You can’t be on the inside and on the outside at the same time

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When you’re trying to tackle a business challenge, what you can solve and how you can solve it depends on the position that you are in, not on the skills that you have.

As I have switched roles between management and consulting, I have learned that when you’re on the inside (as a manager) you can’t use the tools from the outside (of a consultant) and vice versa. When you’re on the inside, you might need someone on the outside to help you.

As a manager, you understand a business challenge in detail: its complexity, its implications, and the views of the stakeholders. You see all the trees, perhaps you can see the forest, but you are in the middle of it. Your responsibilities and interests colour your view, because you are there to get a certain job done.

And next to this challenge, you are dealing with all the other challenges that are part of your job. The tools you have include the authority to get things done, but you’re limited to the scope of your authority.

As a consultant, you stand on the outside, look at all the different views, and you don’t know all the details. You’re looking for the salient points, the bits that have been overlooked, the slightly different angle to take that will help this group of people set off in a different direction since they’re stuck in this one.

You see the forest, some of the trees, and you can circle around looking at it from different positions. The job you are trying to get done is this specific challenge, and you may be aware of others, but you can ignore them for now. The tools you have include your ability to paint a persuasive picture, so the people with authority can get things done.

When I was working as COO, I realised that my skills of analysis, objectivity and top-down thinking could not be applied in the same way because I was on the inside. My position determined what I could see and what importance I attached to it.

Since that time I always remind myself that it isn’t the skill, it’s also the position that determines your view. You can’t be on the inside and on the outside at the same time. Get the outside view when you need it.

© 2021 Veridia Consulting