What I have come to understand is that when people say “we are different” what they really mean is that “we are special – don’t try any of your old consulting tricks here. Whatever you have tried elsewhere won’t work here, because we are unique. We have unique problems than need unique solutions.” Beyond this they often mean as well: “fixing or changing anything here will be much harder than anywhere else you have ever worked.”
This is the we-are-different conversation.
The introduction to the we-are -different conversation often starts with a sentence of the form “let me give you a little history....”. This is the our-history conversation. Normally, the our-history conversation is about justification for why things are the way they are. Occasionally, this is interesting and important to my work. Usually it is quite dull and not relevant to my work at all, but I always try to listen politely.
Now at one level the phrase “we are different” is a truism that is so basic that it should not require repeating. Of course, every single organization is different. It contains a unique set of people, has a unique context and a unique history. All of these factors contribute towards the organization being different. What this means is that consulting products and services, or any other professional service, needs to be tailored to that organization.
I think the most important aspect of tailoring develops from the fact that the organization will have its own jargon and terminology. Consultants learn to be sensitive to language, adopting a clients own terminology. Additionally, every organization has its own priorities, and again the consultant needs to be aware of and pay attention to these priorities. I know of some consultants who seem incapable of tweaking their advice, terminology or presentation style of the client. They are usually bad consultants! Most successful consultants, who have been around for some time, have learnt the tricks of picking up client terminology and client priorities.
But, and this is a big but, when people say “we are different”, they don’t just mean “we are unique” they know everyone is, what they mean is “we are uniquely unique. Nothing you have done elsewhere can be applied to us”.
90%+ of the time, this is nonsense.
Organizations really do vary. I am not denying this. But the thought that they vary so much that tried and tested techniques, strong ideas, and great concepts have no relevance to them because they differ is usually wrong. We need to differentiate between the requirement to tailor thinking to make it contextually relevant, and the idea we should throw all our knowledge away and start again.
Tailoring is essential. Starting completely from scratch rarely is.
For more details read my full article with the same name in my article library