How to Take Bias Out of Consulting

The Blame Game – How to Take Bias Out of Consulting

By Mary T. O’Sullivan, MSOL

Often, when consultants ask people how to determine a primary problem in their organization, they express a bias towards one specific cause.  When the consultant asks someone from accounting, the accounting people are certain that the problem is caused by poor accounting methodology, or someone in manufacturing is sure that the problem in the business lies with poor raw materials. 

It’s difficult not to pick up on bias early in the consulting process, however, I’ve found from personal experience that sometimes gathering the biases is exactly what’s needed to perceive the “conditions on the ground” and to fine tune the consultant’s situational awareness of the multitude of problems he/she will face in solving a perplexing set of business issues. Additionally, surveys are very helpful when used in conjunction with personal interviews to derive trends in a company’s bias. If biases group together along certain given lines, then those biases need to be addressed as trends in the study and should be deemed part of the overall problem the  business faces. However, the important point is to remove bias from the client’s own solution, and to ensure the consultant’s work is in the client’s best interest. The consultant’s actions must represent the client’s optimal path forward.

Numerous approaches already exist to create a neutral plan which has already considered all the biases and incorporated concerns into the solution. Six Sigma offers multiple methods of discerning root cause analysis, The Five Whys, The Fish Diagram, Pareto Charts, etc. All are designed to flesh out solutions without prejudice and address Undesirable Effects (UDEs).  The “Lean” process also offers several dispassionate methods to effect a business change.  Continuous improvement and Respect for People are the driving forces to eliminate bias in making business decisions. Peer reviews of the deliverables of various sessions with the consultant are also helpful in keeping bias under control.

The savvy consultant knows that all the “guns” need to be on the table early, or he/she risks sniping, ambushes, and/or show downs later on. In a dysfunctional management system, a major “Burning Platform” is a misaligned management team. In order to stop the bleeding, the CEO needs to engage his entire leadership team as well as work towards transforming his company’s culture. Change can’t happen unless the change has a purpose, and the purpose must be tied to why the company exists, its mission. The consultant needs to ask: What are the company’s vision, mission, strategy, goals and values? These need to be established before any other actions can be taken. A CEO  and his/her leadership team need to determine what kind of company they want to be and align accordingly. In addition, the CEO needs to overcome any apparent failures of leadership exhibited so far. He needs to align the entire management team in order for the company to experience a successful turnaround.   Questions for the the management team are: What behaviors reflect leadership and how do we achieve those? How can we organize to best meet our stated business culture? Who are the best people to lead the organization toward achieving our desired business culture? Since the CEO and the leadership team are at odds, the CEO needs to ask them: How can we align ourselves to bring success to the company? What actions do I need to take to ensure you and I are acting in unison? And he  should document his discussions.

In the spirit of collaboration, I would ask: What does the management team consider to be the burning platforms?  How do we prioritize the list in view of the established core cultural elements? If the company has not spent time analyzing and defining these, they must begin now. 

Once these are established as part of cultural change and management alignment, appropriate measures to address profit and sales, infrastructure, expenses, marketing/consumer trends need to be taken.  Assuming profit and sales emerges as the number one Burning Platform, the CEO needs to take action fast, and make a change in their brand strategy based on an analysis of synergies and or divestiture. The question at this stage is: Is the right leadership team in place to improve these sectors? Are we a branded house or not? Or, can is it possible to create synergy through managing more than one brand so that successful practices can be shared between them? How can we manage raw materials, energy and facilities to our best advantage? How do we leverage existing factory space? How can we introduce a “healthy eating line” with our existing infrastructure and facilities?  What business climate or social trends could impact further change and reorganization? How do we become more agile and responsive to market conditions?

Continuous root-cause analysis may be needed to ensure the culture continues to align with current business climate and trends. This may include painful reorganizations, layoffs, and plant and facility repurposing.  

Dysfunctional leadership destroy business continuity, less productivity and fewer profits. Hiring an objective, third part management consultant could be the answer to saving the organization. It’s worth every penny.

Mary T. O'Sullivan

Mary T. O’Sullivan, Master of Science, Organizational Leadership, Member, International Coaching Federation, Society of Human Resource Management. Candidate, Master’s Certificate in Executive and Professional Career Coaching, University of Texas at Dallas. Member Beta Gamma Sigma, the International Honor Society. Advanced Studies in Education from Montclair University, SUNY Oswego and Syracuse University. Mary is also a certified Six Sigma Specialist, Contract Specialist, IPT Leader and holds a Certificate in Essentials of Human Resource Management from SHRM. Mary O’Sullivan has over 30 years experience in the aerospace and defense industry. In each of her roles, she acted as a change agent, moving teams and individuals from status quo to new ways of thinking, through offering solutions focused on changing behaviors and fostering growth. In additional, Mary holds a permanent teaching certificate in the State of New York for secondary education, and taught high school English for 10 years in the Syracuse, NY area.