Symptom-based healthcare vs. Holistic care
Have you ever watched a commercial for a pharmaceutical drug? Doesn’t it usually seem like the medicine is marginally improving one symptom, but has 100 side effects? “May cause blurry vision, seizures, swelling of throat and eyeballs, depression, hallucinations”, etc. etc.
It often seems like death is one of the potential side effects.
In fact, according to this study, adverse drug reactions kill 106,000 people a year in the United States alone, with another 2.2 million hospital patients suffering adverse drug reactions annually.
This is the problem with symptom-based solutions. They are quite rudimentary in their approach and neglect the fact that the human organism is an unfathomably complex and highly organized system that cannot be healed from chronic diseases by trying to suppress or address one or two symptoms. In fact, the same or similar symptoms presenting in two patients could be due to radically different causes, as is the case with asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Each of these conditions has to be addressed differently based on the varying causes, and not merely by trying to suppress the most outstanding symptoms.
The clear shortcomings of allopathic medicine have led to a rise in holistic medical practices, also known as Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). The term ‘CAM’ encompasses a wide range of therapies that include but are not limited to acupuncture, ayurveda, deep-breathing exercises, dietary interventions, meditation, physical yoga, relaxation techniques, tai-chi and more. You can find a more exhaustive list here.
The intelligence of techniques like this lies in the fact that they recognize that the human system is not a stupid machine made of disparate parts that break down randomly. Instead, they view the human organism as a cohesive biological, psychological, and spiritual whole, which is liable to fall out of balance now and then due to stress and imbalances that can be corrected. Instead of trying to fix one or two symptoms, these techniques aim to restore overall balance and set up the organism to thrive, not merely survive.
At this point you may be wondering, “Varun, you’re not a doctor, what does this have to do with anything??”
Management consulting firms “diagnose” and “treat” other businesses that are facing problems. Consultants are paid to identify problems in a business and prescribe a solution to the leadership team to remedy the issue. Most consulting firms operate by business function. That is, they have organized their consulting operations around the various functions that a business has to perform, such as marketing, finance, strategy, etc. These consultants are brought in to fix a very specific problem in a very specific part of a business. This may help businesses to some extent, but I personally believe it is too “symptomatic” of an approach, and is not delivering optimal value.
Businesses, like humans, are not a bunch of disparate parts operating independently of one another. They are composed of a series of highly complex and intricate systems that are all operating in tandem with one another and with the external environment, constantly in flux. A problem in one area of a business may merely be a symptom of a root cause that lies in a totally different area of the business. Like people, businesses have fairly predictable life-cycles that each bring about a common set of normal problems and abnormal problems that both need to be dealt with. These problems are not limited to particular business functions. Instead they are holistic and could involve multiple areas of a business at any given time.
In the Harvard Business Review article, “The Five Stages of Business Growth”, the authors state that businesses “experience common problems arising at similar stages in their development.” They analyze and explain the various stages of organizational growth which I will try to summarize below:
Figure 1: Business Lifecycle stages
At each stage in the lifecycle, the business has different demands and different problems that need to be addressed, as seen above. These issues are usually multi-faceted and multi-causal.
It doesn’t make sense to try to fix an issue exclusively through marketing when the cause of that issue might be in operations or in leadership’s approach to management. I believe that it makes much more sense to take a holistic view of management consulting, honoring the integrated nature of a business and addressing problems based on the unique stage that the business finds itself in when seeking help.
This is how we are organizing our consulting teams at Konsälidön. Instead of offering solutions exclusively by business function, we will be organized around business lifecycle stage (as seen in Figure 2). Based on what stage a business is in and what issues it is facing, we will take a 360 degree view of the the situation and create a tailored solution for the client that will address all underlying concerns and issues. We will not stop at delivering a band-aid marketing solution if we feel that a company’s real problems lie in operations. We will bring in our operations teams to address the root cause.
Figure 2: Lifecycle stage-based consulting solutions from Konsälidön.
Personally, I believe that this change in how consulting solutions are delivered is badly needed. By organizing solutions around lifecycle instead of business function, we are implicitly acknowledging the fact that most business problems are multi-faceted. Instead of charging clients for a marketing solution, and then up-selling them on an expensive operations engagement to address the underlying cause, we hope to substantially drive down the cost to the client by planning for the need for multiple teams and solutions ahead of time, and basing charge-out rates on overall business goals, rather than functional goals. The decentralized and distributed nature of our firm allows us the lean cost-structure and flexibility to be able to do this for our clients.
What do you guys think? Does it make more sense to consult by business function or by lifecycle? What has been your experience? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below!