Countless CEO’s and leaders surround themselves with trusted advisors for counsel on a variety of business topics. Plunkett Research estimates $366 billion will have been spent in 2011 on global consulting, including HR, IT, strategy, operations management and business advisory services.
These billions are spent to generate new ideas, validate existing plans and provide strategic vision on solving problems and growing markets. Most consultants dream of the engagement that is purely focused on strategy, 100% of the time creatively brainstorming on ways to be more, do more and get more.
Whiteboards filled with plans of grandeur, detailed reports, heart-thumping counseling sessions with these hired experts are alluring, especially to an entrepreneur hungry to take their business to the next level. More revenue! Less costs! Decreases in human capital! Increases in productivity!
We have all seen the movie, hand-in-hand the strategist and business leader announce they have a better way. Bring in the team! With the plan baked, the leader announces to his company, “I have a new idea and you will be responsible for the outcomes.” The room is silent.
Why? A plan with little or no buy-in from the team sets off alarms. The people who do the work know that every time they have to implement something new there are great costs. Time. People. More time. Did anyone ask for input from the doers? Who is going to execute this new plan? Who is going to be accountable? It is probably not the consultant.
The first step to being a great strategic consultant is to build consensus within an organization. Identify the problem, interview, validate, analyze and then present recommendations. Buy-in is critical to achieve the best results. The most important person in every business is the person that actually does the work. It is easier to get those that don’t do the work to agree with your plan. What about the people who have to actually implement the program or new revolutionary way of doing business? Consideration and respect for the doer’s role is essential.
When entrepreneurs take on counsel for one or more advisors, the amount of work that can be created for an organization and the doers can be overwhelming. In fact, it can result in chaos, lost productivity, decreases in morale and lack of confidence in leadership. You see, talk is not cheap. Whiteboard ideas that go from chatter to “let’s do this” have a big cost to an organization.
Every time a consultant sells you on an idea, take the estimated “savings” and reduce by 75% and the estimated “costs” and double it. It is not the intent of a strategic adviser to mislead his or her client, it is simply a factor of unknowns and assumptions made in the planning.
Leaders need to be able to evaluate every idea, every strategy and every problem solving plan that comes from outside consultants with great care and consideration to those that do the work. Create consensus. Ask the team to identify the risks and potential rewards. Understand buy-in takes time and capital.
Business strategy consultants may be a very wise investment to spark innovation, challenge a new idea or share experiences to avoid pitfalls. Define accountability in execution. Too much time on strategy can actually be detrimental to any business. It is tactics that move the needle. Tactics are completed by doers. The “labor pool” gets the job done.
So, the next time a consultant sells you a “great idea”, remember talk is NOT cheap. Be cautious, measure your tactics and define your outcomes. Get buy in from your team before you “buy the plan” and know your costs, which are always far more than the just the consultant’s fee.
Jamie Glass, Outsourced CMO and President of Artful Thinkers, a strategic sales and marketing consulting company and Sales & Marketing Services Managing Director at CKS Advisors.