I often state a truism that I stole from someone I can’t remember – In consulting, as in medicine, prescription before diagnosis is malpractice. (If you are this person, I apologize, I owe you a beer.)
In a recent conversation while on a walk with my wife, Christine, we concluded that there is a corollary to this rule – You can’t prescribe if the patient/customer will not let you diagnose.
I hear about this problem more than a couple of times a week from Sage partners with whom I am speaking. It usually manifests itself like this, “Ed, I was trying to get an understanding of why the customer thought a request they had made was important, and they told me that they don’t reveal that information to outsider consultants. What can I do?”
My initial response is a half-kidding, “Run away!”
After explaining that I am kidding, sort of, I state, “Perhaps you should suggest to them that they reconsider and explain that while you understand their concern, it is not in their best interest to withhold this information. Consider this – if you go to a cardiac surgeon and just ask for a triple bypass operation, any ethical doctor will first insist on a few tests before performing the surgery. Certainly, they would want to take your blood pressure and heart rate. Would it make any sense to say, ‘Hmm, I don’t know, I don’t think I want to reveal that information to you.’? Clearly, it would not. I am in the same situation as the doctor, without a full understanding of the problem, it would be unethical for me to proceed. So, I ask you to reconsider and answer my questions. If not, I really don’t think I can help you.”
Is this hardball? Maybe, but your only alternative is to violate your ethics and prescribe before diagnosing.