Inarticulate ramblings of a management consultant

the day to day experiences of a consultant operating in weird and wonderful client situations

Challenging taboo subjects


Challenging the taboo subjects

You know how it is sometimes, you’re in with a client and you unwittingly stumble upon a subject that generates a sharp intake of breath and a moment of silence. That’s often followed by statements like: “I wouldn’t go there if I were you”, “ that is a very sensitive issue and I’m not sure that we should follow that line of questioning”, “I understand that might look odd from an external perspective but it’s part of our DNA and is not up for discussion.” If you’re close to the individual concerned, he might even give you some friendly advice, “don’t go anywhere near that, it’s not something that you can change”.

You’re then left with a decision, particularly if your mandate is something to do with change. If you’re true to your profession, you might look at that subject and recognise that it lies at the heart of the issue you’re trying to address…if you don’t deal with it in some way, you can work around the edges for as long as you like and your intervention might offer some light relief in the short term, but will disappear once you’ve left the site. Easier consulting engagement but unlikely to generate a result!

I had a recent experience in this area with a client around the health and safety arena. This was a business where health and safety were fundamental in certain parts of their business – the consequence of not following the strict guidelines were potentially catastrophic. In other areas however, the business was similar to many office based environments, which made the health and safety briefing at the beginning of every meeting rather bizarre, especially given the fact that the average length of service for each employee was in the mid to late teens, they knew to the core of their very existence where the exits to the building were and not to use the lifts in the event of a fire!

For me, this taboo subject also lay at the heart of a behavioural trait which was extreme aversion to risk and that in itself was a major challenge to the success of a significant change project for the business. Sure, we could deal with the other things that might achieve a small shift but with little real hope of change.

Now, what I’m not suggesting and indeed didn’t do was to somehow denigrate the value behind the subject, which was laudable and understandable…every employee wants to feel that they are being looked after and are safe. However, recognising that this value was an active deterrent for the business to achieve some of its more entrepreneurial requirements was a key first step.

For me, making a small change in a big, controversial and sensitive area is incredibly powerful…it creates an environment where anything is possible and nothing is not up for discussion.

Categories: Change management

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