For a number of years now I have done a half-day session at one of the pre-eminent London Business Schools as part of student’s induction to their M.Sc. in Organisational Behaviour. The objective of my workshop is to give students a practitioner’s perspective on the application of organisational behaviour (OB) and organisational development (OD) theory. Typically I run the session as a case study based on a project I was involved in a number of years ago. The context is the preparation of a response to a (potentially very lucrative) Invitation to Tender (ITT) where the client has given a fairly prescriptive view of what they want. However the client organisation is an extremely large consulting engineering firm about to undertake a major civil engineering project and the tender is for team building – but has all the hallmarks of an OD tender written by civil engineers – apologies to any ‘civils’ offended by this. The client’s desired intervention is neither appropriate for the situation nor likely to succeed so the first part of the exercise is for the students to decide whether to a) submit a compliant bid b) submit a non-compliant bid or c) make a ‘no bid’ decision.
The activity can lead to some great discussion around the role and ethics of consultancy and the frequent ‘give them what they want or give them what they need?’ quandary that consultants can face. I am able to tell the students that we consider ‘speaking truth to power’ one of the responsibilities and privileges of our work and one that we are happy to embrace albeit in an appropriate and client-centric way. However even then it is sometimes still the messenger that gets shot – such as at another university that *really* didn’t like us pointing out just how far removed their culture was from their espoused values and behaviours. Whilst commercially it would have made a lot of sense to go along with their ‘don’t mention the elephant’ approach it wouldn’t have made for a fulfilling or engaging project. Is what we keep telling ourselves 🙂
And the student’s response to the ITT? I’m not sure how many of them are familiar with Peter Drucker’s Mirror Test but most will aim for a heavily qualified, mostly compliant bid that leaves them sufficient wiggle room to challenge the proposed approach – once they have been appointed!