Inarticulate ramblings of a management consultant

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

Staying relevant – the challenge of getting older in a workplace

Time for a little reflection perhaps. As I look at my parents’ generation, what strikes me is not their inability to deal with life both in the mundane (financials / insurance / pension / health) and the extraordinary (global travel, societal change etc) – these things are completely within their reach and interest. No, what they seem to struggle with is the intermediary / channel / device that required these to access much of what we see as mundane:

  • The 3-4 security codes / pin numbers required before one can access one’s bank account
  • The endless numbers of passwords which one needs to retain (or in reality take a note of somewhere) in order to pay the gas bill.

(all of which require numerical and capital digits. As an aside, this is no doubt a safer encryption method but for most of that generation, difficult…which leads to the precise opposite of the type of behaviour that’s intended – ie, they use the same password for everything!)

  • The perception of expected performance with this new channel and the actual performance which is occasionally woeful (websites crashing or being very slow to respond, internet connections dropping out etc), and perhaps most difficult of all
  • The lack of an alternative beyond the automated telephone answering service (which in most cases, is truly awful).

As Rory Sutherland describes beautifully in one of his TED lectures, designing a lift which only travels between two destinations with no buttons is an engineer’s wet dream, but for those of us travelling in it, the lack of perceived control can be a frightening experience!

This is something that we experience in the workplace as well. Part of the problem with corporate life is that the decision makers are often a generation removed from large numbers of employees, customers, suppliers. Again, the problem is not one of inherent understanding or commercial nous within that generation – they have all that’s required in general in this regard. It’s more about the method / intermediary device used to get things done which are of their generation rather than that of the recipients. Some examples in the communications field:

  • Who reads a corporate newsletter these days?
  • For that matter, how effective is any form of formal communication these days?
  • Even the intranet, which seems to act as the corporate memory bank has become a beast of burden rather than a tool of enlightenment.
  • Let’s not talk about email which increasingly seems to occupy the central space of work with little respite or indeed space to manoeuvre for most employees.

And the result….increasing disengagement of the employee base who look at their leaders with dismay and a sense of alienation.

For those of us in the consulting space, the challenge is as great if not greater. Being irrelevant is the equivalent of being put on a desert island. For a while, the role of the grey haired sage in the corner may appear attractive…but I suspect not for long!

So, what’s the solution? A very good friend of mine, Simon Ball, once said something to me which has stuck with me for the longest time. “Whenever life gets narrow and small, you have to do something about it…learn something new, challenge yourself, move country, change job, do something different.”

From a consulting perspective, maintaining your inherent curiosity and the enquiring mind that brought you to this strange profession in the first place is probably the first, most important but also hardest step. That and a sense of humour…!

I wish you all the most merry of Christmases and the happiest of New Years with family and friends – nothing else matters really, does it?

Categories: Consulting, Defying gravity, Disruptive Innovation, Functional Leadership, Humour, Language

Tags: , , , , , ,

4 replies

  1. Great blog this week Ben.. congrats on your new post also, let me know when you are back in HK for a visit..

    Cheers, Damian +852 53366620 On 19/12/2014 9:56 AM, “Inarticulate ramblings of a management consultant”


  2. Ben,

    Nice blog; thought provoking and heartfelt.

    Merry Christmas to you all.



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