The Solution is in the Same Place Where the Problem Was First Created

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IMAGINE yourself looking around for the best Total Quality Management (TQM) program amid various proposals being offered left and right by consultants. The goal of finding the best consultant is on everyone’s lips after your organization has fallen victim to an inexperienced scammer, who charged the lowest consulting fee of $1,000 a day but produced nothing. Talk of paying peanuts to a monkey.

Now, they’re doing it all over again. The first one on the prospect’s list is Consultant “A” – a mature, seasoned management consultant who has retired from the corporate world. The trouble is that – he charges $3,000 a day, one of the highest consulting fees around, though reasonably lower than those charged by foreign consultancies staffed by good-looking, young but raw local talents whose claim to “fame” are their MBAs from exclusive schools.

And so the CEO invites “A” to the boardroom where department managers sit ready to conduct a wolf-pack interrogation. After an overextended exchange of pleasantries, punctuated by obligatory laughter over some anecdotes, “A” is requested to deliver a presentation on how he could help the organization.

After the presentation, “A” coaxes the managers for questions. The CEO removes his eyeglasses and looks at “A” with a puncturing smile: “How do you sustain a program like that so that it will not be relegated into the dustbin? How would you propose to defeat the ningas-cogon (flash-fire, sudden death implementation) mentality of people?”

Consultant “A” smiles back: “There are many ways to do it. We’ll only be limited by our own imagination. For one, as soon as we’ve pulled off with at least three pilot projects, focusing on low-hanging fruits, we’ll give rewards and recognition to deserving teams every month. All monthly winners will compete in an annual competition where the grand team champion is sent to Japan for a weeklong training and pleasure activities.

“I’m confident that the cost savings that we can help discover are more than enough to pay for that. Also, we can vary the monthly theme to focus on safety, health, quality, productivity, environment, etc. By and large, you as the CEO should play an active leadership role in making this happen, beyond giving inspirational speeches.

“You must be ably supported by department managers who must play an active role in coaching their problem-solving teams to come up with their best performance. This must be complemented by requiring all workers to make problem-solving as part of their key performance indicators.”

The next question comes from a maverick, talkative manager who has been whispering side comments to the lady seated next to him. He asks, “Who are your clients on this program? Can you list down some names that we can verify?”

Consultant “A” says: “Of course, I’m ready to give you the names of my clients as soon as I’ve secured their permission. Please understand that I have a non-disclosure agreement with my clients. The same thing that I will do as soon as your company hires my services.”

As soon as all questions have been asked, Consultant “A” turns the table by asking the company about its current issues and challenges. “What’s the total amount of 5 plus 5?” The boardroom suddenly falls silent.

No one dares to speak, including the CEO, who waits for his deputies to give it a try. Apparently, everyone suspects a trap. “A” scans the entire room for answers, and after close to 60 seconds of silence, he answers his question – “5 plus 5 is 10, right?” And he continues: “My five-year old grandson knows that. You are all department managers with an apparent average of 20 years of corporate work experience, why couldn’t you answer such question?”

Then, he launches a mild set of tirades aimed at a well-behaved audience. “As I entered your office, I saw a good number of opportunities that you may want to uncover. For one, the job applicants are exposed to the elements, while filling-up some forms using a wooden bench as desk. Why don’t you give them the decency and self-respect to do that in the anteroom of your office?

“Second, the security guard didn’t know where I should go. And third, I saw tarpaulin banners all around the office promoting the ideals of 5S good housekeeping. It looks like you’ve been practicing 5S for some time now. But what are those piles of carton boxes doing at the back of the room? Why are you making this board room a warehouse?”

The CEO and the managers look at each other with a confident smile. “Those are Christmas decors!” says one department manager.

Consultant “A” retorts: “Those carton boxes don’t have labels which are essential in practicing 5S. After the holidays, where do you intend to place them? Look, I’m not here to give you a hard sell and to put you down. I’m beating the grass to startle the snakes, with the intention of telling you that the solutions can be found in the place where the problem was first created.

“This is not rocket science. The key, therefore, is removing your blinders to problems. Truly, the greatest problem of all is to refuse to acknowledge that there’s a problem. The enemy is within. You don’t need a consultant to make this happen.”

Everyone turns quiet. The meeting closed with feigned smiles from all over. No one knows what hit them, except Consultant “A,” who believes in the tagline of ANA, Japan’s 5-star airline: “Little things can go a long way.” No one knew that “A” is known as an “insultant” in the industry, more than anything. Now, the snakes are back to the grassy land.


Rey Elbo or Mr. Elbonomics is a newspaper columnist at BusinessWorld and The Manila Times, two major dailies in The Philippines. He’s also a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest.

The image of “problem-solution-success” is created by Nairaland Forum.

This article is brought to you by Kairos Management Technologies (est.1997) – the organizer of the following public events:

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