When I began my solo consulting practice in 1987, I worked at any one time with one to three large, global, complex corporations, using the then current version of my strategic HRM delivery systems planning methodology. I helped the HR executives of those companies refine their overall HRM business strategy and then design the needed systems delivery capability, which was essentially the HR technology plan in those days.
These projects took 6-9 months, with me working intensively with a carefully selected client team led by an HR executive, and with a steering committee that always included senior line executives as well as the CFO and CIO which was chaired by the senior most HR executive. Hewlett-Packard, International Paper, Bank of America, ALCOA, Metropolitan Life, Reynolds Metals, and more proved to be really heroic clients. They were willing to work hard at drawing a line of sight from their needed business outcomes to the work of HRM and on to HR technology, and they were determined that their own teams would do the heavy lifting.
With my strategic planning methodology in hand, along with “starter kits” for all the relevant tasks (those same “starter kits” which grew into the IP that I began licensing in 1995), I became team coach, mentor, coxswain, deliverable reviewer (some still cringe at my red ink markups, and yes we still used physcial documents in those days), senior management explainer, and much more. I celebrated the team’s accomplishments and made up the difference when the team struggled. It was very satisfying personally to be a part of the team, especially when their recommendations were accepted and acted upon by senior management, perhaps because I had just come from nine years at AMS managing software development teams and management consulting practices. Many of those early client team leaders and members have remained valued colleagues; some became good friends. Lori Leonard, Emily Eason, Becky Everett, Jack Flynn are just some of the amazing executives with whom I worked; they educated me, shared my passion, and helped me hone my craft.
During those years, my biggest professional frustration was with the limitations of the then current HRM software. Integral, Tesseract, Genesys, InSci, M&D, MSA, Cyborg and many more Snowdens of Yesterday weren’t able to deliver all that we needed, especially around their unmodeled data designs and mired in the past assumptions about HRM. And they weren’t quick enough (as evidenced by their having faded from the scene by the mid- to late 80′s) to adopt the improved technology, then called cooperative computing before being popularized by PeopleSoft as client server.
In order to have a broader and deeper impact on our industry (no one ever said I lacked ambition), to improve more directly and profoundly the quality and capability of HRM software that was available to my corporate clients, I changed the mix of my consulting business in the mid- to late-90′s to spend time working directly with the software vendors and outsourcing providers. By then I had built up enough credibility through my work with some of their major prospects and customers for these vendors to take at least a small interest in my thinking about such truly foreign concepts as models-based systems analysis, rapid application development techniques, my preferred behaviors of applications architecture, and scenario-based requirements.
At first my work with these vendors was mostly intense and long-running, allowing me to be involved deeply in the design of some landmark HRM software. To the earliest of these projects I brought my IP as consulting aides, but later on, once I had begun to license my IP, these deeply involved consulting engagements were almost always with licensees of my HRM object model and architectural “starter kits.” There were a number of intense, next gen, vendor software projects in which I was able to become coach, mentor, coxswain, deliverable reviewer, senior management explainer, domain modeler, architectural advocate, and much more. On these projects, I celebrated the team’s accomplishments and made up the difference when the team struggled, and it was again very satisfying to be a part of the team when their recommendations were accepted and acted upon by senior management. I count among my most valued colleagues as well as close friends many of these next generation HRM software project team members, and I am the richer for the learning that each one of these projects brought me.
But something changed rather dramatically at the beginning of the new century. Because of the increasing vendor/provider interest in my work, I began taking on much more focused, short term, almost topic-specific engagements with many more end-users, vendors and HR outsourcing providers. HR technology implementation crisis interventions, HR technology selection process advice, strategic alignment failures and opportunities, vendor reference checks and vendor viability assessments were just some of the spot projects in which end-users engaged me as fewer and fewer of them wanted to or were able to do the heavy lifting needed to follow the Yellow Brick Road, let alone to implement the resulting recommendations, without a lot more consulting support than a solo could provide. Market segmentation, partnerships and alliances, product/service assessments, business strategy reviews, tell me everything you know about HRM software architecture or the competitive landscape in the fewest possible days – these and many more similar vendor/provider engagements came my way as my reputation grew. I tried hard to bring as much value as I could to even the most focused, short duration project, but I really felt the lack of continuity, of team membership, of seeing the results of collective hard work.
This explosion in the sheer number of clients/engagements brought a disproportionate increase in the overhead associated with scoping/proposing/contracting/travel planning/prework and post-work/executing/debriefing/invoicing/etc. for each of these small engagements, in sharp contrast to the lack of same when working with just a few major clients at a time. And this was happening at exactly the same time that there a corresponding explosion — which continues and escalates to this day — in the amount of information (general business, HRM and IT-related), vendors, influencers, conferences, etc. which I needed to track and/or about which I needed to know. By the end of this new century’s first decade, my work was beginning to feel like Chinese food, eat, eat, eat but I’m still hungry. Throw in a blog, more vendor-sponsored thought leadership speaking and writing engagements, Twitter, and you get the picture. Working my butt off, learning like mad, getting to know a ton of terrific industry thinkers, but not feeling that great satisfaction of being part of a team that’s bringing important changes to our neighborhood, to the intersection of HRM and IT.
So, like any good analyst, especially one facing her 65th birthday, and with the good fortune of having not needed to work for many years (in the face of a modest cost model and neurotic life-long saving), it was clearly time to develop a SWOT for my own professional life:
Strengths — I love my work, still feel pretty competent and have an amazing network of expert colleagues to help me stay that way, have built up the only IP (HRM domain model and architectural “starter kits”) of its kind which is in greater demand than ever as the whole industry moves to objects/SOA/Web services, models-based development and many of my preferred architectural behaviors, can always use more money for various philanthropic interests, value the comraderie of my HRM/IT neighborhood, think there’s still an awful lot of work needed to “clean up” that neighborhood and more (and here I should also mention that the thought of my giving him my full attention 24/7 brings a very wierd look to Ron’s face);
Weaknesses — I miss being part of a team, feel intellectually as well as physically drained (no matter how stimulated) after “slam, bam, thank you ma’m” consulting engagements, dislike the administrative burden of lots of short-term engagements, dislike the always on/always on top of everything/not enough time for deep thinking aspects of short-term engagements and similar;
Opportunities — There are important vendor/provider/consultancy initiatives underway that are driving in directions of interest to me and that are owned/championed by executives I trust and admire, more such opportunities than I could possibly address, major sea changes in our industry of which we’re in the middle right now whose outcomes will be very clear in a few years and to which I would like to contribute, and still unmet requests to license my IP along with the requisite training; and
Threats — How would I continue to stay broadly knowledgeable and visibly objective while working in an ongoing, quite strategic manner with fewer clients at any one time? How would I ensure that I don’t become unduly dependent on a small number of clients, thereby jeopardizing my industry observer/analyst role? How do I ensure that multiple, ongoing relationships achieve their desired results in an era of consolidating vendors, transient CEOs, and a whole host of things that go “bump in the night?”
It’s amazing what a little analysis will accomplish, and in this case the results are obvious — and so are my plans for Bloom & Wallace Release 2011.
Bottom Line — Bloom & Wallace Release 2011
For 2011 (and probably beyond), I plan to work with, at any one time, a small and select group of “strategic advisory” clients. I will continue to advocate broadly for best practices in our industry, using my blog, Twitter, and a range of public forums to do so, but I will concentrate my 2011 direct client work in relationships where there’s a shared commitment that goes beyond expertise on demand and where my contributions can make a durable difference. With respect to my IP, I’ll continue to provide licenses and training to selected licensees beginning in 1Q/2011; all 2010 slots have been taken. I intend to keep up a full schedule of vendor briefings/demos with me providing the type of intense feedback that many (most?) vendors appreciate. There’s no tougher assignment than bringing great HRM software (now almost entirely SaaS) and software-enabled HRM services to market successfully, and I want to encourage our vendors/outsourcing providers by continuing to educate their prospects/customers about the relevant business and technology issues and equipping them with “killer” scenarios (so a lot more blog posts for 2011) to look under the covers. I hated missing HR Tech this year when my very close friend’s son died so unexpectedly, so I’m already looking forward to seeing all of you next year in Vegas and have been practicing “Happy Days Are Here Again,” just in case.
The graphic illustrating this post comes from http://scbyrnereport.wordpress.com/2008/09/02/here-are-50-reasons-to-avoid-change/ but the original source is unknown. Updated 11/13/2010 — I now know the origins of this graphic, thanks to a comment from its owner, MP Bumsted, on this post when it appeared on www.enterpriseirregulars.com The graphic and its citation can be found at http://13c4.wordpress.com/2007/02/24/50-reasons-not-to-change/