Posts Taged strategy

What Is It Exactly That You Do?

I have one of those jobs – Strategy Consultant. Even after following the advice of branding and messaging experts, what I do doesn’t seem to be crystal clear to the people I want to reach the most. Thankfully, I got some help recently from one of those very people. This potential client and I have talked several times – in person, on the phone and via email – but this interaction was like somebody flipped on the light in a dark room.

I sent this potential client a service offering I had just designed. I was proud of it and thought it was just the ticket for him and his organization. His response caught me off guard because, in our previous meetings, I thought I had done such a good job of explaining my value proposition. But his response made it obvious I had not.

In his response to my email, he told me that before he signed on the bottom line, he’d be interested in knowing what strategy I had in mind for his organization. Seems logical, right? I’m a strategy consultant so I should bring one with me into a consulting engagement. At that point, I knew I’d failed miserably in delivering the message.

The most rudimentary skill in strategy consulting is starting an engagement with an unbridled amount of curiosity. Add to that a pile of probing questions and a proven framework with which to conduct the strategic planning exercise.

A strategy consulting engagement at the outset is a discovery process – discovering the values, priorities, goals and dreams of the owners and managers, discovering the true, current state of the organization, discovering the current state of industry and unearthing every other piece of useful information you can find.

It’s only at that point we create what most business owners and manager consider “strategy”. With a clear picture of the organization’s current state and a clear vision of the desired future state, we can craft the roadmap to move the organization from current state to the future state – the strategy.

The component parts of the strategy, depending on what is learned during the process, could touch any number of disciplines in the organization. For example –

  • People – Are the right people in the organization? Are they equipped to do the work the company needs today and in the future? If not, what is the best way to make that happen? Are they being managed well? Are they being compensated correctly?
  • Operations – Does the organization operate efficiently – producing the maximum number of outputs with the minimum number of inputs? Does the quality of the products or services satisfy the customer, maximizing sales and minimizing or eliminating complaints? Does the supply chain obtain the appropriate materials from the highest performing vendors with the best pricing?
  • Marketing – Does the organization tell its story in a compelling way? Does the organization effectively target the best prospects and speak to them in ways are that are meaningful to them? Is the organization effective at identifying the jobs current and potential customers need to be done?
  • Technology – Does the organization employ technology that speeds delivery of products and services? Is the organization effectively managing the relationships with technology providers?

In a well-executed strategic planning exercise, we will –

  • Organize and quantify what the principals know intuitively. We’ll nail down those things that they know exist. They’ll know how many, how often, which ones and more importantly, how they impact the long-term health of your organization.
  • Discover what they don’t know or reverse errant perceptions – Sometimes, the things they think they know intuitively aren’t true at all. A good strategic planning methodology accurately assesses the real truth about what’s going on with employees, vendors, customers and shareholders.
  • Focus the attention of the owners and executive team on a relatively small set of levers that need to be pulled to make larger, investment-grade moves that propel the organization forward – outpacing competitors and protecting against new entrants.
  • Marshall the resources of everyone in the company towards one or two specific strategic objectives – The end game of the exercise is to identify one or two things that transform the organization. The exercise might uncover four or five or ten things that need attention, but organizations can’t change ten things at a time – just one or two. A good strategic planning exercise will identify the one or two highest impact items and create a roadmap for executing those items – pushing down the implementation through the entire organization. When those are done, the organization can move on to the next item or two.

 

There’s more to the “what is it exactly that you do” question, but that’s a good start. It’s a joy to me to work with owners and managers to help them dig deep into their organizations, gain new insights into their business and watch them set a course that means success for them and meaningful work for those on their team.

If I’ve still not answered the question, let me know. If you’re overflowing with kudos for this extremely clear explanation, I look forward to that feedback too.

Five Strategic Things I Wish I Could Force You to Do in 2018

There’s not a better job in the world than being a consultant. I have the opportunity to see the inner workings of multiple industries and competitive companies inside those industries. And, I get to work with great, smart people all the time. The one thing I can’t do, however, is make decisions for clients. I supply informed opinions, actionable recommendations, a framework for execution and accountability to get it done, but I can’t pull the trigger.

But, if just for a moment, I had free reign in every client organization in 2018, here are five things I would do.

Ratchet Up the Employee Engagement – According to a Gallup survey, unengaged employees comprise 70% of the workforce. These unengaged employees collectively cost business owners $550 billion annually in lost productivity. The mechanics of creating, increasing and retaining engagement are not mystical, but they do require a specific set of attitudes and behaviors from employers. To get started, download Employees As, a primer for Employee Engagement.

Innovate Using Jobs Theory – Of all the big thoughts devoted to innovation over they past 20 years, I find those of Clayton Christensen in his excellent book Competing Against Luck to be the most practical, most easily grasped by an organization and most likely to yield a viable new product or service. Jobs Theory positions innovation as supplying the best alternative for the progress a potential customer wants to make in resolving a problem.

Implement a Plan for Focused Execution – Most organizations either throw up their collective hands and run from crisis to crisis OR undertake strategic initiatives that have too many moving parts. To effect real change in an organization, only work on one or two initiatives at a time. When those are done, move to the next one or two. Successful execution requires a laser-like focus, shared vision, education, identifying the correct leading indicators, overcoming the obstacles that surface in the course of the project, great teamwork and accountability.

Clarify Your Messaging – Great marketing and subsequent sales all hinge on an easily understood message. Make sure potential customers know exactly what you do. The message from salespeople, your company website, your social media channels and your sales collateral should be simple and unified. The value proposition should be communicated in language that correctly identifies the client’s problem, positions your organization as a capable resource that can guide them to resolution and describes a desirable future state.

Set Aside Time for Deep Work – I can’t say enough good things about Cal Newport’s book Deep Work. I was challenged by the empirical and anecdotal evidence he presented to regularly and methodically step away from our distraction-fueled world to do work that requires complex, contemplative and deep thought. It’s changed the way I approach my preparation for consulting engagements and the engagements themselves. It’s the best defense I’ve ever seen again distraction and the always present “tyranny of the urgent”. Make time to do this no matter what else is going on in your organization.

There are very few guarantees in this world, but if you take these five things into your organization, I can almost promise that 2018 will look markedly different from 2017.

Again, I encourage you to download the Employees As guide to Employee Engagement. I also have resources available for the other strategic initiatives discussed in this post.