Posts Tagged ‘experience’

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?

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The People Pipeline

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

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Of all the interesting and valuable things Tony Hsieh says about managing people in his book “Delivering Happiness” for me, one concept stood out.

That was “The Pipeline”.

Hsieh makes the point that, unlike many companies, Zappos doesn’t believe that (individual) people are an asset. They think of a pipeline of people with varying levels of skill and experience as the asset.

Here’s why I really like this approach.

It Solves 3 Fundamental Problems

First, traditional thinking is that people are a company’s greatest asset. But if an employee leaves, the company has lost an asset.

The second problem (which we see all the time) occurs as a company grows, an employee who was considered valuable, or even outstanding, at an earlier stage of the company’s life begins to disappoint and become a liability. It’s usually a result of the employee not developing or upgrading his or her skills as the company grows.

The third problem occurs when the company deals with the other 2 problems by bringing in someone from outside the company.  The new person may bring the right skills and have great experience – but they don’t fit the company culture.

The “People Pipeline” Solution

  • Bring almost all new hires in via entry level positions. This offers two benefits.
    • If they aren’t a fit for any reason the company faces the least expense and disruption by making another quick change.
    • Entry level positions will likely attract people with limited experience. The new employees are more likely to be open minded about adopting the company’s processes – and culture.
  • Provide a comprehensive training program and mentors for the new hires. Then offer a series of courses, either internally or at local colleges, which cover the skills the employees will need in order to progress in the company.
  • Make the route upwards quite clear.
    • Set expectations around when employees can expect to achieve each level.
    • Make completion of certain courses a pre-requisite for promotion.
    • It helps if a company is growing at the rate Zappos did (and is doing) – that generates lots of new positions in the org. chart. However, positions further up the organization will become available as people move on (natural attrition). At this point a business owner could argue that all of the investment in that person has been lost. That’s possibly true – but every company loses some employees (e.g. they move to another city, make a change in career).
    • By investing in training and offering a career path a company may keep those who would have drifted away for much longer.
  • With the pipeline there is always someone ready to fill the shoes of the people who do leave, who have been training for the opportunity and who know the culture.

A Couple of Points to Consider

When Hsieh arrived at Zappos he was an experienced, successful business manager. And he brought one or two key management team members from his previous company – most notably his CFP – with him. So at least some members of the management team knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses and that they could work together.

On the other hand, one of the original Zappos team, Fred, joined as a buyer and rose to become a senior executive.

The pipeline can only be used when a company reaches an appropriate size. A start-up doesn’t have the resources.

If you enjoyed this post you’ll like 10 Strategy Tips from Tony Hsieh.

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Why You Need A Consultant With Hands-On Experience

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

The word on the grapevine is that the “brand name” consulting companies are getting push back from their clients.

Why, because business owners want results not just recommendations. And the “brand name” companies may not be able to deliver.

One reason is that they use associates in their mid-twenties or early thirties, usually the recent products of MBA programs, to do the front line work. While they bring a ton of theory to a project they have absolutely no practical, operational experience.

1. Why is operational experience so important now?

It’s the difficult economic times – which, if you believe the pundits, are here to stay for much longer than in recent recessions. The pressure is on to not only get an acceptable return on every dollar spent/invested, but also to get it quickly.

But the nature of a consulting assignment – particularly strategy consulting – is that the consultant is long gone before the actual results of acting on the output from the assignment can be determined. If the output – e.g. recommended action, new systems or processes – doesn’t work the dollars spent/invested in fees will either fail to produce an acceptable return – or produce no return at all.

So unless some way can be found to keep the consultants around, or bring them back, when the actual results appear, there is no way to hold them accountable. This means that the most a client can do is minimize the risk of the new systems or recommendations failing.

2. There are at least 3 factors which affect the risk of failure.

The first is the analytical skills, knowledge of business models and process, logic and creativity the consultant applies to the situation. Even MBA’s in their mid-twenties or early thirties should have the first two.

Second is industry or subject matter knowledge. Consulting companies provide this by focusing on either one or two industries or business processes and developing repeatable “models” which they apply with future clients.

Finally there’s operational experience gained actually implementing similar recommendations or installing similar processes/systems while responsible and accountable for the results.

This kind of experience comes from holding a management/executive role in an operating company. The more senior the role, the greater the experience. Because there’s no substitute for the stomach churning, cold sweat inducing realization that the buck stops with you.

3. A consultant with operational experience offers a client 2 clear advantages.

One – she will use the lessons learned from her practical experience to reduce the risk of her recommendations failing in ways that a consultant who only has theoretical or subject matter knowledge cannot.

Two – she is used to being held accountable and will expect it from a client.

4. The consulting industry has to change too.

I believe that the industry, built on telling everyone else what to do, is going to have to change itself. Consultants – particularly strategy consultants – have to develop business models which enable them to:
• Put more people with operational experience in front of clients.
• Remain involved until the results of our advice become apparent.
• Link our fees to our performance.

We, and some others, are working on ways to do both of those things (call us if you want to know more). But many are not. It’s as if the industry that’s paid to show other companies how to adapt for the future is firmly in denial.

If you enjoyed this post you’ll want to read “How to Keep Control When You Work With Consultants” and “3 Reasons Why Consulting Assignments Fail“.

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