Listening to Radio 4 is one of the many pleasures of running your own business. But for those of you whose back-to-back meetings meant that you missed Private Eye journalist Richard Brooks’ The Age of Consultancy, it’s well worth a listen. He argues that management consultants operate inside 90% of FTSE 100 companies, most public services and many of the world’s governments. But most of us know very little about what they do or what impact they might be having on our world.
Brooks’ wide-ranging preoccupations (he is the author of The Bean Counters; the Triumph of the Accountants and How they Broke Capitalism) meant that the programme contained some unexpected voices: Felix Stein, author of Work, Sleep, Repeat; ex-McKinsey Consultant, Dina Nayeri, author of The Ungrateful Refugee and Christopher McKenna, author of The World’s Newest Profession. The overview of the elite networks, training and opportunities creatively to problem solve all served to remind you of the good reasons why so many young people are drawn to consulting (and not just because it’s a more palatable option than banking).
Ernst & Young’s seductive brand: Where do you Start if you want to Change the World? and Accenture’s Peter Lacey talking about how big data/analytics and design thinking/innovation are revolutionising business made the appeal of consulting clear. Yet I know how many of my professional services clients are struggling to square that offer with their 14 hour Work, Sleep, Repeat days. For all the initial attraction, too many of them are wondering how they got here, and what they can do to get back in touch with the people they thought they were going to be when they grew up.
Which is partly why, having listened to Richard Brook, I switched off You and Yours (obvs) and plugged my AirPods in to Audible to listen to Simon Sinek’s Find Your Why.
I’m running Simon Sinek’s process with a client team later in the autumn. The client is a fan of Sinek but I’m naturally skeptical about leadership speakers. Sinek’s mantra: “Imagine a world in which the vast majority of us wake up inspired, feel safe at work and return home fulfilled at the end of the day” reminded me why. But I stuck with it. Sinek’s talk “How great leaders inspire action” is one of the most-watched talks on TED.com. But it’s his work on purpose that I find more engaging.
The notion that each of us has a life purpose, a statement not about who we aspire to be, but who we are when we are at our natural best, is not unusual. What is a little more unusual is the clarity of Sinek’s process. At root, it is similar to what most good coaches do: ask good questions – ones that invite people to recall and retell specific stories from their lives – and listen. Enquire. And listen. In particular listen for the emotion that underlies the stories. (If nothing else, Brexit has reminded us that its stories, not facts, that persuade). Then pull together the themes that emerge and funnel them into two main components: the contribution you make and its impact on others. Sinek’s example: To inspire others to live fully so that together we can change the world. At its core, the individual Why is an origin story that is largely formed by our late teens. Uncovering your Why can help you understand your purpose and find fulfilment. Something that gets all too easily buried under the Work, Sleep, Repeat day.
Organisations also have origin stories (think Steve Jobs’ Apple). Sinek’s process can also – when carefully contracted – be run with teams to help them find what Sinek calls their ‘Nested Whys’. Exploring the stories a team tells and then asking: “In each of your stories, what was the specific contribution your organisation made to the lives of others?” allows them to excavate and articulate their Why and use it to energise and inform.
It’s all too easy to be as skeptical about management consultants as Private Eye journalists are right to be. And there is no harm in being skeptical about leadership writers. But at root, everyone – perhaps particularly those living the 14 hour Work, Repeat, Sleep days in the world’s newest profession – need the clarity and contentment that understanding their Why can deliver. I’m running the workshop in November and will report back. Happy September.