A Workplace Away With The Fairies?


With social media traffic adding every week to the pantheon of work/place commentary some are starting to question whether all of those contributing to the conversation are really all that qualified to voice their opinions. In an excellent piece on his journey to becoming a “Workplace Consultant”, Adrian McNeece wrote with candour about the depth and weight of experience he has gained that differentiates him from the purveyors of magic dust that can be encapsulated in 140 characters or (in another eloquent post) from ubiquitous peddlers of ergonomic furniture.
Adrian’s blogpost gave me pause for thought. I do not hold myself out as a “Workplace Consultant” any more than I profess to be a lion tamer. However, I have written for Work&Place and for Insight on Work and through these publications and in this blog I have put forward some of my thinking on work/place matters. Formulating these posts and articles has led me to examine what qualifies one to talk credibly on the subject. The more I’ve thought about it, the more I am led to conclude that workplace consulting is not as highly specialised as perhaps some would seek to suggest. After all, the WCO gives this definition: “using a range of techniques, including engagement with the business and end user, to gather data that will determine an organisation’s requirements for their current or future working environments”
I’m sure we’d all concur that there is an awful lot more of substance behind it than simply acting as a data collecter or opinion pollster. I hope.
The notion of workplace consulting as highly specialised and requiring experience gained over many years as a practitioner also adds an unwarranted air of mystique and is unhelpful for those who would seek to promote it as a fulfilling career to a younger generation. As with many peripheral business functions, it seems that consulting is going through something of a long dark lunchtime of the soul in a search for relevancy and as other voices from different industries and stakeholder groups compete to be heard. Having, as it should, a holistic view of a client’s organisation and acting as a both an agent for, and facilitator of change, workplace consulting gives it’s participants a unique view across multiple business disciplines. This puts it in an enviable position as an incubator for talented people of all ages who want as broad a horizon as possible without getting pigeon-holed.
Building cachet by virtue of an air of specialism also helps hide the fact that there appears to be very little ground-breaking or market-leading innovation happening in the arena (with the possible exception of technological improvements to the ways in which data is collected, analysed and presented). The very many workplace practices around the world differ little in approach and service offering. What differences might be found are mostly in the philosophical outlook they espouse or in their view through their own particular corporate prism. This, in itself, is not necessarily an issue for the industry as it should make for a more competitive marketplace and a drive to meaningful differentiation. At individual level, workplace consultants are as diverse a bunch as any I’ve met, many of whom take immense personal and professional pleasure in helping their clients overcome challenges and answer difficult questions. But they will not move the dial beyond still more iterations of agile or flexible working with a dogmatic insistence that experience trumps all. Nor do the futurologists amongst us need to be of Yoda’s advancing years.

Far from being the effluvia of the snake-oil salesman, that super special magic pixie dust just might be the vapour trail of the new stars of the world of work. The expert generalists.


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