The Analyst's Couch
Unbound Opinions from Industry Observers
The World's Second Oldest Profession
By Stan Lepeak
We all know what's the world's oldest profession. Well, somewhere in
the third millennium BC, in jolly old Egypt, market leaders in that profession
were enduring a prolonged slump. Industry analysts attributed this slowdown
to an overall stagnant economy triggered by layoffs in the pyramid-building
industry due to the untimely longevity of Pharaoh Ramses I.
One industrious money handler, Anwar Andersen-Hammer (he was not originally
from the area), had an idea. He approached senior management in the world's
oldest profession with a bold plan: a proposal for a radical restructuring
and reengineering of their operations. Delivery processes must be streamlined,
non-value-added steps eliminated or outsourced, head count reduced and overall
levels of customer service improved. Management bought it. The second oldest
Unfortunately, Andersen-Hammer's plan did not lead to the improvements envisioned.
Several years into the project, employees were complaining of long hours
and low pay, and customer gripes increased, particularly over the new concept
of "self-service" service. Disgruntled shareholders banded together
to take action, leading to the birth of the third oldest profession, one
closely related to the first two: the lawyer. Andersen-Hammer, when reached
for comment while out inventing golf (a new forum for making key management
decisions), blamed incompetent users and saboteurs in middle management,
praised his methodology and referred inquiries to his PR department for
some colorful graphics that illustrated overall high levels of client satisfaction.
Today, things have not changed much (though one of these professions has
been outlawed). Organizations are still paying a lot of money to get repeatedly
screwed. Despite all the warnings to practice the act safely, they jump
right in and often catch something from which it may take years to recover.
Finally, when all is said and done, it's probably something they could have
done to themselves for much less money and with less risk of injury.
Why is management so keen on having their organizations regularly practice
BOHICA (Bend Over Here It Comes Again)? Is it simply ignorance? A uni-dimensional
goal to improve stock performance over the next quarter and then cash out
another $5M in options? Delusions of godliness manifested in the perceived
ability to (re)create the world in seven days while only lifting a few fingers
and blowing life into clay forms of managers? All of the above? A more important
question, though, is what can organizations do to overcome this addiction
Afflicted organizations, like alcoholics, need to recognize that they have
a problem. They should also remember that in this era of the victim it's
OK to admit that they are addicts and, of course, to pursue litigation.
Locking lawyers and consultants in the same room so they can gorge on one
another is a fitting end for both.
Unlike tabloid TV victims, though, the Global 2000 cannot blame their addiction
on a mother who drank during pregnancy or a father who abused them. They
have no one to blame but themselves: for placing blind faith in the altruism
of external consultants to not only understand the technology design but
also implement significant organizational changes, and for expecting quick
fixes for fundamental organizational maladies that have been painstakingly
crafted over years.
Having come to grips with its dysfunctionality, an organization's first
step toward a cure is to identify the specific type of parasite that has
entered its bowels. There are several prominent kinds.
Cures for the disease vary widely. "Cold turkey" is one painful
option, which few organizations have the fortitude to undertake. In the
increasingly "virtual" business world, few organizations are capable
of doing on their own everything that their business encompasses. As with
all things to which it's easy to become addicted, there is potential good
in moderation. Especially with consultants.
- Strategic consultants: Easiest to spot, they are nearly universally
WAMs (White Arrogant Males) who wear suits that cost more than your car
and give you a view up the nostrils whenever they pass by on their way to
the top floor. Their grasp of technology does not extend beyond car alarm
systems. If you close your eyes, you think you hear Mr. Howell from Gilligan's
Island talking. They keep fit by lifting credenza-ware reports, which
decorate management's offices.
- Operational consultants: They will wear short-sleeve shirts and
order beer at lunch in an attempt to fit in, but never drink it. Like barnacles
on the bottom of a boat, once they're attached to an organization, they're
hard to remove.
- Big firms with roots in audit: Accountants on steroids, they
do their part to help disadvantaged youth with MBAs by training them at
your expense. Their best core competency is billing. Their solution to the
problem of your customers leaving in droves is to streamline accounting.
- Systems integrators: These are regular guys with ambition, kind
of like the Mob. "If youse knows what's good for youse, you'll pay
the protection, or one morning youse might find your billing system at the
bottom of the technical equivalent to the East River."
- Vendor professional services: Like the Amway salesperson who
has been taking night classes from the Sally Struthers School of Management,
they've learned enough acronyms to be dangerous. Their solution to the problem
of your customers leaving in droves is a truckload of new servers.
Hiring a management consultant to tell you what you should be doing in five
years is an open-ended, expensive, frivolous exercise. Tasking them to provide
five best-of-breed case studies on optimized customer support systems in
the packaged goods industry is not. Overall, you would generally be better
served by "boutiques" (smaller, user-friendly, cost-efficient
consulting groups, staffed primary by FREDs: Friendly REgular Dudes/Dudettes).
Moderation is key. Red wine with dinner improves longevity. Judicious use
of consultants in a measured and controlled environment can add to management's
longevity. Swilling grain alcohol at breakfast, like letting a horde of
ex-accountants determine your organization's strategic direction, is a recipe
So stay on top, pay only for what you get and watch out who you let in your
Stan Lepeak is program director in the advanced information
management service of the Meta Group in Stamford, CT.
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