Employers should give incentives so people think like a business owner  to add the value they are paid to deliver. If everyone has this same mindset, results will be predictable and deliverables will be of the highest quality and last longer.

On balance it seems consultants and employees both have a place. The reality that maintains the need for expert consulting may be based on a need for external stimulus and focus and accountability, to deliver a different style of thinking with motivation for more balanced outcomes.

What was best before sliced bread?

sliced bread mahine In the world of best practice it is not being best that matters!

Did you know sliced bread, which was invented by Otto Rohwedder around 1910, was a complete failure as no-one bought or used.

It was not until 15 years later when "Wonder" came along and saw a way to spread the idea. The rest of course is history giving rise to the now famous throw away line.

Ideas that spread win is a theme that Seth Godin discusses frequently  This master marketing guru asserts that being very good is average and does not sell. He says what is needed is to be “Remarkable”. Or put another way to be “Remarked On”.

His 2007 talk, a favorites of many entertains and educate on ways that work now how to make ideas go viral.

Nick Vujicic

If you want to achieve but think you can’t, then take a look at this man who can.

Nick Vujicic has no limbs but is able to do more in a day than most people can do in a lifetime.

Exploiting BPM value

imageCraig Schiff, this week in his blog has an excellent piece that goes to the heart of the value of busi8ness performance management  (BPM).

The significant value important in the way BPM is implemented comes with the focus it brings to make changes for a culture of greater shared thinking.

Skunk projects using free software are just not the way to do that. For it to work it must have buy in at the grass roots. This starts with the step of internal selling and going thru the organizational pain of doing proper evaluations. IT or Finance should not take short cuts if they want to champion such initiatives.

In the end the technology and choice of software is the least of the issues. As Craig expands on, what is more important is the scope of business change to use BPM and understanding what needs to be measured and who it is deployed to and so on.

I agree too that offers of free tools and services must be questioned. Alternatively there is value in offering to review to have fixed some of the very poor implementations that have come from ill founded scuttle approaches that result from freebies. This exploitation phase in such expedient cases is so often never done.

In the end the value extending the use of a BPM system brings with it the greater value to justify investment in more licenses. That makes for better reference sites for vendors and everyone wins, especially the customer.

Competency: Not just a Cobbler’s Art

imageIn the competency stakes there are several stages to achieving mastery. To understand this is to understand your value and what you must do to maintain it. As you become more capable the ground will likely shift as you realize what it means.

Consider the cobbler starting as an apprentice. When he begins his indentures, even the smallest task needs someone to teach him the skills. He is understandably quite unaware of how to even approach competency, let alone what it may look like.

You might say he is unconsciously incompetent. But his next stage, not surprisingly, is being conscious of his incompetence as he accepts, on faith, what his mentor and teachers say he still needs to know.

Once he develops skills he moves to an unconscious state once again as he makes it. But it still takes time and effort for it to sink in that he is is actually there. Consciousness does not return until the next emancipating stage clicks in, which may well be the point that sees him graduating as a qualified craftsman.

But what of the final stage to achieve mastery?

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