We are thrilled to report that Ember Advisory Ltd. has been awarded a position on the Vendor of Record (VOR) for Management Consulting with the Government of Ontario. We would like to thank our clients who provided references as part of the procurement process. I would personally like to thank our proposal manager Erika Scott - Pollock for her excellence in proposal management. We look forward to assisting the Government of Ontario with many important issues on the agenda for our home province .
As Toronto welcomes people from across the Americas for the 2015 PanAm/Para PanAm games my thoughts are with friends in rural Nicaragua. I can imagine a group of them gathered around a small television watching their team play their national sport - baseball, against Canada - the host nation. It was eighteen months ago that I was part of a small group of Canadians gathered around that same TV watching Canada play the US at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
In those eighteen months we have made good progress with our goal to help farmers in rural Nicaragua grow more food through improved irrigation of their land. We call this initiative "Winds of Change". With help from the University of Toronto Faculty of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering we now have a design and a prototype for a low cost windmill that can be built using local tools, from locally sourced materials, for a cost of less than $400 CDN.
Six weeks ago, seven of us traveled to Pedro Arauz with the objectives to
- Assess and prepare the readiness of local suppliers and the community for the first installation
- Build the concrete foundation for the prototype windmill
- Evaluate potential sites for future installations
- Provide continuity to build relationships with the communit - relationships are the foundation of future success
Travelling on this trip were John Shoust, Dr. Amy Bilton, Wayne Scott and me - as well as John's son Ethan and my kids Andrew and Sarah. Having our kids there made the trip very special for us and for our friends in Pedro Arauz.
Over the summer we will prepare for our return trip in October to install the prototype. We will also develop a communication and fund-raising strategy to allow us to expand the program once the prototype proves successful. We will be seeking both corporate and private support. Your ideas and suggestions are always welcome.
To read more about the trip, and to see some of Andrew's photography click here http://www.windsofchangecanada.com/blog/
If you happen to be at the Canada/Nicaragua baseball game on July 13th, say "hi". I'll be the Canadian guy in the blue Nicaraguan jersey cheering for both teams.
Earlier this year I received a lot of requests for me to share information about the development work in which I am involved in Nicaragua. Today I received this note from Allison, one of my contacts with SOS, who is organizing the next trip. If you are interested in participating, follow the link in the note below.
At this time, my intent is to return in the spring when, hopefully, we will be ready to install the first prototype windmill based pump as part of Winds of Change. The community mentioned in the note will be the site where the first windmill will be installed. For an update on the project go to www.windsofchangecanada.com
I hope this email finds you well. I just wanted to touch base and send along some warm "hello's" and "thank you's" from Pedro Arauz. I've been down in Central America for the last couple weeks to visit some of our partners and projects, and had the chance to stop by Pedro Arauz. Julian set up a little meeting with the community and they told me stories and showed me some of the donations that you all left.
The community is incredibly thankful and speaks of your group so highly! You all made such a positive impact there and I'm so proud that you were SOS volunteers.
We're also running another trip this year to finish the agricultural resource centre, build a school garden and put a fence up. I know you may not be able to make it, but we're having a bit of a harder time recruiting for the trip this year so if you have any friends who might be looking for this kind of opportunity, or can share the info with your networks that would be fantastic. http://sosvolunteertrips.org/Trip-Info/?TripID=327
Thanks again for all your hard work, and being such amazing ambassadors for Canada and SOS.
Two hundred years ago, for Lewis and Clark engaging advisors made all the difference.
In our second installment of “What historic expeditions teach us about project success” we look back just over two hundred years ago to 1803-1804. With sponsorship from US President Thomas Jefferson, Lewis and Clark travelled across North America to map a route to the Pacific Ocean. With proper training, clever thinking and access to needed resources the expedition succeeded in achieving its goals, and in doing so set the stage for the opening of the Pacific Northwest.
Lets look at their expedition through our Project Success Lens:
1) Goals are clearly defined: Lewis and Clark had a primary goal; to secure US sovereignty over the lands before the Spanish and French did so. They also had a number of supporting goals including: 1) engage and study the Native American peoples living in the West; 2) study the plants, animals, geology and terrain of the region; and 3) find a direct passage by water to the Pacific Ocean.
They documented over 100 animal species and over 170 plants along with information on distance, minerals and geology of the area. Perhaps more importantly, they were able to establish relations with the Native American people of the region because in doing so they began to secure sovereignty over the region.
2) Sponsorship is committed and governance is clear: At the request of President Jefferson, Lewis and Clark were funded by Congress with $2,500. They had the sponsorship, training and resources they needed to begin, but once they began they were on their own to succeed.
3) Risks are anticipated and managed: Jefferson knew the journey was to be strenuous and would need a lot of skill. He sent Lewis to study medicinal cures and ensured he was educated in the use of navigational instruments. Lewis embraced the education because he knew it would prove critical for the journey. In preparation, Lewis consulted maps and books in order to learn everything he could about the risks they would face. Knowing that they would meet native people, Lewis and Clark brought goods to trade in exchange for navigational help, food and horses. History has shown that not all expedition leaders are so open to being educated, nor do they anticipate the need for local guides and supplemental resources.
4) Team is engaged and suited for the task. Knowing the trek would be strenuous, Jefferson assembled a team of U.S. Army volunteers that were eager to study and explore the West under their captains Lewis and Clark. The team proved to be a good choice as they faced difficulty and some hostile groups.
5) Plans are clear and realistic: Lewis and Clark had a goal to reach the Pacific, but no map or route to follow. They knew that there would be many obstacles including rapids, mountains and tough terrain and so they established that they would use the help of the native people to support navigation. By engaging native advisors Lewis and Clark were able to gain access to horses, supplies, assistance crossing rivers and local knowledge on preferred routes.
It seems that two hundred years ago using advisors made all the difference for Lewis and Clark. Their journey of discovery was new to newcomers to America, but the uncharted land was well known to the native peoples. By engaging them Lewis and Clark received the resources they needed to succeed on their journey and they began building relationships that would support maintaining sovereignty in the region.
That said, there is an interesting side story of caution. Apparently, one of the native groups Lewis and Clark engaged was less friendly. Seeing that the expedition was in need of assistance they attempted to take advantage of Lewis and Clark by demanding their boats as payment. Without the boats the expedition would be over. Fortunately, Lewis and Clark had kept their options open so they dis-engaged, moved on, and found a more suitable group of native people to act as advisors. Proceed with caution.
Just over one hundred years ago in Antarctica, Robert Falcon Scott and his team died of exhaustion, starvation and extreme cold just eleven miles from safety, while his rival Roald Amundsen and his team lived to enjoy fame from their successful expedition. Scott and Amundsen were racing for the South Pole; both made it, but only one team made it home alive. What made the difference between these expeditions and why does it matter?
It matters because we see direct parallels between historic expeditions and large, business transformation projects. Is this a stretch? Consider this:
According to Wikipedia, Expeditions are defined as "a long journey or voyage undertaken for a specific purpose". Typically, a group of sponsors commit to a journey and select a leader. The leader typically recruits and selects his or her team based on the required skills and experience. Teams are often augmented by local guides to show the way and do some of the heavy lifting. Routes are planned. Supplies are prepared and rationed. Successes are typically heralded in the short term while failures live on in history. Doesn't that sound a little like a large IT project to you?
If we look at the Scott/Amundsen story through the lens of how we assess projects today, how would they rate? In our experience, what matters most for success in transformational projects can be captured in five dimensions:
1) Goals are clearly defined
2) Sponsorship is committed and Governance is clear
3) Risks are anticipated and managed
4) Team is engaged and suited for the task
5) Plans are clear and realistic
1) Goals are clearly defined: Amundsen had a single clear goal for his team: to be the first to reach the South Pole. The Scott Expedition had two goals: 1) to reach the pole, and 2) to gather scientific research along the way. As evidence, the Scott team took over 2,000 photographs along the way while the Amundsen team took ten...all at the pole. The evidence suggests that the serving the two goals was a major factor in Scott's death.
2) Sponsorship is committed and Governance is clear: Amundsen expeditions was funded exclusively by the Norwegian government with no evidence of interference with Amundsen's plans. Scott had multiple stakeholders including the British government, private industry providing supplies, his ship builder, and the Geographical Royal Society. With Scott's expedition there was great promotion and fanfare. While Scott basked in the glory of the press and public as he prepared for the trip, Amundsen quietly went about his preparations without fanfare, nor conflicting direction between his stakeholders.
3) Risks are anticipated and managed: Amundsen researched extensively, including living with Inuit people in Northern Canada. His experience led to the selection of dogs and suitable clothing that allowed body heat to be released. Amundsen selected simple solutions over complex, recognizing that in the harsh climate his men would be less able to deal with complexity. He is quoted to have said "Victory awaits him who has everything in order - luck people call it. Defeat is certain for him that has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck".
Scott left room for only a thin margin of error. He did not plan for the worst and suffered the consequences.
4) Team is engaged and suited for the task. Amundsen hired exclusively for skills relevant to the journey. For example, Amundsen decided early that skiing would be a preferred mode of transportation. He recruited an expert skier to lead the team and made ski training mandatory for all members of the group.
Scott also planned to ski, but did not have a expert skier on the team, nor did he make training mandatory. Scott's team was made up "primarily of friends, hang-arounders with a taste for adventure and strictly speaking, non relevant people like photographers".
5) Plans are clear and realistic: Amundsen questioned conventional thinking, studied possible routes and decided on a new route, 60 miles shorter; it was a risk, but a well studied and thought through plan. His team marched less time per day than Scott's but sometimes covered twice as much distance. The selection of experienced sleigh dogs was a major factor in their success as was travelling at night to avoid blindness. In contrast, the Scott expedition selected ponies not suited for travel in the snow, and motor sledges that had never been tested in Antarctica. Despite travelling a well known route (a route on which Scott himself had failed eight years previously), Scott did not have a plan for success, nor a contingency plan in the event of the unforeseen. He and his men died in the cold a few miles from food and safety as they waited out a blizzard.
The Scott/Amundsen story is one I heard as a child. It struck with me because we share the name Robert Scott, but upon re-reading the story today it strikes me how much project sponsors, board members, project managers and their teams can learn from history.
Robert Scott & Spencer Sweazey
My internship with ember advisory brought me to Toronto for my first summer. I wanted to get to know the community I would be living in and so I decided to volunteer with the Cabbagetown Youth Centre evening soccer league as a head coach of a 4-5 year old team. I had never coached before but it ended up being one of the most rewarding parts of my summer. There are three lessons that I learned over the six-week season that are also built into the core social responsibility strategy at ember: the value of commitment, having a true passion and the need for reciprocity.
1) Commitment: Having played soccer as a kid, I knew that commitment from the coach was a key aspect to creating a good team dynamic. As the summer progressed, I noticed that the more commitment I gave to the kids, the more in turn they gave to me.
2) Passion: In order for volunteerism and social responsibility to be effective it must be something that is a true passion. Soccer is always something that I have loved, and so coming to the field for practice brought me back to my childhood.
3) Reciprocity: In order to effectively make a difference both sides need to be working towards the same goal. As this program was free to those in the community, the kids that benefitted the most were the ones that dragged their parents to the field (not vice versa).
These three elements are at the core of ember’s social responsibility strategy. Rob’s focus and dedication for Winds of Change has inspired me to stay involved, as so often it slips away from people once they have graduated.
This week marks the final week of our summer internship at Ember. For Laura and I, this is bittersweet, marking our transition from summer back to the Ivey School of Business at Western University. During our final week we have the opportunity to reflect back on the previous four months and think about all that we learned and accomplished. As a summer interns we had unparalleled opportunities to work closely with Rob, collaboratively with internal and external partners and shape the path of our internship by vocalizing our interests and passions.
Without transforming this post into a shameless plug for Ember, I just want to take a moment to help you understand what our summer at Ember was all about. At Ember we gained unique hands on work experience, with ample opportunities to learn, grow and develop. These opportunities will indefinitely help us in whatever we do decide to pursue. Unlike the traditional idea that many people perceive to be true about interns, Laura and I managed to get our hands dirty and avoid the menial work so often believed to be associated with summer internships. Rather than scheduling meetings and grabbing coffees we worked directly with clients to manage the PMO and participated in key meetings. As we can all agree, summer internships are a crucial component of successful full time recruiting; not only do they provide students with necessary work experience that they need in order to land a job, they help introduce students to different functional areas and shape our future career choices.
As Laura and I transition from our summer internships we wanted to share some of the lessons we learned. We believe that they have universal value and hope that they will be as helpful to you as they were to us. The advice and quotes that we will share are things that shaped our views and changed our perspective and are definitely important to keep in mind as we head back to school and go directly into full time recruiting.
Lessons learned for recruiting and future employment:
- Do not accept an offer just because it is the first that falls in your lap
- Question the definition of industries by looking beyond your current perceptions of what each industry is and includes
- You rarely get what you want if you do not tell people what it is that you want
- In order to succeed within the consulting industry, learn to be the best at the core consulting skills
- Don’t be afraid of making mistakes
Lessons shared by Ember’s core team:
- A problem well stated is a problem half solved
- Is it better to beg for forgiveness, or ask for permission?
- Active listening is more than just waiting for your turn to speak
- Just because you are good at something and like it, doesn't necessarily mean you should stick with it
- Learning data is an easier way to learn a business
We believe one of the most important parts of having a summer internship, is what you are able to take away at the end. In this case, we are able to take away important lessons from industry experts and valued mentors. What is listed above is only the beginning of what we hope will be a growing list that will be developed as we obtain full time positions and begin our careers.
One of the key differentiators in today’s business world is the emphasis that companies place on work life balance. As new graduates have increasingly high expectations, companies must meet their demands in order to attract, retain and motivate the best talent. Doing so can create a competitive advantage, particularly in a people centered business like consulting.
This is where Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) comes in; it has been referred to as the ultimate work life balance package. Created in 2005 by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson, two former Best Buy employees, it is a management practice that sets the foundation for employees to be evaluated on performance, not presence. The idea of ROWE was built on the foundation that happy people are productive people. From my prior experience I can attest to this fact.
Personally, as a soon to be university graduate I am attracted to ROWE and would be happy to work at a company committed to offering more flexibility to its employees. For me, the primary benefit of ROWE is the autonomy that it provides its employees with, the ability to focus on your deliverables and creating value. I would be much happier working for a company where I was treated in a professional manner and my performance and compensation were based on my deliverables, rather than hours spent in office. While I recognize that ROWE is a progressive concept and involves a high level of trust and 100% commitment, I think it provides companies with useful concepts that they can incorporate into their business.
In most roles work comes in peaks of busy times and calm times. When restricted to set hours during those calm times, most employees feel pressured to look for additional work, in order to appear busy so that they do not get reprimanded. Their search for work has the potential to distract or interrupt the ability of their colleagues to complete their work and deliverables. In my view, if an employee has completed their deliverables and cannot add value elsewhere they should be in control, rather than controlled by set hours which are restrictive and often counterproductive to a company’s overall goals.
Just like any initiative, there are concerns with ROWE. It is still in its infancy and requires 100% commitment, altering the general perception of work and having the right infrastructure and processes in place. The transition is very difficult, as you must change the mindset of your workforce. Many employees prefer black and white and are accustomed to asking for permission for very little things, making the transition exceedingly challenging. In order for ROWE to succeed, companies must focus on shifting the mentality of its workforce, including its leadership to a focus on outputs (deliverables) vs. inputs (hours). Additionally, ROWE lacks a universal understanding. The most common misconceptions are that it is a work at home program and that only some employees can benefit from it . Another challenge is the strain it puts on the ability to communicate with others. Working collaboratively becomes more challenging with people working different schedules, from different locations. In order to succeed under this practice, employees must commit to planning ahead.
During this summer internship we have been applying these concepts at ember. While ROWE is still in its early stage, its concepts are universal and can help ember advisory achieve its goals. ROWE’s deliverable based focus is relevant to ember advisory, especially as our mission is to enable its clients to achieve the goals they value most. Aligning our performance metrics and compensation with our mission, exemplifies ember’s genuine care for it clients and desire to provide them with the highest value. Evaluating and compensating based on deliverables provides employees with their desired autonomy and flexibility and provides Rob with the opportunity focus on the things that matter most. As ember continues to expand and recruit talented individuals, it may want to further develop ROWE’s outlook on flexibility. Ember already provides flexible work arrangements, but can go a step further by creating an individualized program including flexible time, flexible days and flexible vacation. ROWE has proved that it is possible for employees to work abroad, resulting in excellent networking opportunities and new lessons learned. This program would help ember achieve its growth goal as it would attract new employees and help retain our talented team.
As mentioned, happy employees are productive employees. By modelling ember’s flexible work arrangement based off concepts from ROWE we are fostering a productive environment in which employees have opportunities to learn, grow, develop and help ember achieve its corporate goals.
Candidate for HBA, Ivey School of Business (2015)
A few weeks after posting the video tech tale called "The Eyes and Ears of the RCAF" about my father's experience with the Ground Observer Corps I received this email:
Subject: The Eyes and Ears of the RCAF
Message: Hi Rob,
I came across your vid about the Ground Observer Corps and the reference to your dad.
My mom, Wynne Zieman was the regional supervisor out of Val d'Or and we reported into North Bay. I remember that a Bill Scott visited our home on occasion - almost certainly your father. I have a snapshot around somewhere of he and another RCAF officer at our cottage.
I was thrilled to receive the note. It made the world feel like a small place, particularly because Newmarket, where Don now lives, is home to my mother, one sister, one brother and their families. We will celebrate my mother's 90th birthday next month. I hope that Don is able to join us to celebrate and share his story with us in person.
What are the odds that Don would Google "RCAF Ground Observer Corp" and come up with a story told by the son of the Flying Officer he remembers meeting over 50 years ago.
Maybe this technology stuff is a good idea after all.
Storytelling is easy for some and a nightmare for others...
We have spent the last month reminiscing about the First Annual Big Fish Awards; focusing in on the tech tale storytelling competition. What you may not already know is that after the competition the MC’s challenged the audience to share their tech tales. With no notice and only a 15 minute intermission to come up with a story and gather their thoughts, five brave guests volunteered to hit the stage. These volunteers spoke from experience and spoke from their heart; quickly engaging and entertaining the audience.
Congratulations to Daphne, who stepped out of her comfort zone to share her realistic story, ‘Me & Me. Her story exposed the audience to a different view of technology; she focused on society’s dependence on technology and the impact this has on shaping us and the world in which we live. As someone who grew up surrounded by technology, I can relate to Daphne’s story. Just like many others, I admit that at times I have used technology as the focal point of my social interaction. While I do not want technology to be the driver of my presence as a social being, it becomes increasingly difficult to avoid, as the world continues to progress and technology advances.
Below Daphne shares her story:
I’m waiting at a bus stop by myself.
Picture one version of me where I have my iPhone out. I’m an extremely sociable person – I’m commenting on wall posts on Facebook, double tapping pictures to like them on Instagram, composing status updates on Twitter, and pinning a miscellaneous collection of pictures to Pinterest. My thumbs can’t tap fast enough to respond to all my emails and messages, but I smile because I feel like I am connected to all of my friends in one way or another. I post on my mother’s wall to say “Happy Birthday” and take a picture of myself looking bored and send it to my best friend via Snapchat.
Picture another version of me where I have my Blackberry out. I’m an extremely sociable person – I’m emailing my boss, my clients, and my colleagues. And the fun stops there because that’s about all I can do on my Blackberry (side note: Blackberry Q10/Z10 deserves some recognition as they’re a huge upgrade from the old Blackberry we all love to hate). I put my phone away and I strike up a conversation with the lady beside me. We start by commenting on the great weather and then we complain about the long wait time for the bus. There’s a silence that ensues but I decide to skip the rest of the small talk and ask her how her day is. I’m not looking for a complicated answer, just an honest and sincere response. We start a real conversation and before long, the bus comes, our respective stops approach, and we exchange phone numbers because we want to stay in touch.
So my question to you is, which version of me is the sociable one? How do you define being social? What do people mean when they look at someone and judge them by how “social” they are?
What’s important is not all the messages and contacts you have on your phone, it’s the friends and strangers that are in your life at any given moment. Being present in your environment is what constitutes the most valuable kind of social interaction – real face-to-face communication, complete with body gestures and facial expressions that complement speech. Social networking applications are structured and constant while your life is dynamic and free flowing, subject to dramatic changes at all times. To be social, in its most simple and real definition, is to engage in meaningful dialogue or activities with someone else. While you can accomplish this to a certain degree using your social networks, to experience being social is to let go of your connection with those static networks and immerse yourself in the now. Right here, right now, we are being social. Don’t forget what it feels like to be social with someone else, not just by yourself, because at the end of the day, it’s not called a social when there’s only one person at the party.
Next time you are standing, waiting at a bus stop, I challenge you to think twice before connecting yourself with technology and disconnecting from the world around you.
On May 29th, about 80 friends, colleagues and clients gathered at the Baltic Avenue bar in Toronto, Canada to celebrate the first annual Big Fish Awards for Best Tech Tales. With the help of two hilarious MCs Matt Baram and Chris Gibbs, five brave storytellers shared tales including:
- "The Old Man and the Blackberry"....where sometimes adoption is just about putting the technology in their hands to get them to hook line and sinker
- "Animals, Technology and Limitless Complexity"...that taught us that in technology projects "perfect is the enemy of good"
- “The Enchanted Forest” ....where even the animals of the forest are not safe from cyber security threats
- "The Eyes and Ears of the RCAF"...that reminded us that sometimes a simple, well executed non technology solution can beat a state of the art technology solution costing billions
- "Ping & Maria": the evening's winner was Daniel Parkinson telling Ping & Maria: The story bridged the lives of Ping in Shanghai and Maria in rural Nicaragua while beautifully illustrating how hope for a better life is enabled by a simple technology, a bicycle wheel from China, made by Ping.
In the second round we welcomed to the stage four even braver storytellers for an improv round. All four did a great job spontaneously coming up with creative stories, while keeping with our theme of technology. The pictures do not do justice to the bravery and enthusiasm they demonstrated.
We also launched "Winds of Change". A way in which we intend to give back to the people of rural Nicaragua through a simple but effective technology: wind powered irrigation pumps.
As a fan of storytelling and the outdoors, I chose to launch ember advisory in a unique and memorable way. Feedback from the event attendees was fantastic, and I was thrilled to have hosted such a creative, inspiring evening.
How have you used or seen storytelling to change the game in your experience?
Watch for the videos from the event in the coming weeks!
In February I joined a group of 13 other Wilfrid Laurier University Alumni for a one week volunteer trip to Pedro Arauz, Nicaragua; one of the poorest places in the Americas. I had two objectives in going:
1) To learn first hand about a country that has been a mystery to me for several years
2) To spend some quality time with a small group of complete strangers who, by their choice to participate, may share some of my evolving views on social responsibility.
Our group was coordinated by SOS (http://www.studentsofferingsupport.ca), a Canadian based charity with the tag line "raising marks, raising funds, raising roofs". They teamed with a locally based NGO, Seeds of Learning (http://www.seedsoflearning.org) on this project. The goal is to build a community in Pedro Arauz; an area resettled only recently after years of turmoil that followed the civil war in the late 1980's. In 2009 Seeds of Learning coordinated the building of a simple one room building so the local children could attend school. That primary school has become an anchor of a new community. Our task was to start the construction of a community center, building on the remains of an abandoned sugar refinery. The hope is that the building will host agriculture education, simple computer skills training, and act as safe shelter in the event of extreme weather or natural disaster .
The week was an amazing experience for me. I was tempted to post immediately upon my return but I thought it better to reflect for a little while, back in my "real world" to see what stayed with me. So six weeks after returning, here are six things I have learned:
1) Being poor does not equate to being unhappy, unhealthy or uneducated. Not since spending time in Egypt and India had I seen such happy faces and good natured children. The children of Pedro Arauz are bright, enthusiastic, and polite. They are well dressed in simple, clean clothing and they demonstrate long attention spans and keen interest. The teachers in our group were amazed.
2) Be Prepared. Growing up as a boy scout I was encouraged to "be prepared". Throughout the week those preparations came in handy in terms of dealing with mosquito's, first aid, and small thank you gifts. However, the number one regret shared by the members of our group is that we were not well enough prepared to speak basic Spanish. The most important preparation I should have done was to commit more time to my Spanish lessons. Doing so would have helped significantly to connect with local people in a more meaningful way.
3) We are sometimes too quick to judge other cultures by our beliefs, not their needs. On day three, two of us interviewed the teacher to gather data for SOS research. We were a little shocked to hear that most students in the region do not continue school beyond grade five and that the number one reason to leave school at age 12 or 13 is to marry. As parents of 13-year-olds ourselves we were dismayed. However, over the next few days we experienced wonderful moments with extended families sharing childcare activities. We visited the high school that operates only on Saturdays to accommodate students who work their farms and raise their children through the week. And we came to realize that the community center we were building, will soon provide vocational training and support to the same children with whom we played soccer in the school yard. Perhaps their systems serve there basic needs. For those who aspire to university, tuition is close to free, but living costs remain a barrier to many in this region. As a group of Laurier alumni, we'll continue to work on that one.
4) Small investments can mean the difference between subsistence and abundance. In Pedro Arauz a great deal of one's day is spent pumping water by hand and transporting it from the well to where it is needed. Two families we met have taken the unusual step of automating the drawing of water; one with a simple windmill and the other with a basic pump rigged to a small diesel generator. The impact on those two families is incredible. Being the dry season most farms were dusty plots inhabited by a few dehydrated cattle; many of which will die in the heat. However, these two families enjoyed a green oasis of fruits, vegetables, and banana trees, under which we found healthy, well hydrated cattle. When we asked one of the farmers what he does with his excess food, he told us he sells it at the market and adds the cash to his savings. His plan is to buy another five acre farm and and another generator. I suspect that it will only happen if his neighbor cannot fund the purchase of a generator or the construction of a windmill. Either would be a relatively small investments in our world with almost immediate return on the investment. I'm looking for volunteers if you're interested in helping.
5) Watching Olympic hockey is better on a ten inch black and white TV in Nicaragua than at Real Sports Bar on the massive screen. Just like in a beer commercial, we gathered around a tiny TV with poor reception to watch the Canadian men beat the US team to advance to the gold medal game. There is a saying that there is no-one more patriotic than a Canadian outside Canada. Huddled by the TV, cold beer in hand, we strained to make out which team was which, but you would have never known that by the hooting and hollering that went on. Go Canada!
6) Don't wear sunglasses while playing soccer in Nicaragua. Our soccer game ended when I bumped heads with an agile ten-year-old as we both went for a header. While I am sorry I spoiled the game I am happy to say the medical treatment I received from my colleagues was world class and that the scar over my eye will forever bring great memories of my first adventure in Nicaragua.
To close: on the flight home I came across this quote by Nelson Mandela in his autobiography, A Long Walk to Freedom: "There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered." Six weeks later, I get it.
This is the time of year when many people resolve to change their behaviour, eat better, exercise more, or stop some bad habit. Even though many resolutions will be forgotten quickly, others will lead to positive change. Regardless, collectively we continue to make these annual resolutions.
According to Wikipedia,
A 2007 study by Richard Wiseman from the University of Bristol involving 3,000 people showed that 88% of those who set New Year resolutions fail, despite the fact that 52% of the study's participants were confident of success at the beginning. Men achieved their goal 22% more often when they engaged in goal setting, (a system where small measurable goals are being set; such as, a pound a week, instead of saying "lose weight"), while women succeeded 10% more when they made their goals public and got support from their friends.
Quoting Frank Ra (author of the new year's resolution book "A course in happiness" ): "Resolutions are more sustainable when shared, both in terms of with whom you share the benefits of your resolution, and with whom you share the path of maintaining your resolution. Peer-support makes a difference in success rate with new year's resolutions". It is also noted that talking with a counsellor about setting goals and new year resolutions can help you keep those resolutions.
But if New Year's resolutions are so common for individuals, why don't companies make annual resolutions? I can't think of a good reason why not, so in this first year of operation, ember advisory resolves to...
1) Work hard to understand exactly what it is our clients value most; one client at a time
2) Align our company's success with our clients' success by linking a portion of our fees to agreed upon measurable outcomes
3) Share a portion of our time and profits with children and communities in need
As noted in the study referenced above, to stick to our resolutions it helps to have a plan and regular reminders. It also helps to share resolutions with others and ask them to keep you honest. In keeping with this, I invite you check back on this blog for progress updates. If I fail to report out on these three items, please give me a little push!
To start the year off properly, I've just signed on to a volunteer trip in February to Pedro Arauz, Nicaragua. Not only will I be getting started on resolution #3, it should be a good experience in collaboration, goal setting, and effective communication. The trip is organized by an exciting organization called Students Offering Support (SOS). Learn more at http://www.studentsofferingsupport.ca
Wishing you a very happy 2014!
Big Four Consulting firms (Deloitte, EY, KPMG & PwC) and large law firms have a lot in common. So, it seems to me that looking at changes in law firms may be a useful exercise to find innovations for running a consulting business. Lets start with some similarities:
1) Both exchange time for money, usually in the form of "Billable Hours". While we sometimes see fixed price engagements in consulting, typically the commercial model is to sell hours. Both are under pressure from weary clients to decrease their rates. While efforts to leverage lower cost resources in offshore markets are underway, these efforts are still a small share of the work.
2) Both employ models where the senior people (usually partners) lead the sales process and manage the client relationships, and actively work to "push work down" to "leverage" more junior staff. When managed well it can be more cost effective for the client, but feedback from clients for both lawyers and consultants is that they want to see the partners more involved in the delivery of the work.
3) As partnerships, the Big Four consultancies and law firms are funded and governed by the partners. Limited access to public capital markets and private equity can hamper their ability to fund and drive transformational change.
Here are three examples of disruptive innovation in the legal services industry. Leaders of Big Four consulting firms should take note.
Cognition LLP is a virtual law firm based in Toronto with 32 experienced lawyers. All have experience from large firms or in-house council but work as independents within the Cognition network. Their rates are transparent and simplified with a basic rate for most work and a higher rate for complex work such as M&A. Rates are based on the type of work, not the experience level of the lawyer. Revenues are split between the individual lawyer and the company. When the work is sourced by the lawyer directly, then they keep a higher percentage of the fee. Based on solid growth over the past four years the model seems to be addressing a need in the marketplace. Feedback from the lawyers is positive. One lawyer I spoke with says that the model gives her much greater flexibility, work/life balance, and the ability to share directly in financial rewards. She finds the revenue split fair, considering that all work has been sourced by Cognition and at times she has chosen to turn down work. She says "if I want to make more money, I can choose to work more or go out and source it myself". Cognition was recently featured in Maverick magazine in the article They Fought the law…and won. http://issuu.com/cognitionllp/docs/mavericks_winter_2013/1?e=10223453/6013071
Another example of innovation in the business model for legal services is the US based firm Axiom. With over 1,000 lawyers in eleven offices, Axiom provides an alternative model for legal services. By leveraging technology and business process disciplines they have created a new category of legal service company's. The model goes beyond labour arbitrage for lower end work and now provides a full range of legal services across a wide spectrum of more complex transactions including mergers and acquisitions. Annual revenues exceed $150 million. In February of 2013 they raised $28 million in private equity funding primarily for investment in technology to further automate the business. Accessing financial markets for funding is something that regulated law firms are not able to do. Quoting Axiom founder and CEO Mark Harris "For many years our industry operated without any truly compelling alternatives to law firms….we have now evolved to a place where there are compelling alternatives".
A third example of innovation in legal services is in the UK with Riverview Law. In this case the innovation is backed by an existing large law firm; DLA Piper. Providing fixed price legal services to mid and smaller clients is their central business proposition The question they are asked most frequently by clients is how can they deliver access to high quality legal advice and support, at fixed prices, when, typically, law firms have not?
The answer is we started with a blank piece of paper and changed the legal service delivery model so it is focused on the customer. They kept overheads low including not having expensive city-centre premises. There is no head-office or partner model to support and they leverage technology and workflow systems to enable the legal and support teams to work flexibly and efficiently.
All three examples illustrate that disruptive innovation is alive and well in legal services. Clients who are seeking value for money and lawyers seeking flexibility and balance are endorsing the new models. For innovators in business consulting the lessons learned include:
1) Build a model with the client at the center
2) Keep overhead costs low
3) Provide transparency and clarity in fees whether as a rate card or fixed price
4) Leverage technology to enable efficient business processes and access to information
That's what we're doing at ember advisory to serve the Canadian business consulting market. Share your ideas on what other disruptive innovations provide lessons learned for the consulting industry.
The legend says that the Phoenix is a supernatural, birdlike creature that lives for 1,000 years. Once that time is over, it builds its own funeral pyre, and throws itself into the flames. As it dies, it is reborn anew, and rises from the ashes to live another 1,000 years.
Sounds a little like the business consulting industry in slow motion.
In order to remain relevant, and commercially viable, business consulting must re-invent itself continuously. Taking the lead from innovative companies, and academic thought leaders, business consultants instigate, navigate and propagate change in pursuit of improved business performance for their clients. When successful they leverage their positive references to win new work with new clients, thus growing their own business.
Over the past ten years we have seen an incredible rise from the ashes for business consultancies at the big four professional services firms (Deloitte, PwC, EY & KPMG). In 2002, regulatory changes were thrust upon the Big Four as part of the Sarbanes Oxley response to the Enron affair, restricting their ability to sell consulting services to their most valued client base; their audit clients. Facing the risk of declining revenues, EY and PwC sold their consulting businesses to CapGemini and IBM respectively. KPMG Consulting did an IPO and called itself Bearing Point. Deloitte toyed with spinning off their consultancy before electing to hold onto it.
In 2003, I was into my third year as part of the senior management team at CapGemini Ersnt & Young when PwC called. "We're restarting our consulting business and looking for the leadership team who can rebuild it. We'd like to talk to you about leading the technology consulting business". At CapGemini we were faced with demands to continue growing revenues quickly while simultaneously migrating 40% of the effort to offshore centres. It felt like a race to bottom; chasing ever lower prices and higher risk staffing models. It was becoming a grind. The opportunity to focus on management issues and trusted client relationships was appealing. And so began a wonderful 10 year ride to first build the Canadian, then the global technology business, into a $1 billion enterprise.
But, here we are again. The bird has grown and needs to be fed. In mature markets like Canada, audit and tax services are not growing. To achieve the growth required to maintain their rankings, fund partner pensions, and create career opportunities for staff, the consultancies of the Big Four must all grow revenues faster than the market. Like their ancestors they are pursuing larger projects in search of revenue and ignoring projects too small to meet their economic thresholds. They are adopting offshore and contingent staffing models to meet competitive prices set by well entrenched systems integrators and outsourcers.
Where will we go from here? Like the Phoenix from the ashes new consulting models are rising. Free from the obligations shouldered by the Big Four, these new consultancies can fill the gap as trusted advisors and they can do so with greater innovation and flexibility. By leveraging new technology and business networks a small firm can collaborate globally, access knowledge anywhere, and respond quickly to the goals that matter most to its client.
Perhaps this helps explain why I elected to call my firm ember advisory.
For a brief video explaining the concept of "disruptive innovation", click here: http://hbr.org/video/2688242135001/the-explainer-disruptive-innovation
If you have ever sat before an open fire and gazed into the flames you will see burning coals dance and move. Those are embers. They give off great heat. They are sought after to roast the best marshmallows. For me, sitting before an open fire can be hypnotic and calming. Outdoors on a summer night a campfire is a place where friends and family share jokes and stories, we sing songs (sometimes quite badly), and we recount good times. On a cool autumn day, or apres ski a crackling open fire sets the tone for rest and relaxation while warming us up.
It all sounds quite nice, but you may be asking "why name an advisory firm ember?"
According to Wikipedia, "an ember is a glowing, hot coal made of greatly heated wood, coal or other carbon based material that remain after, or sometimes precede a fire. Embers can glow very hot, sometimes as hot as the fire which created them. They radiate a substantial amount of heat long after the fire has been extinguished, and if not taken care of properly can rekindle a fire that is thought to be completely extinguished and can pose a fire hazard".
It struck me, while sitting by a campfire this past summer, that embers exist in our organizations in several ways:
- Embers can have those bright ideas that can be used to ignite new fire
- Sometimes our most valued people may be embers; some igniting new fires, some keeping the fire going long after the fire appears to be out
Do you have ideas and people in your organization who generate a substantial amount of heat but if not taken care of properly can pose a fire hazard?