When people ask me what I do for a living, I often respond that I am a “Workplace Operations Problem Solver” rather than “Consultant.” For many people, the idea of consultants conjures up the image of the infamous Bobs from the movie Office Space—humorless businessmen brought in by upper management to eliminate positions or tell everyone how to do their jobs. For others, the term brings to mind overcomplicated business jargon and smug self-seriousness. Both of these images portray a top-down and impersonal approach to consulting that pits management (along with the consultant) against everyone else.
What I do is something different. Workplace operations problem solving is a bottom-up approach to figuring what is causing recurring obstacles and setbacks, and looks for ways to remove them so everyone can do their job better and with less stress. I focus on how everyone experiences these frustrations, and I start with the underlying assumption that it’s the process that needs fixing, not the people.
A lot of business consulting is dedicated to making the workplace more efficient. In the consulting world of the Bobs, efficiency refers primarily to profitability, which means employees are right to be skeptical of consultants. During their individual meetings with the Office Space employees, the Bobs barely try to conceal that their task is to cut jobs: upon listening to one mid-level employee describe his typical workday, one Bob incredulously asks, “what would you say you do here?” When efficiency is primarily defined by cutting costs and maximizing profits, all the benefits from the work of consultants bypass most employees and only affect management and owners.
Consultants like me define efficiency as when all resources – including personnel skills and expertise, time, and money – are used in a way that best advances the workplace’s mission. The goal is to make sure that deployment of these resources corresponds to the organization’s priorities and values, which means the benefits go to everyone, and not just those at the top. I identify and implement solutions to common problems that help each person accomplish more during the workday in a way that cuts down on wasted time, reduces opportunity for chaos, and lowers stress levels.
Who wouldn’t want that?