Does your presence incite your client to insight?
Not necessarily by directly challenging your client’s thinking but by surfacing assumptions that may go unchallenged.
I always start my client engagements by saying:
“I’ll never know as much about your organization as you do. But what I will do is help build a detailed picture that puts everything on the table including how things are connected to help find leverage in your situation.”
This is done by asking open ended questions to my client and their management team that lead to surfacing and understanding their mental models. A mental model is the set of simplified assumptions in your mind that shapes your thinking and conclusions. Like your knowledge of your home town that enables you to navigate without needing a map.
Some of these assumptions are explicit and can be easily discussed. Others are deeper and operate below our conscious level. Only by connecting the dots between these known assumptions will the deeper assumptions and their implications be known. If these assumptions are never surfaced they can never be challenged. It’s like trying to discuss the concept of water with a fish.
Here is one such map I created to understand why veterans have such long wait times at VA hospitals:
What this picture told us was the key influence of bonus payments (in blue) on the performance of the entire system. Those things in red are prerequisites to changing bonus payments, and those things in green are being influenced by bonus payments. Current bonus payments were only tied to average wait times and not to fixing the issues driving wait times.
Getting to this level of understanding by connecting the dots between 36 possible factors really helped shape the analysis and possible policy changes needed to improve the situation. Even if we replace every employee, if the current policy stays in place it will keep reproducing the same issues.
Remember: Structure-Drives-Behavior, so to become a trusted advisor seek to understand how the underlying assumptions are structured then help paint a shared model of how these assumptions are interacting to drive current behavior.