I always felt sorry for the many famous artists in the Renaissance, who needed to compromise the quality of their work and their artistic integrity, in order to make sure their art suited the requirements of their patrons.
Because my work provides me with an opportunity to express and develop myself, I have always been passionate about it. I loved studying organizational sociology, business administration, and executive coaching. To this day I enjoy reading business books, magazines, and blogs about the area where people, organizations, and business objectives meet.
As a management consultant, this passion drives me to define and implement the best possible solutions for my clients. I have very clear ideas about what my clients need, and what the ideal solution to satisfy this need should look like.
Unfortunately, most of my clients also have pretty strong ideas about what their needs are, and what their ideal solution should look like…
For this reason, I used to literally cringe when my clients told me they wanted to adapt the recommended solutions I had in mind for them.
I used to find these situations very difficult to deal with because I had the idea that the intrinsic quality of my advice was affected. Not hindered by any sense of false modesty, I compared myself to the aforementioned renaissance artists who needed to compromise their artistic integrity.
This feeling became so strong, that, at a certain moment in my career, I was considering returning an assignment back to my customer, because I felt I could not put enough of my thinking into the product and felt a loss of engagement.
This all changed when I discussed my sentiments regarding a specific project with an executive coach. She patiently listened to my venting, and then asked one question that really hit home to me.
‘You always talk about your project, however, is it your project, or the project of your client?’.
I was dumbfounded by her question.
Of course, it was not my project, but the project of my client! After all, not only did my client pay for it, my client also bore the accountability for the project in her organization.
Since that crucial conversation, my attitude to my consulting work fundamentally changed.
Rather than being afraid that the wishes of clients will affect the intrinsic quality of my solution, I started to look forward to discussions with my clients as joint problem-solving and co-creation sessions. I realized that the art of management consultancy could be better compared with that of architects, than free artists.
L’art pour l’art?
Funnily enough this development in my thinking ran parallel to another development in my attitude regarding my work. For a long time I was not concerned with the fact whether my clients would take over my advice or not. Instead I was primarily concerned with the intellectual quality of my findings and recommendations. If my clients did not take my advice, I considered this to be ‘their bad’: I was satisfied to have given the best intellectual contribution I was capable of to solve their problem.
However, this also changed when I worked on an assignment that posed a make-or-break situation for the client. Rather than seeing myself as a doctor, recommending my patients to give up smoking on the basis of scientific arguments and leaving the decision to do so firmly in their hands, I started to care more and more about the actual impact my work could have on the organization and the people that depended on them for a living.
Impact = Quality X Acceptance
These two developments made me reevaluate the value of a formula I became aware of in my early twenties, but never valued: Impact = Quality X Acceptance. ‘Value’ because rationally I always understood it, however emotionally I never cared much about the impact.
A gun for hire?
Does this mean that I now just follow his or her master’s voice? No. What remains important for me is the freedom to express to clients what I think, feel, and consider to be important to them. If I cannot do that anymore, I start to act out of fear, … and that is never a great starting point to producing great art.