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Innovation Consultants, Have the Guts to Tell the Truth!

December 12, 2013 15inno 5 Comments

Is there a thing such as incompetent innovation directors? Of course. Should a consultant let them know when he or she detects this? Yes. I think so.

The reason for writing this is my recent blog post on Five Types of People Who Kill Innovation in which I included this one:

Incompetent innovation directors: These people must be able to fulfill the needs of current and future markets. They must be able to bring internal as well as external resources together in order to make this happen. At the same time, innovation directors need to know how to play the political game that is always played in organizations. This is a tough job and there is no room for incompetent people.”

Someone at LinkedIn commented like this:

“Stefan, as an innovation advisor, dare you tell your customers their directors are incompetent or executives don’t get it? – likely, your interlocutor is a director and/or an executive… Beyond seeming rude, you risk these people decide you are not talking about them but about the director of “the other” department, and at the end of the day you would just have added to their internal political imbroglio. 

So, how do you build an advisory service on top of the knowledge of “people who kill corporate innovation”?”

My response to the comment:

“If you care more about adding value to your customers rather than on your own short-term business situation, then you will of course also have the guts to tell the truth. This can be done in different ways – some more direct than others.”

Innovation directors have tough jobs and I think they value consultants who have integrity and tell the truth if this can help them do a better job. In the end, I believe this approach is better for my customers as well as for my own business in the long run.

What do you think?

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Currently there are "5 comments" on this Article:

  1. paul4innovating says:

    You are totally right Stefan, you are employed as an external advisor who needs to deliver the unpalatable messages wherever they lie, even from the person that is (eventually) paying your bill.

  2. I think that as a consultant you are hired to address a specific question. Very often the question is formulated in the wrong form, so you job is to help your customer finding the right and relevant question and then answering it. And I think that as consultant your added value is highest when you keep focus on the problem in hand, with no arrogance and certain savoir-faire.
    Of course Peter's principle applies: so there will be plenty of incompetent people at any customer we need to deal with: and this is true for any organisation and any function, it is not specific to innovation- otherwise who would need consultants anyway?!?

  3. Cintia Citton says:

    It seems to me one must also consider the kind of relationship built with the client. I have always thought that the truth must be told, and that this is what the client is paying me for. However, practice can show that some lines are thinner than they seem and many scenarios are possible. The client must also be truly committed with the results in order to process unwanted discoveries… Sometimes the incompetent person belongs to the family, or is part of the group who helped building the company, sometimes the owner does not like to hear things put in a direct way (even if she/he is paying for it). That's why I believe that, since the point is getting the message understood and the issue corectly addressed, the consultant shall identify the client's readiness before delivering this kind of news. This can reduce the idea's rejection, give some more evidence to sustain the advice and help the decision maker to take hte unpopular actions needed.

  4. Cintia makes a good point. The outcome is what's important for the client, and as consultants we should gauge the best way to deliver it. I've been in situations with clients where the direct approach produced a version of Newton's Third Law – "To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction". The beneficial outcome didn't happen. If I had assessed the situation correctly and been more subtle, the client would have benefited. So be direct when it will work, indirect when it's more appropriate.

  5. Michael Fruhling says:

    Hello Stefan: I agree with sharing information with clients appropriate to help them solve the problem that we've been hired to address. On the other hand, the use of the term "incompetence" suggests that the consultant knows (or thinks he/she knows) more about the environment, situation, people (and politics) than may actually be the case.