Humble Consulting

How to Provide Real Help Faster

Edgar Schein (Author)

Publication date: 03/10/2016

Humble Consulting

Organizations face problems today that are too messy and complicated for consultants to simply play doctor: run a few tests, offer a neat diagnosis of the “problem,” and recommend a solution. With the pace of change accelerating and globalization and specialization adding new layers of complexity, there is no time for diagnoses. Canned answers from outsiders have become useless. Well-meaning consultants often end up working on the wrong problem, misunderstanding the client organization’s culture, or ignoring the fact that constant change makes today’s solutions obsolete tomorrow.

In Humble Consulting, Edgar Schein outlines the basics of a new approach. He argues that consultants and coaches have to jettison the old idea of professional distance and work with their clients in a more personal way, emphasizing authentic openness, curiosity, and humility. Schein shows how to create an atmosphere of genuine trust and caring so that clients can share what’s really on their minds. Consultants and clients can then jointly discover what needs to be done. Working together from the outset like this speeds things up as it obviates the need for elaborate diagnostic tests and avoids solutions that might look good on paper but don’t fit an organization’s on-the-ground reality.

Schein draws deeply on his own decades of experience, offering over two dozen case studies that illuminate each stage of the humble consulting process. Just as he did with Process Consultation nearly fifty years ago, Schein has once again revolutionized the field, enabling consultants to be more genuinely helpful and vastly more effective.

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Overview

Organizations face problems today that are too messy and complicated for consultants to simply play doctor: run a few tests, offer a neat diagnosis of the “problem,” and recommend a solution. With the pace of change accelerating and globalization and specialization adding new layers of complexity, there is no time for diagnoses. Canned answers from outsiders have become useless. Well-meaning consultants often end up working on the wrong problem, misunderstanding the client organization’s culture, or ignoring the fact that constant change makes today’s solutions obsolete tomorrow.

In Humble Consulting, Edgar Schein outlines the basics of a new approach. He argues that consultants and coaches have to jettison the old idea of professional distance and work with their clients in a more personal way, emphasizing authentic openness, curiosity, and humility. Schein shows how to create an atmosphere of genuine trust and caring so that clients can share what’s really on their minds. Consultants and clients can then jointly discover what needs to be done. Working together from the outset like this speeds things up as it obviates the need for elaborate diagnostic tests and avoids solutions that might look good on paper but don’t fit an organization’s on-the-ground reality.

Schein draws deeply on his own decades of experience, offering over two dozen case studies that illuminate each stage of the humble consulting process. Just as he did with Process Consultation nearly fifty years ago, Schein has once again revolutionized the field, enabling consultants to be more genuinely helpful and vastly more effective.

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Meet the Author


Visit Author Page - Edgar Schein



THE AUTHOR- IN HIS OWN WORDS

My book Humble Inquiry represents a culmination and distillation of my 50 years of work as a social and organizational psychologist. After undergraduate training at the University of Chicago and Stanford, my Ph.D. training at Harvard’s Department of Social Relations in the early 1950s was as an experimental social psychologist. I then spent four years at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and began a gradual process of becoming more interested in the sociological details of what went on between people in various kinds of relationships. 

My first major research was on the indoctrination of military and civilian prisoners of the Chinese Communists (Coercive Persuasion, 1961), which led to an examination of such indoctrination in large corporations when I became a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management in 1956. It seemed obvious that the important thing to study next was the process of interaction of the individual with the organization, which led to the successful coauthored book on this topic—Interpersonal Dynamics (coauthored with Warren Bennis, Fritz Steele, David Berlew, and later John Van Maanen, 3rd ed. 1973) and to an integrated text which helped to define the field (Organizational Psychology, 3rd ed. 1980). 

The indoctrination and socialization research led inevitably to the discovery through a 15-year panel study that in an open society like the United States, individuals will exercise choices and will be able to shape their careers around strong self images or “career anchors” (Career Dynamics, 1978; Career Anchors, 4th ed. coauthored with John Van Maanen, 2013). 

Working with Group Dynamics workshops in Bethel, Maine, and consulting with Digital Equipment Corporation for many years led to the concept of process consultation and the important discovery that the best path to helping people learn is not to tell them anything but to ask the right questions and let them figure it out. I first spelled this out in 1969 as a contribution to consultation methodology (Process Consultation, 1969; Process Consultation Revisited, 1999) and found that it applies in many interpersonal situations, especially when we try to give or receive help. 

All of these processes happen within a culture, so a more detailed study of organizational and occupational cultures led to intensive work on corporate culture—how to think about it, how to change it, and how to relate culture to other aspects of organizational performance. With Organizational Culture and Leadership (4th ed. 2010) and The Corporate Culture Survival Guide (2nd ed. 2009) I helped to define the field. 

The role of leaders as both creators of culture and ultimately victims of culture led to more detailed analyses of interpersonal processes and to two empirical studies of organizational cultures—Strategic Pragmatism: The Culture of Singapore’s Economic Development Board (1996) and DEC Is Dead, Long Live DEC: The Lasting Legacy of Digital Equipment Corporation (2003). 

The years of consulting, teaching, and coaching inevitably led to the realization that some processes such as Helping were not well understood and often poorly practiced. The book Helping: How to Offer, Give, and Receive Help (2009) was thus an attempt both to analyze and improve that process. It was in that analysis that I realized that Humble Inquiry is not just necessary when we give or receive help but is a more general form of asking that builds relationships. I realized further that building positive relationships is at the core of effective communication and getting work done safely and well. But my work on culture showed me, at the same time, why Humble Inquiry is difficult. 

The current book Humble Inquiry brings together all of these trends in showing how culture and individual behavior interact, and what it will take in the way of countercultural behavior to deal with the changes that are happening in the world. 

 

AUTHOR AWARDS

Ed has been recognized for his work with the Lifetime Achievement Award in Workplace Learning and Performance from the American Society of Training Directors (2000), the Everett Cherington Hughes Award for Career Scholarship from the Careers Division of the Academy of Management (2000), the Marion Gislason Award for Leadership in Executive Development from the Boston University School of Management Executive Development Roundtable (2002), the Lifetime Achievement Award as Scholar/ Practitioner from the Academy of Management (2009), and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Leadership Association (2012). 

After 48 years at MIT and after losing his wife in 2008, Ed moved to Palo Alto in 2011, where he is retired but still writing. He has three children and seven grandchildren who live in Seattle, New Jersey, and Menlo Park, California. You can reach him via his e-mail at [email protected]

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Table of Contents

Contents
1. I Am the consultant and I Don't Know What to Do!
2. What Is New in Humble Consulting?
3. The Need for a Trusting and Open Level Two Relationship
4. Humble Consulting Begins with the First Conversation
5. Personalization: Enhancing the Level Two Relationship
6. The Humble Consulting Focus on Process
7. The New Kinds of Adaptive Moves
Concluding Comments: Some Final Thoughts on How to Be Really Helpful

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Endorsements

“In this book, Ed Schein has looked back over his long and distinguished consulting experience and come up with an important book. Those who are called upon to give help or advice, be they boss, consultant, parent, or friend, should start by reading this.”
—Charles Handy, author of The Age of Unreason

“Chock-full of useful case examples, Humble Consulting is about establishing a relationship with the client that is collaborative, per- sonal, and empathetic rather than prescriptive. Schein has once again contributed significantly and creatively to our field of organiza- tion change and development.”
—W. Warner Burke, PhD, E. L. Thorndike Professor of Psychology and Education, Teachers College,
Columbia University, and Editor, Journal of Applied Behavioral Science

“Ed Schein’s books on consulting have always been the most profes- sionally useful things I read. And this book could once again reshape the consulting industry. It shifts the place from which effective con- sultants operate from the head to the heart and from the heart to the hand. Essential reading!”
—Otto Scharmer, Senior Lecturer, MIT, cofounder of the U.Lab, and author of Theory U

“Humble Consulting pulls the curtain back on the pretense that the vast majority of consultants and consulting organizations put forward—that they have ‘the answer.’ I plan on keeping a copy in my office to hand out to consultants as they continue to show up and ask that I tell them what keeps me up at night and they respond with the solution that they uniquely have to address it.”
—James Hereford, Chief Operating Officer, Stanford Health Care

“Long a critic of OD’s overreliance on process, I’ve always admired Ed Schein’s insistence that process consultation be relevant. Now, in his new book, Humble Consulting, he shows us how. In his usual and clear style, he calls OD practitioners to account and to help in power- ful and integrated ways.”
—Chris Worley, Professor and Strategy Director, NEOMA Business School Center for Leadership and Effective Organizations

“In Humble Consulting, master consultant Edgar Schein shows us how to escape the limitations of a traditional consulting practice to vastly improve both the impact and the meaning of our work. This book is at once brilliant and incredibly practical.”
—Anthony L. Suchman, MD, MA, consultant, Relationship Centered Health Care

“Humble Consulting is a book every leader and every consultant should read. Using numerous cases from his own experience, Schein describes the specific components of a true helping relationship and shows the powerful impact when consulting rests on curious ques- tioning that honors and unlocks the knowledge held by the other.” —David L. Bradford, PhD, Eugene D. O’Kelly Senior Lecturer in Leadership,
Emeritus, Stanford University Graduate School of Business, and coauthor of the bestselling books Influence without Authority and Power Up

“Finally, a consulting process that demonstrates and emulates the type of culture toward which organizations and their leaders aspire.”
—Robert Cooke, author of Human Synergistics’ Organizational Culture Inventory

“Ed Schein once again moves the needle in refining the essence of consulting. Schein invokes a shift from considering clients as ob- jects to considering clients as living, dynamic beings. The artistry of balancing formality and intimacy, dancing with the dynamic client system, paying attention to the environment, and engaging in endless reflective learning makes for a potent model and process.”
—Sarita Chawla, President, Metalens Consulting; Senior Faculty, New Ventures West; and Diamond Approach teacher

“In Humble Consulting, Ed Schein weaves the cultural and process consulting threads of his life’s work into a masterpiece of emotional, cultural, and methodological insight. Read this book and be prepared to change your mind, heart, and practice.”
—David E. Goldberg, author of The Design of Innovation and coauthor of A Whole New Engineer

“This senior icon in the field continues to make meaningful and significant contributions that could only be realized through years of experience and reflection. I have been reading Edgar Schein’s work for almost fifty years now, and I have learned from each of his works. But somehow, this, his latest, is special.”
—Peter F. Sorensen, PhD, Director, Master of Science in Management and Organizational Behavior program, Benedictine University

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