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Lets remember Sir John Harvey Jones and keep his legacy alive: Was he the ideal consultant?

Sir John Harvey Jones died earlier this month (January 2008). Some will remember Sir John Harvey Jones as the Chairman of ICI who turned the organisation around. Some will recall his wild hair and his taste for “Tasteful” ties. Many will recall his pioneering BBC series “Troubleshooter” where he looked over a company, diagnosed their problems and offered advice to the management team to help them turn it around. Perhaps it was the combination.

The Trouble shooter series brought his name, face and ties to the populace. From that series, three things stick in my mind about his approach to diagnosing the problem in organisations.

The first was what we saw a lot of. He would walk around the company, look at the organisation, talk to the workers, understand the product and genuinely do wandering about. He had a keen eye for what was going on in the organisation. He had that fresh eye a consultant needs.

Secondly, he would examine the finances. This was always underplayed in the programmes apart from cameos where he would talk about the finances. Yet it was clear he had done his research, carefully look at the numbers, understood the cash flow, looked at the trends, examined where the costs were and understood the levers of profit. He knew the finances as well as the management.

Thirdly he would understand the management team. He looked at how they behaved and how they worked. He looked at how they related to their staff and workers and how they related to their product. He looked at how they related to each other. I recall one where he clearly pointed out that having TWO Managing Directors running the company was a daft idea.

Of course he would never put it like that. He would always explain why something would not work and the consequences. He was always calm and considered. He explained his analysis clearly and with facts, yet with a passion and conviction in his story. He knew he was right and he knew how to explain and encourage others to take a better path.

In many ways Sir John Harvey Jones exemplified the perfect consultant. First understand the company or organisation that you are working with. Secondly ensure you have facts and evidence for your analysis and conclusions. Thirdly be clear what your recommendations are, but deliver them with as much tact as you have conviction.

These are important principles for any consultant or advisor.

When he did this you believed him. He may not have always being right. His recommendations may not always have been implemented or carried out to the full. But you knew that he cared about the future of the organisation and the management team he was working with. It came across in his disappointment when things were not changed, his conviction and support as managers took up his ideas, and his delight when improvements started to come through.

I often run the John Harvey Jones test for myself. Have I understood the company and its finances? Have I seen how it works? Do I understand how the management team work and play an important part in the situation? Then am I clear about my recommendations, supported by clear evidence and put forward with tact and conviction.

Yes, for me JHJ exemplified good consultancy. More that that he exemplified the Trusted Advisor to a management team. An advisor that the management team respected, trusted, and could relate to. An advisor that understood their position and wanted success for the organisation and for the management team. One whose observations, counsel, and advice was more than a quick fix: rather they helped the management team develop and improve themselves.

Long Live the legacy of Sir John Harvey Jones.

Phil Jones
Excitant Ltd