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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Consultant's Four-Quadrant Matrix (or What You Might Think About When You Have Shpilkes* the Night Before You Hit the Road)

There is a trick to establishing oneself as a wildly successful management consultant, and I am pleased to offer a PrawfsBlawg exclusive on how it is done.   

Here's how it works.

1.  Identify two necessary,  mutually interdependent, yet conflicting attributes or values.
2.  Plot one attribute low to high on the x-axis, and one low to high on the y-axis.
3.  Draw a rectangle with the x-axis on the bottom and the y-axis on the left.
4.  Bisect the rectangle vertically and horizontally to create four quadrants as a matrix.
5.  Identify examples for each quadrant of people, organizations, or whatever it is on which you are consulting that, in your opinion, have the two attributes in the following combinations:  low-low, high-low, low-high, and high-high.
6.  Make it clear that the correct progression in the matrix is from low-low to high-high (i.e., southwest to northeast).
7.  Offer a list of ten things the group hiring you can do to move from low-low to high-high.
8.  Close to thunderous applause, find the bar, and hope they have one of those huge bowls of boiled cocktail shrimp.
9.  Mail your bill for $5,000 for the day's work.

A less cynical take on this below the fold.


In fact, when well done, these presentations are memorable, because the models are simple and there is a fundamental insight they elicit.  I listened to John Kotter of the Harvard Business School present his four-quadrant model on leadership and management to an executive conference when I was working for AlliedSignal.  Kotter's thesis is that management and leadership are just these kinds of necessary, mutually independent, and conflicting attributes of people and organizations.   Management consists of (1) planning and budgeting, (2) organizing and staffing, and (3) controlling and problem-solving.  The leadership analogs of these activities are (1) setting direction, (2) aligning people, and (3) motivating and inspiring.  This is a little dated, but when I listened (circa 1995), Kotter's examples were taken from the airline industry, and you can guess who stood where:

Low management - low leadership:   Eastern
Low management - high leadership:  People's Express
High management - low leadership:  United
High management - high leadership:  Southwest

The point is that leadership and management, particularly as they are found in individual styles, can be oil and water, but successful organizations need both.

Another model came from a fellow by the name of Tom Connellan, who was affiliated with the University of Michigan Business School, and  specialized in consulting on customer service.   Tom was enamored with the intense focus on customer service one found in the Disney theme parks.  Tom's was actually a nine-quadrant matrix, with quality of product on one axis, and quality of service on the other.  What each box described was the customer's attitude toward the firm, and it went like this:

Low quality - low service:  Gone

Low quality - mediocre service:  Going
Mediocre quality - low service:  Going

High quality - low service:  Looking around
Mediocre quality - mediocre service:  Looking around
Low quality - high service:  Looking around

High quality - mediocre service:  Loyal
Mediocre quality - high service:  Loyal

High quality - high service:  An advocate

Just this morning, a friend and I were discussing her painting, and, on the spur of the moment, I did a four-quadrant matrix on "technique" and "passion" (get it?  artists can have high or low technique and high or low passion, and you want to avoid being a passionless hack in favor of being a passionate technician, but if you can't have both, you need one or the other).

This can be quite a parlor game, though I 've not yet figured out how to package it as the next Boggle or Trivial Pursuit.   Or make it a cultural icon like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.  I have thought about whether the model applies anywhere in legal academy, and if so, what's the point?  Teaching vs. scholarship?  Clinical vs. doctrinal?  Empirical vs. theoretical?  Does every professor need to strive for high on both axes?  Can you plot faculties as a whole from school to school?   And when you are done, does it mean anything?

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw on August 9, 2006 at 12:27 AM in Corporate, Lipshaw | Permalink


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Hilarious! I'll never be able to take this sort of thing seriously again (kind of like how the first Austin Powers movie ruined my ability to enjoy action films).

I guess the answer to "does it mean anything" is "yes, but less than all the bells and whistles and fancy words/charts imply."

In my typology of blog posts, Jeff, your post is "high-high" on the "snarkiness vs substance" dichotomy. (Most of mine, in contrast, are "high-low"...)

Posted by: Scott Moss | Aug 9, 2006 10:07:45 AM

Let me propose a meta four-quadrant matrix for evaluating four-quadrant matrices. We have two dimensions, orthogonality of the two attributes and their relevance to the underlying characteristic.

Posted by: Brian | Aug 10, 2006 10:32:11 AM

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