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Personal Lessons Learned

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Personal Lessons Learned

by Bob Bartlett on the management consulting road


As a young consultant, I had written a self serving letter to the President of a bank in New Jersey. The letter was designed to generate work by being critical of the bank's systems. I arrived at the bank with an older audit Partner and we were ushered into the President's office. The bank President then launched into tirade about my letter and I tried to sink into the floor - I had let everyone down. The sage audit Partner absorbed the onslaught and when the President paused for breath suggested that we move on to other issues. At the end of the meeting the bank President took pity on me and told me I would be welcome next time. Afterwards, the audit Partner took my confession at a local bar and we never discussed the issue again.
What I learned - when a subordinate makes a mistake and demonstrably learns an important lesson, have a short memory about the mistake and take satisfaction in the subordinate's personal growth. It is the hallmark of Partnership in a professional services firm and something that those of us who have been allowed to learn from our mistakes will never forget.


An experienced Partner, I had done a significant amount of work for a large specialty retailing chain. One day, the founder and Chairman took me aside to compliment me on my contribution. But then he said "You have come in here, analyzed the situation, considered all the alternatives and have made recommendations that have seemed very sound. But I founded and built this business for thirty years. I made hundreds of decisions each day, I rarely had good information, and I didn't have the luxury of analyzing all of the alternatives. I got most things right and many things wrong. Maybe you are not as smart as you think you are."
What I learned - he was right. Entrepreneurial leaders make the world go round. The management consultant must always operate in a support role. Most of my wisdom has been acquired while working with people who have created something new and who have created jobs for thousands of people.


I was sent on a training course for new Partners. We were given a survival case study (crashing in the desert) which we had to solve individually and in small groups. Naturally, being full of myself, I died a painful death. Worse, I persuaded a female tax Partner (who had the right solution) to join me in the wrong solution.
What I learned - when one is trying to make a strategic decision, it is hard as an individual to be right more than about half the time. I have re-learned this lesson many times - on Boards, on committees and on project teams. The person who has the right answer is often the one you are least inclined to listen to. The key to effective strategic decision making is to have the right team and to listen to each member carefully.


I participated in a public radio talk program about the demise of the venerable San Francisco department store, The Emporium. With me was the union representative for the retail clerks. People called in to suggest where the company might have gone wrong. Others called in to express their sense of loss and their concern about the new competitors who were displacing family businesses across the country. There was an outpouring of emotion. I explained how changes in the global supply chain were changing the competitive playing field.
What I learned - everyone wants to do a good job but consumers will vote with their feet for the retail product and service offering that meets their lifestyle needs. Nostalgia and store brand loyalty have their place, but company shareholders will demand that management find a way to attract customers (in today's parlance - deliver a superior customer experience). That means change and sometimes it means starting over. In the end, it is the customer that determines the outcome.


I got a dog for my daughter. Being a terrier, he is a very needy dog. He's the kind of dog that would wreck the house if we neglected him, even for a couple of hours. He loves us and expects the same in return.
What I learned - what kind of man would I be if I didn't respond to the dog's needs? Come to think of it, what kind of man would I be if I didn't try and help everyone with their career and sense of personal achievement? We all need a true friend from time to time.

Bartlett Joseph Associates . 952 Los Lovatos Road, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501. Tel (505) 820-1874