Earlier today I came across this article about data scientists on LinkedIn that I agreed with so much that I started wondering if it was simply a case of confirmation bias.
A few sentences (possibly taken out of context) from there that I agree with:
- Many large companies have fallen into the trap that you need a PhD to do data science, you don’t.
- There are some smart people who know a lot about a very narrow field, but data science is a very broad discipline. When these PhD’s are put in charge, they quickly find they are out of their league.
- Often companies put a strong technical person in charge when they really need a strong business person in charge.
- I always found the academic world more political than the corporate world and when your drive is profits and customer satisfaction, that academic mindset is more of a liability than an asset.
Back to the topic, which is the last of these sentences. This is something I’ve intended to write for 5-6 years now, since the time I started off as an independent management consultant.
During the early days I took on assignments from both for-profit and not-for-profit organisations, and soon it was very clear that I enjoyed working with for-profit organisations a lot more. It wasn’t about money – I was fairly careful in my negotiations to never underprice myself. It was more to do with processes, and interactions.
The thing in for-profit companies is that objectives are clear. While not everyone in the company has an incentive to increase the bottom-line, it is not hard to understand what they want based on what they do.
For example, in most cases a sales manager optimises for maximum sales. Financial controllers want to keep a check on costs. And so on. So as part of a consulting assignment, it’s rather easy to know who wants what, and how you should pitch your solution to different people in order to get buy-in.
With a not-for-profit it’s not that clear. While each person may have their own metrics and objectives, because the company is not for profit, these objectives and metrics need not be everything they’re optimising for.
Moreover, in the not for profit world, the lack of money or profit as an objective means you cannot differentiate yourself with efficiency or quantity. Take the example of an organisation which, for whatever reason, gets to advice a ministry on a particular subject, and does so without a fee or only for a nominal fee.
How can a competitor who possibly has a better solution to the same problem “displace” the original organisation? In the business world, this can be done by showing superior metrics and efficiency and offering to do the job at a lower cost and stuff like that. In the not-for-profit setup, you can’t differentiate on things like cost or efficiency, so the only thing you can do is to somehow provide your services in parallel and hope that the client gets it.
And then there is access. If you’re a not-for-profit consultant who has a juicy project, it is in your interest to become a gatekeeper and prevent other potential consultants from getting the same kind of access you have – for you never know if someone else who might get access through you might end up elbowing you out.