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The other week I was talking with a consultant who works in a large-ish consultancy. He had only been working in the Public sector for two years and said he was surprised by what he found. His description astounded me. He said, “Public sector managers and staff are not very smart. The quality is poor and actually they are quite thick really”. He continued that in his experience they found it difficult to take on ideas and as a result they had to do much more as a consultancy to get things implemented.

My reply was to say that I had found the opposite. My experience has been that public sector employees and managers are actually very bright, committed and enthusiastic people. The problem is that they have been beaten down by the system that stops them delivering the services that they care about.

He replied, that that could be a little bit true, but that it was not his experience.

Of course, it does not matter who is true here. (Of course I believe that what I believe is right in this case – but that does not matter for this discussion). What matters is the consequence of the belief. If you believe that all public sector people are a bit thick then you will act that way, treat them as if they are slow, and design consultancy that requires lots of consultancy effort to compensate for the fact that “they don’t get it”.

On the other hand if you believe that they are just as intelligent and committed as any other private sector people, but that the system is constraining them, then you act quite differently. You look for ways to unlock their potential, take away the shackles and allow them to perform. (Of course it you then find out that they are not up to the job there are several options available such as training, moving and the like – but that comes later.)

The other piece that worried me here is that if you start with the belief that they are a bit thick, then you will look for information that reinforces that belief. Of course if you believe they are intelligent you will also look for evidence to back it up. In both cases they are self fulfilling prophesies. However the belief that they are intelligent and it is the system that causes the problem is, I believe more useful again.

Also you have to ask the question, if they are having trouble taking on his ideas, is it possible that it is the way he is communicating them? I let him work that one out for himself.

This shows how much what we believe affects how we behave and how much it becomes a self fulfilling prophesy. It also shows how different approaches to consultancy affect the types of consultancy you provide and the sort of solutions you are looking for. Me i would prefer to unlock people’s potential and solve the bigger problem than assume that I am dealing with thick people. It is much more useful and interesting.

So be aware of what you believe and notice how it affects how you act, what you look for and how you address problems. Interesting eh?

Phil Jones
Strategy & Performance Specialist
Excitant Ltd