Speaking with a barrister earlier this week, we were discussing the nature of lawyer-led businesses and the difficulties that so many of them have in actually seeing themselves as a business, and so working in a very business-like manner.
I was reminded of one of my most difficult clients.
Not - it may surprise you to know - because they were dysfunctional, disorganised and chaotic. Quite the opposite. They had engaged me to examine their business structure and operation and to report on necessary changes. After a few weeks, it was apparent that there were no changes necessary - the business was working well, the leadership was well organised, professional and communicating hard. Junior members of staff knew what the strategy for the business was and seemed to be enthusiastic about it and about their impact on it.
I was faced with writing a report that, in effect, said "carry on doing what you're doing". The temptation to tinker was enormous. It's one of the most dangerous thing that a consultant (or a new executive coming into a business) can do - changing things so that they are seen to be changing things. The common perception is that consultants have a look at a business and if services are in-house, we suggest outsourcing - and if they are outsourced, we recommend bringing them in-house. In other words, we tinker.
It's the consulting equivalent of moving into a beautiful newly build apartment and ripping out the bathroom and replacing it. "Look", we shout, "I'm here".
It is, however, something that we must all - consultants and executives - work hard to avoid. There is a real value in acknowledging a good system rather than changing it. Change is not always necessary. Any system, no matter how good, will need to evolve - but that's a completely different matter.
When I delivered my report to my clients, they were delighted. They were such good managers of their business that, although they thought everything was going well, they wanted external audit and verification - and were pleased that I was willing to present a report without the need for change.
So - today's lesson is to avoid tinkering. If change is required, then start the process of change and work to introduce the new system. If, however, the business is working well, then join in with the process and enjoy nudging an efficient system along into the future.