We Needed To Achieve The Impossible And Perform A Miracle

There I was at work, with a client who wanted to add three of their own company’s staff members to my company’s consulting project team.

Groupthink in my organization created a situation where that wasn’t going to happen, and somehow that was acceptable.

My option was to tell my client it was impossible: their people couldn’t take part on this important project. I was unable to expand my team to include three skilled, motivated staff members who would benefit the overall project.

How it really works in consulting

In retrospect, I worked in consulting at the time, and I think my boss and the VP of the organization were holding out. After all, if the client couldn’t add their “free” labor to our project, maybe they’d pay us to provide three of our own people. Right?

After all, that is how you grow a consulting business: one new headcount at a time, one new team at a time, one new engagement at a time.

I never “fit in” in consulting

Stupidly, I was raised by a businessman who believed it was honorable to work hard, meet commitments, and finish the job on time and on budget.

I never really liked consulting… It was a dog-eat-dog world where one company would pick off other consultants and replace them with their own. Petty, passive-aggressive finger-pointing.

I now see that I was a real disappointment to a consulting manager who needed to grow the business. All that pettiness and passive-aggression was how you discredited the competition and justified replacing them with your “better-prepared, more competent, better managed” team members.

Your team would be able to improve the odds of finishing on schedule and budget for the guy in the corner office who still wanted his job in two years, when your project was supposed to be over.

The former “big eight” consulting graduates were exemplary in this spin and positioning game.

<sigh> Live and learn.

…back to my customer who wanted to add some people to our project team…

We needed to achieve the impossible. We needed to perform a miracle.

Those client team members needed access to my company’s information systems to meaningfully take part in the project.

Systems access requests required an Employee ID (EID) number. Since they weren’t employees of my company, my client’s employees didn’t have EID numbers.

“No number, no access.”, said the system administrator. “No exceptions.”**

Everyone Who Said It Couldn’t Be Done Was On The Same, Small Team

I escalated the opportunity to my boss, who said, “It’s impossible”. She told me about my co-worker, who had been unable to add another customer’s team members to his project. She suggested I check with him.

He confirmed my boss’s assertion, then he referred me to a member of the Operations team.

Our Operations team member said they were right: she’d told them both it was impossible.

Groupthink was in place.

I Called BS On Groupthink

I was not yet willing to believe our company had no way to enable customers to take part on project teams, at no cost to us, especially when the customer offered and requested that participation.

This was a successful company with billions of dollars in revenues and over 10,000 employees.

Companies become successful by using all available resources and making their customers happy (unless they have a near-monopoly).

The company was not a monopolist. Not exactly…

We saw an opportunity to make a customer happy and use resources for free, yet it was “impossible” to do either.

There’s Always An Exception; I Kept Looking

I did a quick search on our intranet.

In the first page or two of results was a document indicating there were non-employee users of some computer systems. However, it didn’t explain how or why.

I contacted a manager in the department that published the document. He referred me to a policy that authorized auditors, directors, and outsiders to have systems access with approval by a Vice President.

I filled out the handful of blanks of the form and had the VP sign it.

Our customer team members had access in under a week.

Consider And Act

  • What “impossible” hurdles are you facing?
  • Who says these hurdles are impossible, and what evidence is there?
  • Where’s the incentive to achieve the impossible, and for whom?
  • How far outside your zone of influence or comfort have you gone to overcome the problem?
  • Who is rewarded, and who is hurt, by continuing things as they are?
  • What are the costs of achieving a breakthrough?
  • What impact is groupthink having on the situation? Are you sure?
  • Are you ready to perform a miracle, or is status quo good enough?
  • What’s the safe choice, what are the risks, and for whom?
  • What values are reflected in the status quo, and what values would be reflected in the case of a breakthrough?
  • Are you ready to achieve the impossible and perform a miracle?
  • Live your values.

**All quotes in this article are not exact quotes when the conversations occurred. They are representative of the spirit and content of the conversations, as I recall them.

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