Consiglieres, astronauts and rocket science!

Imagine a scenario where you are purchasing a house. It’s in a great neighbourhood with superb schools, with all the entertainment and service amenities close to hand. As you can imagine it’s in much demand and other interested parties are also expressing a desire for it. The owner of the house suggests the following process to determine who will get to call this property their new home. The steps are as follows:

1. Each interested buyer will submit a sealed ‘bid’ with their best price along with the answers to many questions set by the seller. The questions are about you, your family, your finances, successes and your lifestyle

2. No one is allowed to contact the owner or anyone else living in the property at any time

3. You’re not allowed to visit the property but must rely on the pictures available online and details sent to you by the owner

4. Potential bidders must provide details about themselves and anyone that may ever visit them at the new house including financial and personal information

5. Each bidder will pay a fee to enable them to submit a bid and this is not refundable whether your bid wins or not

6. The seller can decide not to sell the house at any time they like without any explanation

How many of us would decide to bid for the house under these circumstances?

Consider the same scenario but this time we’ll call it a Request for Proposal.

I have worked with many business and public sector organisations where the approach to procurement is often through a Request for Proposal (RFP) with stipulations that resemble (and exceed) the house buying illustration above. Clearly there is the need for a professional approach to procurement that not only gains the best value for the buyer but also ensures the opportunity for ‘insider’ information and special relationships are eliminated to create a fair playing field. While I’m in agreement that the RFP approach works for many things that can be considered a commodity, like: copier paper, office furniture, office space, automobiles, fuel, office machines and many more items. Many of which may be considered functional in nature and not strategically imperative to the success of an organisation.

Now think about the RFP approach being used to procure learning and development for an organisation?! Many organisations talk about their people being their greatest asset but treat the learning needs of these ‘assets’ like any other commodity! This is how many organisations end up buying the wrong approach to help with their future leadership and management learning.

However, if a potential learning and development collaborator does have access to you, your people, and your organisation they have the opportunity ask some deep and wide questions about your issues and potential needs. As a result of this investigative approach they are not having to ‘guess’ the symptoms or presume an incorrect root-cause and diagnosing the wrong issues followed by an inappropriate prescribed remedy!

In the words of astronaut Alan B. Shepard (when asked what he was thinking as he sat atop a Redstone rocket about to lift off making him the first American in space), ‘I’m thinking about the fact that every part of this ship was built by the lowest bidder’. There is another way!

The word ‘consigliere’ is defined as an, ‘advisor’ or ‘counsellor’ and is used to describe someone of a higher power taking insights from a trusted and learned expert who plays the role of consigliere.

Through the development of one or more relationships with providers of learning and development insight you can ensure they have the opportunity to know you, your people and your organisation. This can only mean they are better placed to diagnose what your issues are and how best to select and customise content to ensure the correct learning and development is designed and delivered. Not rocket science by any means but amazingly overlooked by the largest of organisations at times! In some ways it reminds me of the mythical exchange between a Chief Executive Officer and the Finance Director as they discuss learning and development.

Finance Director: ‘What if we invest in our people and they leave?!’
Chief Executive Officer: ‘What if we don’t and they stay!’

I would guess that neither one would include the following in the exchange, ‘Well let’s get an RFP underway that we can probably decide based on who bids the lowest for investing in our people!’

The future of any organisation and all parts within it are in the hands of people who are individuals with varying degrees of talent, skills, creativity and openness to learning. It’s in an organisation’s best interest to ensure the conversations about enhancing skills and talent, in all its forms, are done through an ongoing conversation and relationship rather than a transactional conversational exchange. There is a place for RFPs but I would argue it is not in the selection of learning and development (or any insights to promote ‘thinking’ within any organisation – public or private) for future leaders and managers. The answer is simple…get to know people in the learning and development business. Go to learning and development events and invite providers in to give you and your team ‘taster sessions’…you can then determine if they are the right fit to earn the right to be your consiglieres and help you with a level of expertise that will really deliver.

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