Plenty of companies take inordinate pride in being smarter than everyone else. They are perfectly happy with the strategies they have. They’re moving too fast to become better leaders. They’re doing just fine, thank you very much.
But with the economy on an upward swing, CEOs and businesses who stick with this do-it-yourself approach to growth are being outmaneuvered by competitors who are augmenting their every competitive advantage. Bringing in an outside consultant with a body of specialized knowledge can enhance strategic direction-setting and optimize the learning curve for senior management. A consultant can bolster the quality of a company’s strategy, develop key leaders’ capacity to deliver on the vision, and create ongoing accountability to focus on creating the end result.
Many young businesses are guilty of cobbling together haphazard strategies and ideas that seem good in the moment, but have no legs to run on. They simply don’t have the experience to distinguish between a good short-term idea and a strong long-term one. Because consultants have worked with many companies, they bring business acumen and best practices — along with a big dose of finesse and efficiency — to the table. In fact, companies bring consultants in for three main reasons:
1. To speed up business results.
Because of consultants’ expertise, they can shorten the process of “learning by doing” and increase the likelihood of success.
2. To develop the company’s capacity.
Consultants may be brought in on a project-by-project basis for their technical expertise or to develop critical “soft skills,” like leadership and management.
3. To make unpopular decisions.
This is one reason middle management tends to distrust consultants — they are often the ones who are brought in to do the restructuring, streamlining, and redefining of tasks that management teams don’t want to squander political capital on, or may not have the courage to do themselves.
It’s time to bring in a consultant whenever a company isn’t experiencing adequate growth. “Adequate” growth could mean three percent or 300 percent year-over-year, depending on the ambitions of the company’s senior leadership.
Stretch Your Growth
Companies I often see skimping on strategy development are at two different ends of the spectrum. They are often category leaders in languishing industries, who could be evolving and growing into other markets, but their mentality limits them terminally. Their tunnel vision inhibits their growth, as they continue to focus on what they’ve always done.
On the other end of the spectrum are young companies who are flying by the seat of their pants. They don’t feel they’re “big enough” for a strategy process yet. However, not having a dynamic strategic plan means a company is essentially rudderless — restricting its own short- and long-term growth. These companies have a lack of coordinated momentum, and they’re willing to try anything once. An outside consultant can help design a vision-driven strategic plan that gives the company direction and maximizes limited resources in achieving that goal.
Another danger when companies stay inside their own fenced-in borders is that they become confined within their comfort zones. To be certain, they feel like they’re stretching, but they’re gobsmacked when I show up and show them what a real stretch is. Of course, they’re both astonished and thrilled when they actually achieve it.
If a plan doesn’t really stretch the abilities of individuals in an organization, it’s not ambitious enough, and it won’t grow the company as a whole. A consultant can look at an organization’s capabilities with a fresh perspective and apply her expertise to ensure a plan is developed that is perfectly aligned with the company’s vision.
Of course, the greatest plans are worthless when they gather dust in a binder on a shelf. For most companies, everyday demands and pressures can push the implementation of their strategic plans to the back burner. This squanders the time and money spent developing the plan, and the opportunities lost through failure to implement a strategy can be staggering — especially if they’re realized by a competitor who is executing effectively. In addition to leading the development of a plan, an engaged consultant remains a part of the implementation process by developing leaders’ capacity to deliver results and holding everyone accountable.
Real Life, Real Results
One CEO brought me in to facilitate his company’s strategy-setting retreat. He was relatively new to the job, and the experience led to a few realizations for him. First, he was able to “get out of the weeds” and see his business with new clarity. Secondly, by not leading the session himself, he was able to contribute fully.
Most importantly, when he brought me into the company to lead oversight of the implementation process, we uncovered and developed previously overlooked leaders. Line managers took newfound responsibility for their part in realizing the CEO’s vision, and production levels that were a dream just a few months prior were shattered as profits blew through the roof.
Consult and Contribute on Every Level
When implementing a new strategic plan, it’s important to get everyone in the organization to support the process. Lower-level managers often distrust outside consultants because they think the consultants will ignore their input. They may even fear for their jobs.
Often, senior leaders are reluctant to get lower-level management involved in strategic planning because of an assumption that they won’t “get it.” In reality, lower-level management not only “gets it,” but they’re invaluable to the process. It’s essential to involve all levels of management in implementation discussions because it helps everyone understand and internalize the strategy, add their own knowledge to the process, and get fired up. When people are allowed to contribute, they feel valuable and appreciate being kept in the loop. From my own consulting experience, the result will be a quick leveling-up of the entire company, with significant growth in production and profitability.
It’s tempting to skimp on a robust and expert strategy development process and get consumed by urgent day-to-day operations. However, hiring an expert to lead the development and implementation of a strategic plan can accelerate growth, whether it is currently sluggish or already booming. A consultant challenges an organization to increase profits and make better use of company resources. A consultant with specialized knowledge can minimize the growing pains of implementing a compelling strategy. And only the companies that truly are smarter have the results to show for it — and a consultant can help them obtain those.
Michelle Randall is the President of Enriching Leadership International, a global management consultancy. Her new book is Cultural Profit: Vastly Accelerating Bottom Line Results For High Growth Global Companies. Sign up to receive Michelle’s monthly newsletter, Relentless Results, and subscribe to the Relentless Results podcast to transform bottom-line results for high-growth, global companies.
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