Companies hire consultants for two reasons. The first is their experience, gathered from solving a variety of difficult problems over time.
The second is their point of view. The best consultants codify their experience into frameworks, designed to abstract experience into principles that can be broadly applied to a variety of situations. By operating within frameworks, they’re able to quickly navigate complex problems and arrive at novel solutions.
It’s extremely difficult to replicate the first benefit. There is no shortcut for experience. But you can take advantage of their experience by learning and implementing their frameworks, increasing your effectiveness and influence in your organization in the process.
The Benefits of Framework Thinking
Most companies are disorganized and chaotic. Meetings run long, with no discernible purpose and no clear action steps. Initiatives are loosely organized, following processes that are made up as they go.
Everybody’s winging it.
This presents a tremendous opportunity for someone who understands the power of frameworks.
Framework thinkers are able to bring clarity to situations. Good frameworks focus everyone’s thinking, allowing the team to drown out the noise and hone in on the questions that really matter.
Framework thinkers make more progress. Frameworks can clear logjams and facilitate faster solutions. There are rarely perfect answers in business, and the ability to make faster decisions can often mean the difference between success and failure.
As you become someone who acquires, internalizes and deploys frameworks effectively, you become a voice of reason in an otherwise crazy company. You become the person who might not have all the answers, but who can consistently leverage great processes to arrive at them.
Your peers will notice. Your boss will notice. Future hiring organizations will notice.
So how do you leverage them?
Finding Good Frameworks
Another great thing about frameworks: they’re shockingly easy to come by.
Companies and institutions who develop frameworks have a strong incentive to promote them. It becomes part of their unique selling proposition, and is baked into many of their marketing activities. Eventually, if they’re good enough, they become institutionalized in higher ed and become tools all MBA students are aware of.
This is great for you, because this means that most frameworks are available in some form or another, available for anyone to take advantage of.
One of the best things you can do is begin to build a library of frameworks to leverage. Identify companies you admire in your space, who solve similar problems. Ask around – see who other people look up to. Try to find out if there are people or organizations who are particularly known for their approach or methodology.
Once you find one, do a deep dive into all the material you can find on it. It’s unlikely you’re going to get access to the supplementary tools or processes they use to fully execute on the framework, but that’s okay.
Read as many blog posts or articles as you can about the topic.
Watch or listen to any presentations they’ve given.
Download any slides they’ve created.
Read their case studies – they’re usually fuzzy on details, but can give you some great insight into the various ways the framework can be implemented in a variety of situations.
As you immerse yourself in their methodology, turn that information into a summary document. I keep mine in a special Evernote notebook, and usually include the name, the purpose, any relevant diagrams, and any information I can pick up in terms of implementation or use cases. My frameworks are tagged so I can quickly find them later.
Take it one step further and turn it into a Keynote deck, and drop that into Evernote instead. You’ll get the same benefits as written documents, but also have a way to transfer that knowledge to your organization.
Want some examples? I’ve put together a quick summary of 7 different frameworks that I use all the time to kickstart your thinking. I’d love to hear about others you use in your own careers!
Implement on an Ad-Hoc Basis
Once you’ve read everything you can find on a particular framework and documented what you’ve learned, look for an opportunity to try implementing it in a real situation.
You don’t have to make a huge deal out of it. Don’t schedule an all-hands meeting to teach everyone the framework. You haven’t tested it in the field yet – you haven’t earned that right.
As I’ve mentioned in the past, creating change in your company is difficult because your team isn’t only thinking about the merits of your idea. They’re evaluating whether the idea is likely to succeed, and whether you’re the right person to get something done. In the beginning you probably don’t have the political clout to pass that test.
The answer is to sneak the framework in.
In your next meeting about the problem at hand, mention offhand that you read a really interesting article/book/whatever about a company with a similar situation and how they got out of it. Don’t even mention the name of the framework. Just call it a series of questions or a steps they followed. Walk the team through the questions that particular company asked and suggest trying it as a thought exercise. If issues come up, try to keep in mind any gotchas you learned to avoid during your research on the particular framework.
This approach works really well. Your team is at an impasse, and your suggestion is small. You’re not asking to make this the de facto process going forward, simply to kick the tires with it for a few minutes.
Because you reference an organization that used the process successfully (ideally one that’s familiar or even aspirational to your team), you’re creating a form of social proof. If it worked for them it might work for you too.
This also puts very little pressure on the framework itself. You want more than one chance to implement it, and by not selling it to hard you don’t create expectations you can’t fulfill. You obviously don’t have the years of experience that went into building those frameworks, and you likely will miss a lot of the nuance. You’ll likely make a bunch of mistakes. But if you undersell and the process is remotely useful, the team will likely consider it a success.
Operationalize the Framework in your Organization
Depending on how many projects you have going on at once and how quickly you’d get a chance to implement that particular framework again, you have a choice. If you’ll get another rep quickly, you can leave things alone. When the next opportunity comes up you can suggest trying that process again since it went so well last time, and likely get agreement. Either the team will be the same and they’ll remember, or they won’t be the same but will resonate with the previous successful outcome. In either case it’s unlikely they’ll have a better idea.
After you’ve done it a few times (or after that first time if you don’t think there’s a good opportunity for it in the short term), you have to skip that step.
Take your keynote you previously created and add some nuance based on your experience(s). In addition to case studies from successful implementations other companies have done, add in your own experiences and what that outcome was.
Mention to your team that you did some additional research on the process you went through together, and you put what you learned into a document. Share it with them initially to get their feedback and stamp of approval. Suggest that it become part of the way you approach problems like that going forward.
Your team will love that you’ve done the hard work of turning chaos into order. They’ll love that you identified and successfully implemented a simple process to bring clarity and momentum to a previously intractable problem.
Give them copies of the deck, and let them use it on their own or with other teams. Put all your names on it – share the credit. While you did identify the framework, they’ve put it through its paces with you.
Let the deck ripple out through the organization. It’s likely you’ll be approached at some point to teach the team about the framework during a lunch & learn. If it stagnates, take it into your own hands and suggest the training yourself.
Innovate on the Framework
As your company gets more practice with the framework, you’ll discover modifications that make it more effective with your team. Those modifications can become the basis for your own flavor or evolution of the framework.
With sufficient modification, you can make it part of your own company’s way of doing things, the unique process that they start marketing to others.
When that happens, the most likely candidate for evangelizing the process will be you. If you’re smart, you’ll take every opportunity you can get to write and speak about the framework to others. You can openly give credit to the inspiration for it, and walk people through the logic behind your modifications. 90% of creativity is taking existing ideas and putting them together in new ways.
If all goes well, everyone wins. Your company gets really good at something they used to have difficulty with. You learn a process you can leverage in future organizations. Your company develops a way of doing things that differentiates itself from competitors. And you get opportunities to advance your career while helping the company increase its profile and customer base.