Just over a decade ago the then 27-year-old Elizabeth Gooch was an employee in the finance industry. She found herself designing and implementing change programmes, but someone else was getting the credit for the work. Today she runs a consultancy, has a five-year old daughter and has the time to renovate a manor house and breed sheep.
“I found that the big consultancy firms were coming to our function, asking for information, taking our reports, implementing the work and getting all the credit. It dawned on me that there was an opportunity,” Gooch says.
She saw a gap in the market for designing, implementing and managing the production line processes in the finance industry and decided to set up on her own against the advice of the bankers she spoke to. She founded eg consultancy. Then the tables turned and she began advising the very financial houses and building societies she had worked for previously, taking out inefficient process flows and teaching production management principles to team leaders and managers.
With clients and with her employees she uses the phrase: “If you believe it you can achieve it.” She believes that people must keep that belief in their heads because the power of that belief will make change happen.
“At the beginning people think: ‘What is she on about?’ But after 12 weeks or so you have to believe it,” says Gooch. “Our clients call it ‘white commando training’. What we do is commando training with line managers and supervisors, and make a radical, visible difference. Clients do say you are different because you deliver and you don’t provide expensive advice.”
Her real passion is helping people to understand their work and themselves, and getting them to buy into the change process; something that she tried to establish within the firm from the start.
Gooch believes her venture has worked, not only in terms of the revenue it has generated, but for the people she employs and the clients she serves.
In 1988 the firm comprised three people, who consulted and implemented.
By 1994 the headcount was 10 and now it stands at 22. Over the last 10 years eg consultancy has seen average growth of 27 per cent, a little more than the industry average of 25 per cent. Growth plans over the next year are set at 30 per cent.
In 1988 the company’s mission statement was to go out and give clients the best advice. But as it grew both employee and business demands changed.
Its new vision was to be bigger. The decision to expand was made in 1994, but it was only in July 1997 that the firm’s new strategy started to come together.
Gooch now believes the firm has cracked it and is a consultancy firm with a difference: an example of best practice in operations management and production management principles. The most important aspect, Gooch says, is communication.
“Because we are mainly Northerners and Midlanders our culture is to speak plainly, to tell it as it is so we don’t give clients platitudes,” says Gooch. ” If their business is not good, we’ll tell them that it is not and we’ll tell them why, and they like to hear it because then they can do something about it.”
People management and communication are the essence of the firm’s culture both when serving clients and when dealing with internal problems. If someone has a problem that is not being addressed by a line manager, Gooch steps in to rectify the situation.
“I am a very contact-type person. They are my people and I care and I am going to talk to them,” she says. Opening up and talking is part of the positive mental attitude that she has tried to foster both with clients and employees. But she has found that, in the UK, despite the fact that change engenders fear and trepidation, there is a certain amount of resistance to talking about fears and emotions.
“Less than 5 per cent of people will admit that they really find change difficult,” Gooch says. To combat this “we are British and it takes a long time to think this way” attitude, she has developed a new mission statement for the firm, which features: freedom, choice, doing it right and a bit of humility.
As part of the firm’s change programme, which was initiated in 1994, it has brought in the seven to eight minute meeting. The meeting mirrors the process that occurs when doctors and nurses change shift – a short exchange of information that gives everyone enough rocket fuel to complete their daily tasks. Gooch believes this is also essential for the smaller consultancy, which relies on the high productivity of its team.
For eg employees freedom and choice means they can move from one position to another and they will be supported in that decision with training.
A skills assessment is the first step in the process, where both the needs of the business and that of employees and their future career opportunities are taken into account and the two are matched up. An appraisal process and personal development programme has grown out of the firm’s restructured culture map, which was drawn together in July 1997. It is backed up with investment in external training of between #5,000 and #10,000 per employee.
“This is all about positive mental attitude and life planning,” she says.
“What we don’t want is people who really don’t want to be here.
“We actually got people to agree to position contracts: this is the position, this is what you have to do. We have a rule that you cannot move on from a job until you have documented it and trained someone else to do it efficiently,” she says. “So the process is owned by the business and not the individual.”
Learning humility began in 1994 for eg staff, and an ongoing appraisal process ensures that it is a lesson they have to revise regularly. eg originally began the change process by assessing what its people were best at, what skills-match was between its people, business requirements and the firm’s new direction. Gooch admits it was not an easy process.
She says people became a little defensive as the firm started to grow and new people were brought on board. When change was required it was the men who found it particularly difficult to let go of their titles and power-base.
“People feel out of control because they move from knowing everything by virtue of the firm being small to only knowing a bit of it. They feel constrained and suffer a sense of loss of knowledge of everything that is going on.” Gooch adds: “It actually takes a very big person to put up their hand and say yes, you are right, I can no longer do all these things and I am better suited to this role.”
People see it as an erosion of status and perceive it as a loss of power through lack of knowledge. But this, she points out, is often the fault of the firm, which fails to help staff manage change and see it positively.
She advocates managers setting an example. So this year she brought in a general manager to run the firm and stepped aside to work on business development.
Another necessary task is the integration of two cultures identified within the firm: a nine-to-five culture and an achievement culture.
“We have a group of people who are attendance-based and we have a group of people who are achievement-based; the latter don’t worry about position, or about pay or reward and they are happy, positive people and strangely enough they are paid the least,” says Gooch. “The ones that are paid the most worry about: ‘Am I getting overtime for this?’.”
The aim is to create an achievement culture where staff may work longer hours some days and less on others and where reward is based on contribution rather than position.
“You have to be honest, open and sincere and encourage staff to ask questions.
Then get a common set of standards agreed,” she says. “Then keep chipping away at all the behaviours that actually do not fit in with the cultural map.”
Gooch had to chip away for some time on uniting the business acquisition, delivery and client retention processes. And plans were set back by misunderstandings: the staff in sales, marketing, personnel and training, who were brought on board in 1995, made changes to the client acquisition process and internal data collection procedures, without fully understanding how the processes worked within a consultancy.
The process took longer than expected because, Gooch freely admits, eg did not follow its own advice, which is “understand first and change second”.
eg consultancy facts
Area of expertise: Consultancy services to the financial sector; process design and documentation; work management; people management.
Turnover: 1995 – #0.6m; 1996 – #1.0m; 1997 – #1.5m.
Managing director: Elizabeth Gooch
Unusual press freebies: Oversized pink boxer shorts
Elizabeth Gooch on customer satisfaction
“Under client measures we do things like customer satisfaction surveys, making sure we have achieved what we said we will on a client project.
In November we did a client feedback workshop, so this was part of identifying stakeholder requirements. In the workshops the client can actually specify the categories and things they think are important to measure us against.
The major comment was that although they were used to working with many consultancies, they had never been asked to attend a client feedback workshop.
So we took them to Le Manoir, fed them well and then they did the workshop very objectively.
The interesting thing was there was a close match in some things that were important to them. But there were some things that we had not thought about; for example, they were very concerned about our culture.
And we are concerned about our culture too, so we were able to show them the work that we had done. And their concern was really about making their culture fit with ours.
We have had one client where the cultures did not fit at all. And as a consultant you have to be honest. In our work you are on a highway to nothing if you fit two organisations together that don’t work. If you are a pure implementor and you are trying to implement change with them and the two things don’t gel together, you spend most of your time fighting with them and no time at all doing what you are meant to be doing.”
A life in 10 questions
Q: What is your major professional achievement?
A: The development of our seven-step methodology
Q: What is your major professional regret?
A: Not applying all of our people-management principles to our own organisation early enough.
Q: What is your greatest professional asset?
A: Our client list.
Q: If you had an extra hour in the day, what would you do with it?
A: Spend it giving extra training to staff.
Q: Which company do you most admire?
A: Virgin, for its image and customer focus.
Q: Which organisation is in most need of your expertise?
A: Any number of the privatised rail networks. (Gooch failed to mention whether Virgin would be one of that number.)
Q: What book are you reading at present?
A: Zapp: The Lightning of Empowerment by William C. Byham.
Q: What do you think is management consultants’ greatest fault?
A: To recommend what the client has already identified in the first place.
Q: If you could make a single contribution to the Chancellor’s Budget, what would it be?
A: Place a tax on IT spend.
Q: Which three words turn your stomach?
A: Workflow. Re-engineering. Empowerment.
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