Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Return to Consulting

I've been putting off blogging because I wanted my first post to be "non-trivial" - not just a book review, or a short comment about something that happened at the office. Then I realised there was an easier approach - to start at the beginning. So I'm going to talk about why I quit my permanent position and returned to consulting.

One person said it's because I need to be in control, and that's part of the answer but not really enough. More complete is that I don't like the models of control that are inherent in traditional business structures, where decisions are made at the top and rolled out to the employees. The models actually make sense from one perspective, because most people in the company don't have all the information they need to make balanced decisions. If I'm going to make decisions on how to spend money, then I really need to know how much money we have to spend (how I spend my next dollar does depend on whether it's my last one or there are a thousand more to follow) and what impact my decision will have on revenue. So to be a full participant in decision making I need to know about the company financials. But if the employees knew all the financials, then they'd be privy to a whole load of things that most owners want to keep secret - including how much money the company is making, how much the average salary is (or even relative salaries, especially if I'm going to make hiring decisions). The employees would start to ask questions about who decisions were benefitting.

Now don't get me too wrong - I believe that many corporate decisions are made in the interests of the employees, and could be explained in the context of the full financial context. And I think that lots of people wouldn't object to owners getting rich if it was clear that they were adding a lot of value to the company in some way. But I also believe that explaining these decisions would take a lot of time and education, and would require articulating things that are currently only understood in an intuitive way, so it's certainly a difficult path. Far easier to say "trust me". But once you rely on "trust me", it's really really tempting to slip in a couple of self-serving decisions as well.

So the first reason I'm consulting again is that I don't like the "trust me" environment. I also have some apparently weird ideas about structuring a company to maximise participation and satisfaction, and I've discovered that I can't implement them unless I have something "at risk" - unless I'm the one (or one of the ones) who suffers if the ideas are wrong. If I'm an employee, I get told that "we can't sell that to the customer", or something else about the revenue stream. As an employee I'm an expense, not responsible for "paying the bills". So when I say that I wouldn't work with a particular customer I'm told "we have to", or something along those lines. I've discovered that if I want to implement my ideas then I need to be in control of the revenue (or at least there can't be some "other" who is control of it).

And lastly, I have a weird attitude about what I can and can't do when I'm an employee - I certainly feel that I need to do the work that I'm told to do, that I can't just so "no, I won't do that", even if the worst thing that can happen is response is to be fired. As a consultant I don't have the same reservation. I say it's weird because in principle there's no difference - I refuse to do something, I'm told not to come back and I stop getting paid. I'm ok with the consequences in both cases, but as an employee I won't actually do it. That's my problem *s*.

I've been a bit of tease about my "weird ideas", but this is enough for one post, and I need to hold back something to write about next.

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