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Beyond The Razzle Dazzle: Why Your Company Needs Agile Coaching, Not A Management Consultant

Michael de la Maza

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If you’ve encountered a business hurdle you can’t solve on your own, you’ve probably considered hiring a management consultant.

Common wisdom dictates they’ll help you move faster, work better, and find the perfect solution to streamline your process. But all their long hours and sleek PowerPoints won’t solve your problem long-term.

Because much of what management consultants do is for show.

In a very revealing article for Harvard Business Review, Professors Alaric Bourgoin and Jean-Francois Harvey point out all the ways consultants essentially “fake it ‘till they make it.” They rely on shared industry knowledge to sound like experts. They stay late and arrive early so you think they’re working harder than you. And those “million dollar PowerPoints” with clean lines and actionable solutions are most likely upcycled from previous clients.

Although Bourgoin and Harvey note this behavior as a hazard of the consulting profession, that still hasn’t changed the fact that it’s a $256 billion industry focused on treating the symptoms of a business issue opposed to addressing the source of the problem.

Agile coaching, on the other hand, seeks to increase the capability of an organization to solve its own problems. Where consultants enter a situation and immediately begin dishing out solutions, commands, and advice, an agile coach works with the company to identify the root of workflow problems and improve flexibility.

Most importantly, agile coaches want to put your people at the helm of change—not an outsider.

As an agile coach for more than 20 years, and only 1 of about 100 Scrum Alliance Certified Enterprise Coaches in the world, I’ve seen first hand the dramatic difference our approach can make. By valuing your people as your greatest asset, you’ll create long-term, actionable change that promotes exponential growth for your business.  

But for this to work, businesses need to be willing to function in tandem with an agile coach and not expect the consultant experience. Otherwise, both sides will experience a catastrophe.

So, before you leap into a new agile coaching session, here are a few things you should consider:

1. Agile coaches work with pre-existing needs instead of creating new ones.

As a business leader, you don’t need to be told how important change is—you already know.

And yet, a management consultant often strives to stir up a sense of urgency around change.   

This old-school line of thought was led by John Kotter, a big name in business theory and management consulting. Kotter always said creating urgency was the first thing you should do when working with a company. But in reality, “creating urgency” is based on fear. For example, maybe your team would benefit from improved workplace dynamics, tightened workflows, or simply finding better ways to communicate.

No amount of standing over people’s shoulders and telling them to change (“with urgency”) is going to solve the root of any of those problems.

Instead, agile coaches tap into pre-existing desires. They don’t step in and say, “This is what’s urgent.” They listen and ask, “What do you want to improve?” And more important, “How do you want to improve it?”

Then, and only then, can you and your team find the most efficient way forward together.  

2. Agile coaching removes the middle man, helping you foster strong internal relationships.

Few people will volunteer themselves for conflict, so it’s tempting to have a consultant step in and do all the talking for you.  

I was recently working with a Senior Vice President (SVP) who was going through this exact scenario. He hired someone who would talk with his teams, report back what was said, and then make recommendations. I couldn’t believe he refused to speak with his team directly.

What happens in a communication funnel like this is it creates a parasitic relationship. An outside influence is all of sudden needed to communicate with your team—and without it things may fall apart. You lose your power as a leader. Instead, the management consultant runs the show. And that’s not the way to win big.

The best wins come from the people in the company.

Remember: your people are your experts. They already know best, you just have to get them to talk to you. An agile coach can help push the right buttons and open the right channels to start the necessary conversations without getting in the middle.

3. Agile coaching puts people over profits.

For the greatest success, your company needs to value people as humans.  

We’ve all seen how massively a company can fail if they don’t. Valeant Pharmaceuticals, for example, was under fire for gouging drug prices—they upped the cost of a vital prescription to 5500% of its original cost in a single night. They’ve since endured major rebranding as a way to shake off all the scandal.

They brought on McKinsey management consulting. The problem with agencies like McKinsey is they’re most interested in companies that make money at whatever cost. They aren’t in tune with the way the world is moving—valuing human agency over treating people as disposable.

Conversely, a human-centric approach inspires and values true innovation.

Agile coaches can help companies understand where their ethical boundaries are, and then operate in a way that honors them. By feeling valued and needed, teams will feel more capable to disrupt the world around them. Without that sense, they may feel like just another cog in a machine.

And cogs rarely lead to innovation.    

To put things simply: you hire an agile coach to keep your people happy. You hire a management consultant to keep Wall Street happy.  

By listening to your people, needs, goals and challenges, agile coaches help you to create the best solutions internally. We facilitate but don’t dictate, allowing you to innovate the way you’re meant to. This keeps companies growing and functioning, without the need for a consultant six months down the road. In fact, our goal as coaches is to never see you again—we have nothing to gain from your failure.

And that may be the biggest difference between a consultant and a coach—true investment in your success.  

Co-founder, DemingWay.com. We help people learn agile more effectively and at a lower cost. Previously VP of Corporate Strategy at Softricity (acquired by Microsoft in 2006) and co-founder of Inquira (acquired by Oracle in 2011).

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