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Meet Karen Phelan, the author of
I’m Sorry I Broke Your Company
When management consultants are the problem not the solution
On September 6, 2013 Susan Stamm interviewed Karen Phelan about her book “I’m Sorry I Broke Your Company.” They explored some of the implications of this book which is a consultant’s exposé of the damage that management consultants —often inadvertently— inflict on organizations. It shows how some of the most popular management consulting fads break down when applied in the real world and what to do instead. The book is a surprisingly humorous and filled with eye-opening personal stories. The interview picks up some of these points.
Karen Phelan is really sorry. She had the best of intentions. She got into consulting because she wanted to help. She tried hard to optimize processes, develop measures, and manage human assets—to do business by the numbers, the management consultant way. The only problem, she found, is that businesses are run by people, not formulas and scorecards. And people don’t follow the formulas.
From strategy development to process improvement, target metrics, talent management, leadership competencies, and more, Phelan dissects a whole range of consulting treatments for unhealthy companies and shows why they’re essentially fad diets: superficial would-be fixes that don’t result in any lasting improvement and can actually cause serious damage. But consultants don’t seem to notice. If reality doesn’t conform to the theories, they conclude, something must certainly be wrong—with reality. People aren’t trying hard enough to make the theories work.
Using tragicomic tales from her many years as a consultant, Phelan exposes precisely how various management fads fail when taken from the printed page to the actual working world. The solution is not as glamorous as applying the management model du jour, just more effective. Over and over, Phelan found that there’s simply no substitute for taking the time to understand the unique dynamics of an organization, talking to the people who run it—on every level, not just in the C-suites—and getting them to work together better.
With a mix of cleared-eyed business analysis, heart-wrenching stories, and hard-won lessons for both consultants and the people who hire them, this book is impossible to put down and impossible to ignore. Karen Phelan and other consultants may have “broken” your company, but she’s eager to repair the damage and make amends. She offers the perfect antidote to years of management malpractice.
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