Where do you think those awfully clever people at Andersen Consulting found their latest management tool? University? Business school? Neither. They have been raiding the toy box for Plasticine. It is being used to encourage creative thinking among the big boys and girls in Andersen's financial services division.
David Andrews, head of financial services, went to the division's annual two-day conference at an Eastbourne hotel determined to inspire his team into telling him how big they wanted the division to be. Answers to this question, he believed, would be found when he let his 403 employees, aged between 22 and 56, loose on the squidgy stuff. They had five minutes to make a model which they thought encapsulated what they wanted the division to do, to be. In their minds, of course, is the Andersen mission statement: 'To be the best organisation in the world at combining strategy, process, technology and people in ways that create superior performance'. They set about their task with varying degrees of vigour.
They then, for nothing is ever easy, had to explain what their models meant on video. For instance, a female consultant interpreted her model as a pearl hidden inside an oyster. Meaning? Change management was not getting enough visibility within Andersen. She should go far. Andrews is pleased, proud even. 'People right across the board have been talking about how clever these are,' he says, not pausing to interpret what appears to be just a great brown blob.
At the end of the conference, Andrews has found his answers: everyone is 'singing from the same song sheet' about the future of his division. And the song? 'To double in size in three years.' Without the 'catalytic effects' of the modelling session (it makes everyone talk), Andrews doubts he could have achieved this. 'All the text books say you can't motivate a group of 400 people without breaking up into small groups.' Would he suggest that his clients play with plasticine? 'You must be able to deal with the consequences.' Presumably that means being prepared to be left with nothing but the mess to clear up.