Obsess Over the Hard

If I could have my pick of pocket consultant--someone to tuck away in this subzero sleeping bag that I'm passing off as a coat these days-- it'd be Seth Godin. He's totally awesome and the fact that his head resembles Brian's probably doesn't hurt.  Mwah! Anyway, he makes an argument for differentiating yourself by "obsessing over things that are truly difficult" in his post today.

The suggestion resonated because I'm working with a couple of clients on a couple of really hard problems as I type. (Actually, right now I'm thinking about this post and wondering where I might find a good stock image of a bald head.  I'll refocus on clients in a moment...once I'm done...right after I get another cup of coffee.)

The branding and marketing angle aside, there could be no more important role or fulfillment of our promise than to address the hardest, root problem our client's face. But how often is that the case?  The desire is there but hard problems are, well, hard.  It's easier to look productive by breaking a sweat working around the edges, diverting attention to issues outside of our control, or falling back on process.  In the end, I don't know who that helps.

Here's a quickie, superficial inventory of some of the hard problems my clients are facing...

  • One faces tremendous and growing resistance from the "field" on key initiatives he's attempting to put in place. He's blocked at nearly every turn with vocal (sometimes downright impolite) complaints about lack of time, lack of clarity on the "vision", lack of their own know how, and open lack of desire to comply.
  • One is about to inherit a people mess of epic proportions. A string of bad managers have left this critical organization in disarray.  My client has been hired to "fix it" but faces entrenched incompetence and shockingly poor behavior that has become commonplace.
  • One was hired to tackle new markets by someone he thought was a visionary leader. Now, that same leader resents the new energy and initiative and is fighting the very progress he said he wanted (and the company desperately needs.)

While the specifics are different, the common hard problem here that I see is the very difficult job of moving people-- especially those over whom you don't have direct line authority.  Instead of the traditional boss/workerbee dynamics, in each case, these guys are going to have to rely on winning hearts, making convincing intellectual arguments, and inspiring action. The tactics are the hard part.  Now, back to work.