Management Consultant or Network Psychologist . . .

by Joe Steelman

The more and more I find myself growing into my career, the more and more I see my profession as, at least in part, that of a network psychologist – which is cool, because I’m not sure if that role ever existed before now. As a network psychologist, the situation with which I am often presented will materialize as a group of people in what I’ll call a node. This node has found itself in an environment rife with challenges from both internal and external forces. It is constrained by limited resources AND the existence of legacy technology coupled with ingrained processes. This node, regardless of the constraints it faces, must deliver an agreed-upon payload (or information) to another node in the network. And for that delivery to be of any value, it needs to be timely and in a useful form.

In the face of these challenges, it is my job to offer practical advice to overcome these constraints. To do this effectively (in my opinion), one must assume the role of a psychologist. See, this node is comprised of people, usually with an accompanying substructure of mechanical or automated systems. Or, if not comprised of people, it was built by people, so in this case the node is merely the mechanical and automated substructure that brokers the transfer of information. In either case, these people either have, or had, agendas. Sometimes those agendas are aligned with a unified goal, which has been articulated clearly and re-affirmed by the node’s leaders, but other times those agendas are personal or private (which doesn’t preclude them from being right for the node’s long-term success).

To elaborate, I am conceptualizing agendas as, ‘beliefs in action,’ and it can often be the case that there are hidden agendas running the show. It does not help to interpret these agendas as good or bad without careful examination. An honest evaluation may prove there are individual agendas that don’t align with the broader node’s stated goals. But, an honest evaluation might also uncover an agenda better suited to dealing with the constraints imposed by the current environment.

The Integration Process

Given the necessity to understand what drives human behavior, I started picking up books and articles filled with theories about motives and morals. Eventually my curiosity led me to an American Psychologist named Carl Rogers. Rogers introduces the world to an idea that behavioral changes can be achieved through a process of open and honest dialogue. And that seemed to me to be a lovely idea. It also gave me a new-found appreciation for my role as ‘therapist’.  Rogers’s idea implies that it is the relationship between the therapist and the client that constitutes the cure itself – as opposed to merely being a means to an end.

For our practical purposes, this can be interpreted to mean that creating pragmatic solutions to client problems first requires that the client recognize their challenges. Preaching to them will not suffice, because understanding requires dialogue.  At Kenway, we take this seriously.

Adopting this starting point allows one to generate a hypothesis: enterprise changes imposed on an organization’s employees unilaterally are more likely to fail than an initiative that seeks integration tactically through a dialectic process. Kenway consultants address the risk of failure from the outset by engaging the organization’s people to be a part of the change process. This cannot happen in a superficial or political way, because those efforts will be called out for what they are quickly (someone trying to advance a personal agenda), but with a genuine intent of creating solutions that are better for everyone now, and for future employees – people who are not yet a part of our organization.

We believe in this approach. So much so, that we continually use it as a primary tool to overcome our own constraints. Let me give you an example.  In 2014, our Founder and CEO, Brian King, sought help analyzing Kenway’s health as an organization, so Kenway participated in its first SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis. That exercise surfaced some hard truths. According to the analysis, Kenway employees raised a concern around the company’s long-term vision, or rather, the lack thereof. Brian didn’t deny this criticism as invalid, but he instead took the problem to the people he believed were best suited to address it, the people of Kenway.

This decision led to the creation of Kenway’s 20/20 Vision; a narrative that expresses shared intentionality amongst Kenway employees to produce a thriving company, guided by a set of guiding principles designed to treat people with the respect and to communicate honestly. It stuck. Three and a half years later we are well on our way to manifesting that vision. But we didn’t stop there. We revisit this approach anytime we intend to roll out transformational changes internally. Recently, we leveraged the dialectic process to generate our corporate strategies, grounded in our vision and guiding principles. We leveraged our collective wisdom to create a measurable and tactical plan to continue moving forward on our path to Kenway 20/20.

Open and honest evaluation and including stakeholders in the process is the tool that facilitates change.

If you are interested in overcoming your constraints or learning more about how Kenway guides enterprise transformation, please reach out to us at At Kenway, we enjoy being part of the problem and the cure.


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