Consulting can mean many things to many people. To Straight Ahead Management, as the name suggests, the role of consultant is direct. Dr. Tompkins has an uncanny ability to size up a situation – sometimes in less than an hour – then quickly move to, “Here’s what we’re going to do…” He does not sell a program, a process, or an unnecessary lingering relationship. He offers practical solutions to management as they relate to interpersonal as well as structural glitches.
Tompkins uses a very similar approach in his psychology practice. He sees himself as a detective, cut out of the same cloth (pardon the pun) of Detective Lt. Columbo…”Just one more thing…” He attempts to uncover the root cause or causes of distress, be it personal or organizational, then lay out a road map to the solution.
Can he solve all problems? No, Tompkins says, but he will either solve it or clarify the futility of it. Some organizational problems have no solution. As Management by Objectives great, the late George Odiorne opined, “If you pit a good person against a bad system, the system wins every time.”
Here’s how it works: the client calls in Straight Ahead Management for an initial interview. Tompkins, who usually works alone, meets with the decision makers, not the screeners, to get a feeling for the nature of the problem or problems, and what actions have already been carried out in an attempt to resolve them. Next, he prepares a proposal, budget and work plan, usually in the two to four-page range, and submits it. If approved, the work begins. Intervention is usually a combination of coaching, counseling, providing feedback, group facilitating, conflict resolution, and in some cases training or lecturing. Interventions vary from one-half to ten days. If interviews are required, only the bare minimum are used, and only with those directly affected by, or contributing to the problem.
He is open to team building exercises, but only if not a sting operation—i.e. all members want to improve the way they work together, not if the purpose is to roast one or more of the dysfunctional players. Tompkins’ avoids using jargon, but does use the language of the organization.
A final report is rarely provided, but oral and written debriefings are part of the process. Straight Ahead Management’s problem-centered approach has been successful in serving virtually all sectors of the economy, small, large, public, private, health care, academia, industry, and the media.
When did you start Straight Ahead Management?
July 1, 1981
What does a management consultant actually do?
As someone said, a management consultant can make love a 100 ways, but he doesn’t know any women. A consultant can be just about anything: confidant, spiritual advisor, coach, counselor, hired gun, or even surrogate manager. That is one reason a consultant must be ethical and careful. He or she can have enormous informal or “referent” power. In other words, if the bosses listen to him, he has power. As in all cases involving power it must be used wisely, judiciously, and for the good of the order, not bias, politics, favoritism, or to please someone.
Tompkins attempts to live by the above principles. He sees himself as a detective, a problem solver, and a healer. He provides rapier-like feedback, withholds no punches, and offers alternative solutions to problems, hopefully without prejudice.
What do you look for in clients?
Clients who honestly recognize they have a problem, need assistance to solve it, and to have the courage to implement sometimes uncomfortable recommendations. Clients who can accept criticism and respond to it.
What services do you provide?
Supervision and management development, lectures, seminars, brief investigations, coaching, counseling and group facilitation.
How do you analyze a business or individual?
By attempting to discover what the real nature of the business is, and are employee actions supporting or interfering with outcomes. For individuals, identify the specific role of that position, and determine how his or her daily actions contribute to and clarify that role.
What businesses do you serve?
Single proprietary, large companies, manufacturing, technology, education, health care, US military, state, local and federal government, not for profit.
What metrics do you use?
Primarily those devised in the consultant-client relationship: outputs, production figures, revenues, safety, quality control, grievances, turnover.
How do your services compare with a big consulting firm?
Client deals only with Principal Consultant. Low overhead. Relatively simple interventions. Client never gets nor purchases a “program.”
What kind of trainings do you provide?
Supervisory/management development, interpersonal communications, conflict resolution, dealing with difficult people, team building.
Will you travel?
Do you respond to RFPs?
Only brief ones.
Do you provide mentoring services?
How do you find clients?
Historically, word of mouth
What are your four greatest successes as a management consultant?
- Created a strategic plan for the California Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at UC Davis which has sustained the organization for 25 years.
- Assisted a Northern California environmental testing laboratory achieve its business growth goals leading to an eventual buy-out.
- Resolved management conflicts in a large Catholic hospital which were retarding growth and quality control.
- Named a Northern California winery and provided coaching and mentoring to its founder, sustaining it for 20 years and counting.
How long does a consultation take?
Usually one to ten days. Unless there are multiple issues, the plan is to assess, recommend, implement if necessary and leave. An automotive analogy: you want your car diagnosed, repaired for a reasonable cost, and returned to you as soon as possible – preferably without the mechanic.
Do you work alone?
Yes, unless special expertise is needed, requiring the retention of associates.
Do you use the principles related to S.W.O.T. (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats?
Yes if the client asks for a strategic plan, and feels such an analysis would be helpful. In Tompkins’ style, it can be done in less than a day.
He tends to eschew all things jargon, however, whatever the nomenclature, these are usually key items to analyze when management consulting. Along with that, he does not teach people a new vocabulary – he goes with their language. It’s hard enough to communicate as it is without teaching people new words and phrases
What are your fees for consulting?
The fees vary on the job and work required, but are generally projected-based and tend to hover at $300 per hour with a discount of $2000 per day.
How do you assess a company?
Interview the client and attempt to ascertain the nature of the problem and the desired result. In the early years I would interview just about everyone involved. Later I learned that you get saturated with information, and everything sounds alike, especially if it is negative. No I interview key players. Having said that, naysayers are always included in the mix for balance.
Do you do free consultations?
I will happily listen to a potential clients’ issues and make a few initial recommendations, but I have been known to solve problems with one phone call, and I must be paid for that advice.
Do you teach any classes? Where can I join one?
I taught for many years as an adjunct professor at community colleges and UC Davis Extension, in the field of management and interpersonal communications. I have not yet taught psychology, but am exploring opportunities to do so.
I taught all things management, although one of my longtime clients says everything I teach ends up being “Getting Along With Difficult People.”
If a need arises and there is enough student interest, I would happily teach again.
Are there any people you don’t like working with?
As a consultant, I dislike working with clients whose egos are so fragile they cannot accept constructive feedback. Likewise, I don’t care for managers who are reluctant to make the hard decisions. As a therapist, I do not like working with Axis II patients, but then, who does?
Do you host podcasts or YouTube training sessions?
Not yet, but they are on their way…
- California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory
- California Cities:
- Beverly Hills, Chico, Davis, Fairfield, Los Angeles, Mountain View, Napa, Sacramento, Santa Clarita, Sunnyvale, Walnut Creek
- California Congress of Ex-Offenders
- California Counties:
- Monterey, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Joaquin, Solano, Yolo
- California National Primate Center
- California Public Employees Retirement System
- California State Departments:
- Consumer Affairs, Employment Development, Energy, Finance, Franchise Tax Board, Health, Justice, Library, Water Resources
- California Teachers Association
- County Supervisors Association of California
- Digital Equipment Company
- El Dorado Irrigation District
- Herguth Laboratories
- Indian Health Services
- Job Corps
- Los Rios Community College District
- Lucky Stores
- Lyon Realty
- Mercantile Bank
- NewPoint Group Management Consultants
- Pacific Coast Farm Credit Services
- Planned Parenthood
- Pokka USA, Inc.
- Police Officers Standards and Training
- Price Waterhouse
- Rainbow Babies and Childrens Hospital
- Robert Mondavi Winery
- Sacramento Municipal Utility District
- St. Joseph’s Hospital, Stockton
- Safe Streets
- San Joaquin General Hospital
- Systems Integrators, Inc.
- Town of Danville, CA
- Tri-Valley Growers
- UC Davis Health System
- University of California, Davis
- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
- U.S. Department of Agriculture
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
- Woodland Police Department
- Yolo County Sheriffs Office