There are lots of jobs where you have to figure out what’s going on at a company. VCs have to do that to determine if an investment makes sense. Executives and management consultants brought in from the outside also have to figure out what’s going on if they ever hope to be effective.

Since those last two jobs are what I’ve done for a living the past couple of decades, I’ve gotten pretty good at it. But the hardest thing to do hands down is to figure out the people.

Those who say corporations are not people are idiots. Sorry to be blunt, but that’s my honest opinion. And any senior level executive or consultant who hopes to bring about meaningful change at a company in trouble without delving into its culture and key people is bound to fail.

It’s always about the people and what makes them tick. It’s about their motives, their behavior, their issues, their strengths and, more importantly, their weaknesses.

Here’s a powerful example. Say you’re brought in to turn around a company. If you’re good at what you do, it doesn’t take long for you to figure out what the company’s problems are and what needs to happen to turn things around. But if you don’t answer, “How did they get here in the first place,” nothing you do will be effective.

You see, the company’s already run by very smart and accomplished people. And yet, they’re somehow behind its current sorry state. Just figuring out how it happened won’t enable you to effect change. You have to make them see what happened and help them figure out for themselves what needs to change and why.

Let me tell you something. When you walk into a shrink’s office, he knows what he’s dealing with by the end of the first session, more or less. But you still might require years of therapy. That’s not for him. That’s for you. That’s because logic doesn’t change behavior. Serious behavioral change can only occur at an emotional level.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. But then, that old saying is not about horses.

Flickr image Wilfred Smit