Posts Tagged ‘consultants’

Top Ten In 2014……

Monday, December 29th, 2014

The results are in!

Our top 10 blog posts in 2014 were:

1.   Adaptive Strategy – A Way To Profits In The New Normal? looks at an alternative strategy that is built on the 3 R’s (Responsiveness, Resilience, Readiness) required in a changing environment.

2.   6 Ways A Business Owner Can Influence Culture looks at the ways a business owner can develop a culture which will help increase operating profits and build shareholder value.

3.   6 Challenges Fast Growing Companies Face discusses the 6 challenges of execution which, if not dealt with, could prove fatal.

4.   3 Times When You May Need To Change Your Strategy explains when a company should review its strategy and what makes that review and any subsequent actions necessary.

5.   The Difference Between A Strategy And A Plan talks about the difference between strategy and planning and why it’s important to understand what these terms mean.

6.   6 Things We Can All Learn From Family-Owned Business puts forward 6 simple things business owners can implement to achieve better long-term financial performances.

7.  Use These 3 Tips To Make Your Next Critical Decision offers 3 things Ram Charan, co-author of “Execution”, says business leaders do when faced with a critical decision.

8.  5 Traits Effective Business Owners Share outlines some of the traits effective entrepreneurs have in common that contribute to the growth of their businesses.

9.  3 Reasons Why Consulting Assignments Fail and 3 Reasons Why Consulting Assignments Fail – Part 2 addresses the most common reasons why things can go wrong between consultants and their clients.

10. Strategic Planning – 3 Things That Are Wrong With It outlines how business owners make 3 mistakes that could destroy their company when they confuse strategy and strategic planning.

If you missed any of them, here’s another opportunity!

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Be Known For The Things You Do – And For Those You Don’t

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

In last week’s post I spoke about one of the reasons I started ProfitPATH 12 years ago.let your business be known for the things you do - and for those you don't

I wanted to create a company that did things differently to the way in which management consultants traditionally behaved.

To act as a guide, I made a list of all the things consultants I’d hired over the years had done that had annoyed me – and said we’ll do the opposite.

While I’ve often spoken about the list, I’ve never actually publicized it.

Now I’ve decided to change that. As a start, I thought we’d replace some of the outdated content on our current web site with the list.

I had to dig through some really old files but I found the original piece of paper on which I’d written the list.

Here it is.

We exist to help business owners achieve the results they want for their companies.  To do that we will:

1.   Tell clients when:

•  We don’t know how to do what they need. We will focus on what we do best.
•  They can do something by themselves. We will not bill clients for unnecessary work.
•  We don’t understand their requirements – even if it makes us look silly. We will not risk missing their expectations.
•  They ask us to provide “silver bullet” solutions. The Lone Ranger may have those – but we don’t.
•  We can’t provide what they need at the price or to meet the schedule they want. We will not “agree now, modify later”.

2.  Adapt and use tools and processes that we know deliver results. We will not use clients as guinea pigs.

3.  Design our services so that we can see the results of our work. We will not write reports and walk away.

4.  Find ways to link our compensation to the results of our work. This will be hard but we will not give up.

5.  Allow clients to terminate a project at any time – without a financial penalty.

6.  Always offer references. Where possible from clients of a similar size, in a similar industry.

7.  Submit proposals which contain absolutely no surprises – because they include only things we’ve already discussed with the client.

After seeing the list again I’m proud of how we’ve run the business.

However, I’m wondering what, if anything I missed.

What do you think?

 

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy The Elusive ‘Silver Bullet’

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Jim Stewart is the founding Partner at ProfitPATH. He has been working with business owners for over 16 years to increase profits and improve the value of their companies. LinkedIn

7 Ways to Hold Consultants Accountable Now

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

7 ways to hold consultants accountable nowMy wife will tell you I like giving other people advice.

That’s probably why I’m a management consultant.

But even consultants have to take some of their own advice – and change in order to grow.

For example, we must find a process for linking our compensation to our results in a meaningful way.

There’s no doubt this is hard to do. But that’s no excuse for refusing to try.

However, at the risk of making a huge understatement, it’s going to take time.

So, while we’re waiting, what can a business owner do to make sure the consultants they hire actually deliver results?

1. I talked about our own solution to linking compensation to results last year in a post called “Let’s Hold Consultants Responsible For Results”. It isn’t perfect, but it’s better than the traditional model.

2. Four years ago I suggested how owners can keep control when they work with consultants.

3. Around the same time I highlighted 3 reasons why consulting engagements fail. It’s really not difficult to avoid making them.

4. Look for consultants who have had practical, “hands on” experience operating a company. They have 2 clear advantages over consultants who have spent their entire career in consulting roles, as I pointed out in 2011.

5. There are also clues that you can listen for. Consultants who are effective tend to say certain things.

Here are 2 more things that I thought about this week.

6. Yesterday I was talking to a business owner who had been referred by an existing client. He asked if I would go out and meet him. I agreed immediately because that’s the only way to determine if there’s any chemistry between us.

Some people might consider the idea of “chemistry” to be foolish. But I can tell you from experience, that without it, the risk of a project failing increases dramatically.

7. Ask what success will look like. It’s more than just a description of what the consultant’s going to do and the services they’ll deliver. It’s about knowing how, when and what they will do to help you get the results you want.

Success, they say, comes not from doing one big thing well, but from doing many little things well. Perhaps change is like that too.

We at ProfitPATH, and lots of other consultants, are chipping away, doing the necessary things that will bring change to our business.

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Jim StewartJim Stewart is the founding Partner at ProfitPATH. He has been working with business owners for over 16 years to increase profits and improve the value of their companies. LinkedIn

Let’s Hold Consultants Accountable For Results

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

For a Scotsman, true accountability occurs when results are linked to compensation.Let's hold consultants responsible for results

So I’ve tried various ways of linking our payment to our performance for most of the 12 years that I’ve owned ProfitPATH.

Why? In addition to the one above, there are 2 other reasons.

First, the people we work with are all taking risks. If we are to be credible, why should we be risk exempt?

Second, when I worked in corporations I hated paying consultants before I knew if their recommendations would deliver the results I wanted. When I started ProfitPATH I swore we wouldn’t do that.

It’s relatively easy to link our fees to our own performance.

We make sure the deliverables are clear and give the business owner what they want. We also tell our clients that they can stop an assignment at any time without any financial penalty. Just pay us our fees up to that point.

Linking payment to our clients’ results is a little more complicated.

Why?

Because of the number of things we have no direct control over. They include, for example, everything from the economy (be honest, did you guess the last crash would come when it did) to how they arrive at the profit line on their income statement.

But just because it’s complicated, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

And so we’ve experimented with a number of things. Like deferring a portion of our fees until the outcome of our recommendation becomes clear; or linking part of our payment to the achievement of a result.

There are other ways to hold consultants accountable.

A client can, for example, refuse to act as a reference; or communicate their disappointment as widely as possible; or withhold part, or all, of the fees. But these are all post completion options.

Other alternatives, that we recommend, are frequent, regular progress reviews. When coupled with the “terminate at any time with no penalty” policy I mentioned above, these reviews carry some weight.

Holding us accountable is part of my wider belief that the management consulting industry needs to take some of its own advice. It has to change its business model.

Now Clay Christensen, author of “The Innovators Dilemma” and one of the leading thinkers about innovation, has weighed in. A Harvard academic, and former consultant with the Boston Consulting Group, he believes that the consulting industry is ripe for disruption.

He’s joined by Ron Ashkenas, managing partner of a consulting firm and academic at Berkley, whose article first set me off on this rant.

I’ve been convinced for years that change needs to happen. It’s encouraging to see thinkers of their caliber saying similar things.

 

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy Why You Need A Consultant With Hands-On Experience

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3 Reasons Growth Slows In Good Companies

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

It caught my attention immediately.Periodic slow-downs in growth are inevitable, even in solid companies

A blog post about why successful companies stop growing. A topic I was tempted, only last week, to call an obsession.

While the examples Ron Ashkenas uses are all large corporations, it really doesn’t matter.

The points he makes apply equally well to business owners and family businesses.

Ashkenas argues that periodic slow-downs in growth are inevitable – even for solid companies. That doesn’t mean that business owners and their management teams can’t do anything to slow the decline or to reverse it quickly.

First, however, they have to understand the 3 forces that Ashkenas says always slow down high-flying companies. Here they are.

1.  The Law of Large Numbers

When revenues are $5 million, targeting annual growth of 20% means adding $1 million to the top line. When they’re $50 million, chasing 20% growth means adding $10 million in sales in 12 months.

It takes significantly more resources to support $10 million in new sales than it does to add $1 million. And some of them, e.g. people with the skills and experience required, can’t always be found quickly and easily.

Then there’s the size and growth rate of the market. If it’s $100 million and growing quickly, adding $1 million in sales means taking, at most, 1% more market share. However, adding $10 million in a mature or declining market means getting 10% more market share – and that probably means taking it away from competitors.

2.  Market Maturity

When a market turns hot, competitors multiply like mosquitos. That limits the potential for price increases, which are a relatively easy way to increase revenues.

Some companies build stronger brand loyalty than others, slowing the ability of the weaker competitors to grow. Some products become commoditized, price becomes king and margins become thin, affecting bottom line growth.

Eventually markets become saturated and the bigger, stronger players either gobble up the weaker ones or force them out.

3.  Psychological Self-Protection

Ashkenas describes this as pressure to maintain the base business and unwillingness to risk it with innovative new products.

In the companies we’ve worked with, it often appears in a different form (and perhaps deserves a different name). As these companies grow, the management team spends more and more time focusing on meeting the increasing demand while maintaining quality. This is often caused by weak processes, lack of discipline and lack of accountability.

In both cases, however, management is the cause of the declining growth.

No company grows forever without hitting some bumps along the way. The challenge for the business owner is to recognize what’s really going on and to deal with it.

Sometimes it takes an external, third party to be able to do that.

You can read Ron Ashkenas’ full post here.

 

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy Why Would Anyone Hire A Management Consultant? and Why Would Anyone Hire A Management Consultant? – Part 2.

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The Elusive ‘Silver Bullet’

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

Take a good, hard look at the attached picture.'Silver bullet' quick-fixes to complex business problems don't exist.

Why?

Because it’s probably the only time in your life you’re actually going to see a silver bullet.

Why should you care, why is it important?

Because a ‘silver bullet’ is a term used to describe a solution to a complex business problem; which can be implemented quickly, with very little cost or effort; and which will deliver the desired results, immediately, at the first attempt.

How often have you seen one of those? Have you ever actually seen one?

I haven’t. In fact I believe silver bullets simply don’t exist.

Yet some of the business owners we meet expect us to be able to produce them. And some consultants are foolish enough to let their clients believe that they can produce them. Needless to say, we’re not amongst them.

The need for a silver bullet often arises when a management team has been unable or unwilling to solve a fundamental problem with the way in which their company has always made money.

The management team hasn’t suddenly become incompetent – but they have become ineffective.

They have actively addressed the situation but have typically only tackled the symptoms. For example:

• Sales drop so they implement sales force improvement and lead generation programs – without understanding that the products or services they’ve been selling successfully for the last 30 years are being replaced by a new technology.
• They acquire a new technology and sell and support it using the same people and processes they used with the old one – because the people have been loyal and the processes have always worked.

As a result, the first ‘solution’ they try doesn’t work so they try another, then another – wasting money and, more importantly, time. Nothing works and the slide continues.

By the time the fundamental problem is recognized, the level of frustration being experienced by the owner and management team may, by itself, be driving the desire for a ‘quick fix’.

Or sales may be down to a point at which layoffs and cutbacks have started because cash is tight.

Either way, the pressure is on.

So, while the owner and management team may understand the far-reaching, intensive changes that are required, they can’t or won’t accept that those types of changes can’t be made quickly or easily. They expect, for example:

• Employees who have been doing the same thing, in the same way for many years to adapt to a completely new process with minimal training.
• To be able to acquire lists of qualified leads or prospects for new products and new markets.

Those are ‘silver bullets’ which go far beyond being elusive because they simply don’t exist.

 

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy Adaptive Strategy – A Way To Profits In The New Normal?

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Being Told What To Do Isn’t Good For Business

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

I do not believe that it’s a consultant’s place to tell a client what to do.Business owners must ultimately make their own decisions

I do believe that it’s our responsibility to give the business owners we work with the best possible advice we can.

And when I say give, I don’t mean that we just hand the advice to them by saying “Here’s what I think you should do….” or “Here’s what I would do…”

I believe one of the most effective ways to ‘provide’ advice is by using questions to help owners realize that there are, for example, possibilities they may not have considered; opportunities they may not have seen; and alternatives that may not be obvious.

Then we have to allow the owners to decide for themselves what to do with the ‘advice’.

Those of you who follow my posts know that I hold another belief to be very important. That is that rules are for the guidance of wise people and the blind obedience of fools.

So when, with respect to giving ‘advice’, do I break my own rule?

There are 3 situations which spring to mind.

First, if I see an owner, or his or her management team, about to do something that is likely to end in disaster.

I’ve accumulated almost as many grey hairs as I have experiences. I think it’s called ‘grey haired equity’. Some of mine has come from making brilliant moves but most of it has come from my own, or other people’s, mistakes and hard knocks.

It would be irresponsible to allow someone to repeat a move that is certain not to work.

Second, if a business owner asks directly for my opinion, or what I would do if I were in their shoes.

Even then I always ask “Are you sure you want my input?” before volunteering it. That’s because the owners we work with often already know what has to be done but don’t want to do it. So they’re hoping I’ll tell them to do something else, something that will, for example, not hurt people.

The third and final situation occurs when I lose my concentration and forget my own rule.

That happens most often when we’re facilitating – for example either a strategy development or business planning meeting. Particularly toward the end of the day when we’ve been juggling process, timing, making sure everyone is engaged and that no input is overlooked.

To avoid the third situation we have to be well prepared for every encounter with a client.

We have to think carefully about the objective, format and content of each interaction or activity we do with, or on behalf of, the companies we work with. That takes time.

I believe it’s time well spent because the alternative is that the owners we work with become used to us telling them what to do. That’s a form of dependency.

And we don’t do dependency. But that’s a topic for another post…

 

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy Why You Need A Consultant With Hands-On Experience

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Ask 5 Questions To Find Out What Customers Want To Pay

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

I’m a Scotsman and happy to admit that I fit the “cost-conscious” stereotype that sticks to people from the country of my birth. In fact my friends call me “the canny Scotsman”.

While I’d hardly say that pricing strategy is my favourite part of what we do, I keep an eye open for anything that will give us – and our clients – an edge in that area.

That’s why a blog post about how to find out what customers will pay caught my eye.

The author, Rafi Mohammed, is a pricing consultant and he says that it’s as simple as asking your customers. My first reaction was that they won’t tell the truth. Human nature being what it is, it would be only natural for them to give a “low ball” answer.

But, as with so many things in life, it turns out that it’s not so much what you ask, it’s how you ask it.

Rafi suggests that, rather than ask the question directly, say that you’re carrying out a customer satisfaction survey. Tell your customers that you’re trying to understand what they like about your product or service so that you can serve them better in the future.

Then include these 5 questions in a series that probes general customer satisfaction.

1. “What competitive products did you consider buying?” If the answer is “none” then the customer is not price sensitive and you may have room to increase price. I think that, at worst, the answer will tell you who else your customers are looking at – a valuable piece of intelligence in itself. But, in this economic climate, I don’t think there are many companies that don’t consider alternatives.

2. “What do you think of our prices – are they too high or too low?” The logic is that some customers will clam up when asked this question – but that others will give a lengthy answer. Listen to the second group carefully, without probing any further, and then move on.

3. “What other features would you like added to the product/service?” I really like this question. The information you gather can be used to offer different versions of your service e.g. Silver, Gold and Platinum. It will also tell you what your customers would be willing to pay a premium for – fuel for the development of your next version of the product or service.

4. “What do you like and what don’t you like about our pricing strategy?” I like open ended questions like this. Everyone can find something to say, so the question gets people talking. And lays the groundwork for more probing.

5. “Are there other ways you would like – or even prefer – to buy our products?” This is the kind of question that – 9 times out of 10 – will produce an unsurprising answer. But that lone surprising answer, when it does come, could shake your current assumptions to their core.

If you want to read more, the blog post is called How to Find Out What Customers Will Pay.

By the way I’m not at all bothered being lumped into the Scottish stereotype. In fact I think being called “canny” – a term we Scotsman invented – is a compliment. The Pocket Oxford Dictionary defines it as “shrewd and cautious; worldly-wise; thrifty.” How can that be bad?

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy Prices – 6 Reasons To Keep Them Up.

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Things Really Good Consultants Say

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

I am so excited!

There’s an absolutely fabulous article on the Inc. magazine web site. Okay, everything they publish is good. But this article is way up there.

The point the author makes is that consultants who get results and deliver a great service say certain things while they are pitching for business. Business owners who listen for them can dramatically reduce their risk when selecting or hiring a consultant.

Why am I excited? Because we say these things all the time – we really do!

Here are my favourites.

1.    “I don’t know.” Why would you say anything else? The client is going to figure out that  you don’t know what you’re talking about sooner or later.

And we’re not in business to learn at a client’s expense.

Consultants should only offer services in areas with which they’re intimately familiar (no I won’t use the “expert” word, I dislike it intensely). That’s because they’ve spent a long time acquiring skill and experience in the topic. And they’re still learning and staying up to date in the field.

Our field was originally strategy development and execution. To that we’ve recently added succession planning

2.    “You can do that on your own.” I’m going to meet a client later today and tell him just that. Why? Because he has the expertise to complete some of the project steps in house.

I appreciate it when the people and companies I deal with try to save me money. Why wouldn’t our clients feel the same? And the time that we save by taking this approach we spend looking for things that truly only we can do.

It’s also our policy to bill out at the rate of the person who does the work. So if we use support staff to complete a task, we bill it at their rate, not mine.

Yes I’m a Scotsman but I like to live up to my name as the “canny Scotsman”.

3.    “I still don’t understand the requirements.” I’ll risk appearing slow to understand at the front end of a project to avoid risking missed expectations at the back end.

Despite the number of years I’ve been in business it never ceases to amaze me how quickly and easily misunderstandings occur. One bad assumption about what was meant can lead to great frustration – and damage to our reputation.

So, if there’s any room for misinterpretation it’s better to ask a clarifying question.

4.    “We’ll want to come back later to see how things turned out.” The challenge for our profession is that the consulting assignment could be finishing just as the real work is starting.

Call me nosey but, while some consultants will walk away at the end of the project, I want to know if the work we did produced results. That’s as important for us as it is for our clients.

If we’re not getting results we won’t be in business long. And I’d like a lot of warning and an opportunity to do something about it before that happens.

We offer review meetings as an option for our strategy development and strategy execution services. Even if the client opts not to use us to structure and facilitate those meetings I’ll often ask if I can sit in for part of one and listen.

The article which caused my state of advanced excitement is called “8 Things Great Consultants Say” and it’s written by Jeff Haden.

I think he’s really hit on 8, if not the 8, differentiating factors of really effective consultants.

So what do you think? Want to share some experiences?

If you enjoyed this post you’ll like Why You Need A Consultant With Hands-On Experience

Click here and automatically receive our latest blog posts

Things Really Good Consultants Say

I am so excited!

There’s an absolutely fabulous article on the Inc. magazine web site. Okay, everything they publish is good. But this article is way up there.

The point the author makes is that consultants who get results and deliver a great service say certain things while they are pitching for business. Business owners who listen for them can dramatically reduce their risk when selecting or hiring a consultant.

Why am I excited? Because we say these things all the time – we really do!

Here are my favourites.

1.    “I don’t know.” Why would you say anything else? The client is going to figure out that you don’t know what you’re talking about sooner or later.

And we’re not in business to learn at a client’s expense.

Consultants should only offer services in areas with which they’re intimately familiar (no I won’t use the “expert” word, I dislike it intensely). That’s because they’ve spent a long time acquiring skill and experience in the topic. And they’re still learning and staying up to date in the field.

Our field was originally strategy development and execution. To that we’ve recently added succession planning

2.    “You can do that on your own.” I’m going to meet a client later today and tell him just that. Why? Because he has the expertise to complete some of the project steps in house.

I appreciate it when the people and companies I deal with try to save me money. Why wouldn’t our clients feel the same? And the time that we save by taking this approach we spend looking for things that truly only we can do.

It’s also our policy to bill out at the rate of the person who does the work. So if we use support staff to complete a task, we bill it at their rate, not mine.

Yes I’m a Scotsman but I like to live up to my name as the “canny Scotsman”.

3.    “I still don’t understand the requirements.” I’ll risk appearing slow to understand at the front end of a project to avoid risking missed expectations at the back end.

Despite the number of years I’ve been in business it never ceases to amaze me how quickly and easily misunderstandings occur. One bad assumption about what was meant can lead to great frustration – and damage to our reputation.

So, if there’s any room for misinterpretation it’s better to ask a clarifying question.

4.    “We’ll want to come back later to see how things turned out.” The challenge for our profession is that the consulting assignment could be finishing just as the real work is starting.

Call me nosey but, while some consultants will walk away at the end of the project, I want to know if the work we did produced results. That’s as important for us as it is for our clients.

If we’re not getting results we won’t be in business long. And I’d like a lot of warning and an opportunity to do something about it before that happens.

We offer review meetings as an option for our strategy development and strategy execution services. Even if the client opts not to use us to structure and facilitate those meetings I’ll often ask if I can sit in for part of one and listen.

The article which caused my state of advanced excitement is called “8 Things Great Consultants Say” and it’s written by Jeff Haden.

I think he’s really hit on 8 (if not the 8) differentiating factors of really effective consultants.

So what do you think? Want to share some experiences?

Strategic Music

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

There are many, many different kinds of music – e.g. rock, country and western just like there are many, many different sorts of companies – e.g. software companies, manufacturers etc.

And I’ll bet that everyone can think of at least one favourite tune.

So what has a favourite tune got to do with a business?
Bear with me for a moment and I’ll tell you.

Let’s go back to music first. I’ll bet my favourite tunes won’t be the same as yours. Mine might be classical (or bagpipes) yours might be heavy metal or hard rock. So they won’t sound the same.

But the funny thing is, although they don’t sound the same they will have some things in common.

Such as what you might ask?

Well, with a few exceptions, they probably feature more than one musical instrument. Perhaps there’s someone singing, in fact there may be backup singers as well.

Our favourite tunes will also have a musical score and – where required – lyrics for the vocalists.

The score is a great thing. It not only tells the musician which instrument to play – and when – it also tells them how the instrument must be played. Pretty detailed action plan wouldn’t you say.

Lyrics are also essential for anything other than a pure instrumental. They tell the vocalists – lead and backup – what to sing and how to emphasize the words.

OK so where am I going with this?

Well, I was listening to one of my favourite tunes the other day and a few things occurred to me.

Although each piece of music is different, like companies in different industries, they do have things in common.

The instruments – guitar, drums, key board – are like the different parts of a company – sales, operations, finance. They can play by themselves but when they work together the result can be amazing.

The score is like the strategy – it determines how the band/orchestra will get to the final result. It tells every instrument/musician how to work together while giving them a plan in the form of the notes and chords to be played.

In the better bands, the individual members have input to the score. Sometimes the situation allows them to improvise (you could say the plan is flexible). In some situations improvisation – and even innovation – is required. Jazz springs to mind.

But no individual instrument or musician has a role (departmental plan) that is more important than the score (business strategy). Think of an orchestra for a moment. The musicians in each section – e.g. strings, wind and percussion – see their own part in the piece. But only the conductor has the full score.

And that brings me to my last couple of points.

Every band has a leader – lead guitarist, lead singer, band major – who keeps the focus on the score or lyrics. Rather like the role of the CEO or business owner. He or she doesn’t have to know how to play all of the instruments; the specialists are there for that.

Some bands or orchestras become more popular than others. And, while individual players/musicians may come and go, some bands perform for a long time – years, decades or longer. Innovating and working with new material but maintaining superior quality of output. Why – because the culture, amongst other things, fosters that type of environment.

Finally, the public – you and I – doesn’t pay for the score. We pay for the result – the sound, the music, how it makes us feel.

And that’s an important perspective (particularly for consultants). No one pays for the strategy, they pay for the results – and how the results make them feel.

So, what kind of music are you going to make in 2012?

If you enjoyed this you will also enjoy Design Thinking and Strategy Development.

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