The person who 'advises rather than does' is sometimes likened to the peripatetic butterfly - only happy when moving from client to client and assignment to assignment. I prefer the analogy of a bee, a highly effective cross-pollinator with the occasional sting. In my opinion, the best advisers transfer their knowledge and experience across organisations and industry boundaries.
The most effective managers and leaders understand their people and focus on how best to get them to collaborate for the common good, rather than compete internally. And they guide and advise their teams by drawing out and applying practical learning lessons that enable their people to see what works best and what does not. This is a subtle skill, often learned rather than taught and applied instinctively.
I count myself fortunate to have worked with a wide range of organisations, public and private, in the UK and in over 20 countries worldwide. Living and working overseas needs stamina, respect for other cultures and a high degree of political awareness. It offers insights into varied business practices. In parts of the world, the importance of people, their careers and lives often seem to be secondary. I found that this stimulated my interest in people management, motivation and also my subsequent involvement in the voluntary sector.
My day job has been complemented, indeed enhanced, over the past 25 years, by my being a charity trustee. I chair MacIntyre, a leading provider of learning, support and care services to those with learning disabilities. We have an experienced and collaborative leadership team. It has to be, with over 1,000 children and adults in our care. The individual service users come first in MacIntyre. This means putting a relentless focus on understanding their needs - often made more difficult when the communication skills of the service user are limited.
As trustees of MacIntyre, we aim to go beyond our governance responsibilities in helping management grapple with issues of the moment. A recent example where trustees have brought to bear their deep experience has been where we have shared practical understanding of dealing with a 'competitive dialogue process' in the context of public sector procurement. If we get our numbers wrong, or fail to address Tupe issues properly and take on excessive liabilities, we can lumber ourselves with costs for years; particularly as we work on such fine margins. The charity's managers have the full skills to tackle their jobs but, as trustees, we can harness a broader range of skills and collective experiences and so draw out analogies and learning for MacIntyre's management to apply as it sees fit.
These contributions are more relevant than ever in the voluntary sector, which forms the nexus of public and private sectors as the Coalition Government seeks to get the Big Society concept off the ground. We are now grappling at the MacIntyre board with what is needed and how we can play our part to the fullest.
For me, learning lessons started when I trained as an accountant in the mid-1970s, when generalist skills were valued highly, in comparison with today's focus on specialisation. I saw very different styles and approaches adopted in businesses as different as the Ford Motor Company and Oxford University Press. Early on, I spotted the hallmarks that enabled each to operate with a high degree of success.
In fact, I have found that lessons can usually be applied across seemingly different organisations remarkably easily. You need to think laterally, draw parallels and not convince yourself that your business is unique. Organisations often like to emphasise their differences. I like to look for similarities, especially when it comes to managing and motivating people to give of their best and collaborate.
I had the chance to put this into practice in recent years as chief operating officer at PwC. This provided me with the opportunity to do rather than to advise: to champion my people, make sure that the tag of 'second class citizens' was removed from business support colleagues and to extol the virtues of collaboration. Our focus on satisfaction ratings from our internal customers, staff morale and reduced business support operating costs gave us hard indicators that collaboration really worked and delivered tangible business benefits across our balanced scorecard.
Despite the obvious differences between the two organisations, the same philosophy of collaboration applies at MacIntyre. For example, tendering for new local authority care contracts involves us bringing all our front-line and support skills to bear in an imaginative and integrated way. I need no convincing that high-performing support functions with well-motivated people can have a huge strategic positive impact on any organisation.
For me, everything is about people; whether you are leading, developing, supporting or designing services for them. Bringing people with you, leading and motivating them on the journey, is a vital ingredient of success.
John Berriman is a senior client partner at PwC and a chartered accountant. He was the chief operating officer of PwC in the UK from 2000 to 2006. He chairs MacIntyre, a leading charity providing care and welfare services to people with learning disabilities. He is an adviser to HM Treasury on financial management and was a member of the Higher Education Funding Council 2010 task force, which looked at the future workforce of universities.