Harold Schroeder has never been the rigid sort who moves in a straight line or stays in one place. His varied career path has involved everything from the reunification of Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall, to the shaping of Canada’s transformation-consulting sector, to the development of the Art and Science of Transformation approach to understanding and solving business issues. This approach is now the central pillar of Schroeder & Schroeder Inc., the project-management and consulting firm Schroeder founded after many years spent with other global consulting businesses. Below, he details how his experiences led him to create the innovative procedure.
Advantage: First, tell us what motivated you to earn four academic degrees. What did the experience bring you?
Harold Schroeder: I originally wanted to enter the medical field, which is why I took an undergraduate degree in biology. But generally speaking, I enjoy learning things. If I could, I’d know everything about everything. That’s probably why my subsequent degrees are in such diverse areas.
But I think my real-life experience has taught me more and has helped me refine my business practices. When first employed by Ernst & Whinney—now KPMG, following two mergers—I was in the health-care consulting sector. It was crucial to learn and practice sound business principles but also to consider other types of value; you can’t just take a bottom-line approach to health care. I learned the importance of balancing stakeholder interests and developing solutions that everyone can buy into and run with, rather than just coming up with the perfect technical answer.
KPMG eventually sent you to Frankfurt, Germany, around the time of the Berlin Wall’s fall. What was that political atmosphere like from a business standpoint?
When I was first in Germany [from 1991 to 1994], it was just my manager and me implementing a new corporate-management and consulting-practice area. We started with two people and built this up to a team of 16. Many people in East Germany embraced what was happening and saw new opportunities that weren’t previously available to them; others missed the safety net of the former Communist world, where everyone had been guaranteed a job. This new world was more stressful and demanding; they had more choices but were also held more accountable. There was a huge learning curve, a huge paradigm shift, but generally high levels of willingness to take advantage of the new opportunities as well as a capability to learn quickly.
Works as a consultant at Ernst & Whinney (now KPMG), taking on more than 100 assignments, including many for senior executives and management
Becomes a principal at KPMG and moves to Germany shortly after the collapse of the Berlin Wall; plays a key role in corporate-management projects contributing to the reunification of East and West Germany
Launches and implements general management-consulting services in Ontario for Towers Perrin (now Towers Watson)
Handles business development, strategic-consulting services, and project management at Ernst & Young and the Tramore Group, Inc.; influences the development of transformation consulting in the Canadian management-consulting industry
Founds and serves as president and CEO of Schroeder & Schroeder, a management-consulting firm specializing in the Art and Science of Transformation
Your company helps organizations achieve their performance goals through the trademarked Art and Science of Transformation approach. Can you describe this process?
When I started Schroeder & Schroeder, our focus was on management consulting, addressing organizational issues and developing the specific design or solution needed to address the business objective.
Over the years, clients had been telling us that although we had great solutions, things often fell off the rails during implementation. We discovered that what is often lacking in organizations is both the art and science of transformation management. Each transformation initiative requires its own unique mix of art and science, and by addressing this in our projects, Schroeder & Schroeder can reduce the risk, increase the benefits, and minimize wasted time. Most companies can’t wait to get someone trained up in this approach. They need to do the project now. They need the skill sets now. We have the people, approaches, and methodologies to make all that happen.
So basically you turned this skill into a marketable good?
That’s why we coined the phrase the Art and Science of Transformation—the science being all the tools, methodologies, and techniques needed in a transformation project and the art being political acumen and people acumen. In essence, the approach involves really taking ownership of the final business results as opposed to just checking the boxes on a project work plan. No matter which area you look at in a company, there is no picket fence around the required subject matter. Smaller consulting firms often specialize in a specific industry sector or subject matter/functional area, but our approach is more holistic and comprehensive.
How has social media tested your Art and Science of Transformation methodology?
The big question for me is whether authentic business relationships can be developed using social media. Trust is the cornerstone of any relationship, including business relationships, but this is much harder to build and sustain without face-to-face contact. Social media can’t really replace this, but [the medium] is here to stay. Firms need to understand how to prepare their organizations for an effective social media strategy, regardless of the specific sites or online tools they decide to use. But they also need to retain a focus on developing strong relationships both online and offline with other organizations, clients, customers, and so on, since it is these that will generate benefits for the business. An Art and Science of Transformation approach is important not only in maximizing the benefits of social media participation but in helping firms to develop authentic business relationships.