I have to admit, I have at times, only visited my doctor when I was ill. The annual flu, an unusual rash, or an exam I needed for work were the common reasons I called my primary care physician. Most of the time, when I saw him/her over the years, it was for a diagnosis and a prescription for something that would alleviate my symptoms and make me feel better. It usually cost a lot since I was in urgent care, and sometimes I had to go back several times to get the right course of treatment.
These days, at my age, I find my relationship with my primary care doctor to have evolved to a much more proactive one. I visit at regular intervals, whether I am sick or not, to discuss my overall well-being. How is that cholesterol running? What can I do to stave off perimenopause symptoms? What immunizations are best as I look at my year ahead of travel?
I am struck lately by how very much I would like to evolve my partnerships with our clients to a similar, proactive relationship. I think of it as wellness consulting. The truth is, most people call us when they are “sick” or when things have broken to the point where it is glaringly obvious that outside help is needed. Just like my “only visit the doctor when you are sick” history, these situations mean that often we are invited into client work at the point at which the situation is really, really bad.
Sometimes, we can get in there and really make a difference to help them get going in the right direction. I wish I could say that we are SO GOOD that no matter how bad things have gotten, our brilliance and experience will remedy the problem. Nonetheless, we are not miracle workers, and often times I find myself wishing they had simply called us earlier, before things had become so mired.
For example, we frequently get called to coach senior leaders who are failing. When we get in there and assess what has transpired, the problems have usually been going on for a long time (sometimes years), which means that the individual’s problem behaviors are entrenched, and the people around him or her are usually “done.” This is a hard situation to recover from—even if the people who we are brought in to help materially change how they show up and lead, the rest of the staff may not be able to see them differently tomorrow due the history and disappointment over time. If only we could have helped them discover their blind spots before irreparable damage had been done.
Another example is when we get called in to do team development with groups whose partnerships have become irrevocably frayed or tarnished. There have been breaches of trust, poor communication, and disappointments over a long period of time. In these cases, not only do the team members have to recommit to new ways to work together, but they have to forgive and let go of negative history and impressions, which even for the most open of us can be difficult. At the very first sign of divergence, conflict, or disruption is the opportunity for the team to learn how to productively navigate toward shared results.
And finally, there is the work we do with clients that involves strategy and culture. The two are interconnected in organizations, and the best time to examine and elevate both is early in the process—before culture becomes negative, and before plans become disappointments. Entering an organizational system with a negative culture that was created over a span of months or years, and re-creating plans from old ones that have failed to deliver is one thousand times harder than getting ahead of the game. The key is to create culture deliberately, while it is still vibrant, optimistic, and hopeful. Make plans when you are just entering your plan period, before issues are well underway.
Our mantra is that clients should not need us forever; we are interventionists, who come in, deliver value, and then help the client carry forward on their own. This is the ideal scenario, and one which we cherish. To do our best work, we ideally would love our clients to let us get to know them, and set up platforms, relationships and processes well ahead of the onset of any leadership, culture, strategy, or system illness. In other words, we like to come in when a company has a small “cold” but before a plague sets in. The issues are easier to solve at that point, the people are more resilient, and the system is flexible and agile. Once things get really bad, everything internally is rigid and breaks easily. The costs are exponentially higher and the success rate much lower.
I know from my own life experience that I often don’t ask for help early enough, and I have suffered many times by letting a problem get out of control before I open myself up to the gift of another’s expertise. I tell myself the story that I can fix it myself, that help is too expensive, and that it is not bad enough yet. And yet I have learned the hard way that when I consider the possibility that things are easier to fix early in the breakdown, I can get onto a preventative path much sooner, for much less financial and energetic cost.
So, when can we help you? Much earlier than you think.