Sherlock Holmes: From an OCM Perspective

Sherlock Holmes: From an OCM Perspective

Having recently read the book, “Mastermind: How to Think like Sherlock Holmes” by Maria Konnikova, I quickly realized why I am so fascinated with anything that is based on the Arthur Conan Doyle books (as many of us are!) It is obvious that Sherlock’s methodical approach is actually quite similar to what West Monroe does when we have to assess a client, especially from a change perspective. Just how does that work, you ask?

Elementary, my dear Watson.

L   We listen

O  We observe

G  We glean

I   We interpret

C  We communicate


It’s the right blend of right-brain and left-brain thinking. It goes a long way in understanding why so many artists make excellent programmers. First, you use your creative side to understand your stakeholders by listening and observing. That is why it’s ideal to conduct in-person interviews, preferably one on one. If you watch or read any Sherlock stories, you notice he stands aside and scopes out the crime scene, and has conversations with individuals rather than with a group. Luckily, West Monroe does not normally deal with murder weapons, but looking at the big picture, as well as the issue at hand, can provide additional insight into a business challenge. So, we ask tactical questions that are relevant to the change, but we also look strategically, to find out what else is happening at the client site, the culture, and the organizational history. And, what about motive or motivation…is there a hidden agenda?

In those interviews, you should be able to pick up on hesitation or anxiety that might be indicative of resistance to change based on the questions asked. Do you notice different body language responses? Do you try and take their perspective into consideration? What’s in it for me? Who stands to gain or lose? Have you noticed that Sherlock asks many open-ended questions? Or that he asks the same question in several different ways? Are our suspects merely stakeholders? Should we look beyond the obvious?

Once West Monroe has had a chance to really think about all the information we have accumulated, we start to digest the data and glean nuggets that then require us to interpret what they mean in the context of the change, the culture at hand, and all other possible impacts that would influence how we manage forward. This is our analytical side kicking in. We apply reasoning to what may not always seem rational, but once we understand why, we can address the how. That is where our methodology provides the objectivity and process to help set the context for the people side of the equation.

Sherlock can deduce the size of a person by looking at the trajectory of a bullet in the victim. This indicates that the number of suspects can be reduced…similarly, not all organizational change impacts our stakeholders in the same way.

Although Sherlock is almost always right in his deductions, there is always room to improve how to interpret information, through learning by experience, honing our skills of objectivity, and opening ourselves up to a more emotional (aka human) view on change impacts. And, we still need to work with others to discuss and consider different perspectives.

As readers, we tend to see Sherlock as the cold analytical type, with Watson as his foil, but if you think about what motivates him, Sherlock is trying to find a logical conclusion to an illogical situation and he becomes emotionally invested. We do the same with Organizational Change Management (OCM). What people do is not always, or even usually, logical when it becomes personal. In the end, Sherlock and all of us, just want to help people by solving their problems.

We have all had experiences with friends and family where you believe you honestly know how they will react to a given situation, and then, bam, you are really surprised. Why? Because you were not necessarily in tune with their interpretation of the scenario. For example, your gift of a hot fudge sundae kit is not well received because it turns out you are the one who loves hot fudge sundaes. You assumed the recipient would feel the same way. We all tend to make assumptions. On the plus side, you might have some potential to re-gift?

Finally and the most critical, we communicate. And, that can be the most difficult. Just think about how Sherlock confronts the guilty party by objectively explaining his discovery, the process, and ultimately, his conclusion. Very much like our OCM assessment and findings. Although we have the advantage of not worrying about our lives when presenting to the client. But, there have been a few scary moments, when the client does not want to hear what we’re saying!

One can become more predictive about how people will react to change by applying this approach and understanding the drivers objectively, and still not ignore how people feel.  As practitioners, we may not remember all the details like Sherlock, but we, collectively, have all the requisite skills within West Monroe.

So, when folks tell you that OCM is touchy-feely, just remember that we always use LOGIC. We have centuries of experience and many well-known practitioners. I can already think of some additional Sherlock Holmes novels, like The Case of the Resistant Client, or The Case of the Uncommunicator, and finally, The Case of the Sleepless Change Agent! Riveting!

Phone: 312-602-4000
222 W. Adams
Chicago, IL 60606
Show Buttons
Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share on LinkedIn
Hide Buttons