At a recent seminar, talk turned to job descriptions and the
evaluation of a job's worth relative to others. Two participants
were touting a popular and complex system and the consultants who
help firms install it. Others, who had been ``done'' by the same
system and consultants, were openly hissing.
I expressed grave doubts about the process. But one thoughtful
participant pressed me, explaining that his Pittsburgh-based
professional services firm recently had acquired another firm;
salaries for the same job were all over the map. Surely, he avowed,
there was a need to bring about order. And dispassionate
consultants, with a rigorous methodology, could provide rational
I again demurred. My alternative advice:
Get the top 15 to 25 people to go ``off site'' for two or three
intense days. Schedule long sessions, with a little hiking or
skiing to relieve the tension from time to time. Take off the suit
coats. Debate, shout, cajole and reformulate. Don't leave until
you've hashed out a tentative consensus - informal, but on paper.
Repeat the process in miniature, with groups of 10 or 20, at all
levels and from all sites. Then re-convene the senior team off site
again, to noodle some more and solidify the findings.
The above will probably use up less out-of-pocket cash than
calling in consultants, but it will carry a much higher ``opportunity
cost'' (days of executive and non-executive time). The payoff,
though, will likely be the forging of lasting bonds, some answers to
specific problems and, most important, the creation of a process of
problem solving that can be eternally helpful.
While I don't dismiss all consultants' algorithms, I believe
they are worthless - or worse - in cases of the sort that the
seminar participant confronted.
Issues like his are value-laden and emotional. The application
of so-called dispassionate and rational schemes for rating jobs
(receptionist or partner) may help you get through the day, but it
will almost always paper over the real issues.
The mechanistic solution will fall apart in practice. What
needs to happen here is plain, vanilla human interaction. Egos must
be exercised. Values (core beliefs, local cultural practices) must
be aired and compared, with their origins traced and explained.
Trust must be developed, and commitment to the solution must be
painstakingly sought. Only the expenditure of time, long walks
along the beach and maybe a beer or two will help sort out this type
Make no mistake, I am a bitter opponent of the death grip that
committees impose on so many firms. So I'm not talking about
creating standing committees, but about people hanging out together,
in an only partially-structured setting, to create bonds and work
through important problems. …