We Consult Through Empathy

Pivotal/Tanzu Labs

Our mission is to catalyze enterprise transformation through software. But that isn’t easy. In fact, it’s really hard. That’s because enterprises don’t really transform – people do.

When we’re on a consulting engagement, we’re influencing the way humans act, the way teams collaborate, and the way organizations provide incentives, manage, fund, and measure success. Those are tall orders, and the most important thing to know is this: we don’t have all the answers. No one does. As the saying goes, “Everybody thinks their way is the best. Everybody is wrong.” That’s why we believe in improving continuously 🔬 – we are always learning and humbled by what we don’t know.

Most of our clients show up with experience building software from a detailed, inflexible plan. They believe they know exactly what they want. They often have a budget, a timeline and specific scope. Our job begins by deeply empathizing with this view. Without decades of Agile software development experience we might make the same assumptions. As consultants, we listen to our client as they share their story. We let them know they are heard.

From there, we begin to offer a different way of thinking about developing software products. That driving from their users’ needs directs their efforts toward real value; that delivering value to users early and often lets them measure impact to lower risk 🚀, far lower risk than sticking to an inflexible, predetermined plan. That learning happens through a system of feedback loops, by starting simply in order to learn just enough to begin and letting the work inform the direction 🌱. We show our clients that empowered, diverse teams with shared context, psychological safety, and decision-making authority move faster ⚡️. We need to be able to articulate all this from where they are at in their learning journey—from their point of view, and help them expect and embrace change and turn it into opportunity 🦋.

Very few of us walk in the door with these skills. Getting there means learning how to negotiate difficult conversations, facilitate large groups of stakeholders, and inspire confidence in our clients and in each other. It’s a two-way street. We learn just as much from our clients as they from us. Advising them requires patient repetition, and our own continuous improvement means we are always learning and humbled by what we don’t know 🔬. It also requires that we study and deeply understand the principles and values we hold, in order to internalize and learn to recognize how, why and when they do and don’t work. Sometimes “breaking the rules” is the right choice in the right situation.

Therefore, first and foremost, at Pivotal/Tanzu Labs we must develop ourselves as consultants. “Consultant” is a loaded word in our industry, and not all the connotations are positive. Google Dictionary defines “consultant” as “a person who provides expert advice professionally.”

Although that definition certainly applies to us in Pivotal/Tanzu Labs, when we say consultant, we really mean this: a deeply empathetic human being committed to helping others.