From our “Ask an Expert” series-
“In your speech you spoke of the importance of Strategic Planning for businesses of all sizes, what should I look for in a Consultant to help with our Strategic Planning?”
Thanks for the question John,
Businesses of all scale need business strategy that focuses on growth or improvements. Many businesses realize that periodically bringing in a Consultant to help solve a nagging problem or achieve their next milestone is a cost effective way for improvement. One problem is that a “Strategy Consultant” comes in many forms and choosing the one that “fits” best for your organization can be daunting.
Some take complete leadership roles and others facilitate your team through the process. Depending on your business structure some may want a lot of time to become ingrained before determining a path, others may run most of the project by conference calls or group facilitation. There really is no “Right way” and there are many variables. To complicate this further, no two businesses are the same so it is hard to look at a Consultants client list as a means to determine their qualifications. I always recommend looking at their Successes. How far have they taken their clients? Ask references if they added value and clarity to the process? Did they achieve what they were hired to do for each client? Did they exceed expectations? If so, Where & How?
Before you begin your search keep in mind that Strategic Planning is a process and not a project. It is not a one and done task. To begin there is a process that most consultants will follow to insure the appropriate information is gathered and considered (see below). Then after the initial plan is written and launched the process continues. This is where many teams fail. I have seen senior management complete a plan and hand it off to a manager (to implement) to then not look at it again for a year. How to manage the “Change” is often left out in the planning stage.
Using metrics to make adjustments is often JUST as important as the original plan is.
So to answer the question – “..the most important thing to look for..” is a combination of….
- someone who understands this process from start to finish
- has the capability to get you to stick to it (more on that below)
As mentioned, here is a quick look at the general process followed in a Strategic Planning process.
- Researches – Benchmarks, Industry, Interviews
- Considers your resources
- Gap Analysis
- Provides support for your chosen direction
- Develops an agreeable implementation plan
- Follows up – Continued Relationship
The first 4 are to understand your problem, your industry, your people and your obstacles. The 5th step is both analytical and Strategic, and steps 6 -8 focus on defining and insuring success for your organization.
Musts for a Strategy Consultant
What to listen for in their pitch and confirm in reference checks.
- Acts as Partner – Goes to lengths to learn the entirety of the problem and solves it the way you would, or in an easily adoptable way for your team.
- Goal oriented – keeps project and team on track.
- Project planner – demonstrates the ability to plan, organize & communicate to all involved insuring key timelines & milestones are met.
- Past successes – history of creating solutions to permanently solve clients problems. Determines root cause of problem for organization.
- Multi level understanding – has the ability to see problem from all levels of your organization leading to comprehensive solutions and reduces implementation struggles.
A person with a complimenting style for your team. A leader who perpetually develops, enables, supports, guides, informs, mentors, comprehensive, and displays patience with your team. (Ask references)
Some common mistakes made
- More often than not, Strategy “fails” during the implementation phase, not during the planning stage. Use a decision funnel to insure each tactic created can be implemented properly or you risk failure. Execution is key! Make sure whoever is calling the shots has an understanding of all phases of implementation.
- Goals set during Strategy session do not follow the “SMART” methodology, thus, even if implemented correctly, they are either not attainable or pertinent. In each case, time, energy, and money have been wasted with little to no reward.
- Change is not associated with efficiency or market study. Due diligence is needed. Perform a SWOT, PEST or industry specific analysis. Insure Change is tied to improvements and not just profit.
- Ad-hoc strategy seldom works. Vet everything!
- Insuring resources are available at all levels or risk frustrating your workforce or customer base.
The ability for this Consultant to influence decision makers through the entire process should be evident.
- You should feel some respect for the consultant
- You should feel it someone you need at “your table”
- You should want to listen to them
Hope this helps,
C.S.Simons Consulting specializes in Management & Business Strategy, offering 25 years of successes for you to benefit from. Offering a Shared Risk Platform – Results Guaranteed or you won’t be billed!