The corporate world has no lack of business, marketing, and strategy consultants, so how do you know which ones do good work and which ones just look good? It can be overwhelming to navigate, and if you’re breaking new ground among your colleagues as the first person to seek out a consultant, it’s unlikely that anyone will have a recommendation for you.
Having spent decades both working with consultants and then as a consultant, I have a good handle on what makes someone worth a company’s time and money – here are four things to look out for when you’re browsing potential hires, no matter what industry you’re in.
1. They have experience at multiple corporate levels.
A good deal of strategy consultants are outsiders to the industries they consult for — they’ve never actually worked inside the corporate environment that they’re advising. While outsiders can provide a unique perspective, they lack the most essential quality of a good strategist: the ability to actually execute the plans they come up with that only experience can provide.
With this in mind, you should be critical of your strategist’s background. Have they ever worked in your industry as something other than a strategic consultant? How much do they really know about what you do? Do they have the experience with working with multiple divisions, business unit along with experience developing corporate strategy? If they’re like me, they’ll have a strong foundation working in different departments and executing plans at all levels of their previous companies. They’ll have experience not only coming up with strategic plans, but also a successfully record for selling them and carrying them out.
2. They’re great coaches.
An excellent strategy consultant doesn’t do all the work for you — they work together with you, collaborating in a way that helps you learn important new skills over the course of the project. Coaches bring out the best in those they work with, and the same should go for strategy consultants. Rather than doing all the work for you, they should be supporting you to advance your business and understanding of the challenges ahead. I personally prefer to involve as many team members as possible during the strategy development process so that all stakeholders can feel they had a hand in creating the plan. These participants will ultimately have great ownership in the execution of the plan. Involving more people in the strategy development process creates a greater challenge in coaching individuals, but this also ensures that you don’t end up with a strategy binder on your bookshelf that no one knows how to implement.
Before engaging a strategist, make sure you understand the approach. Do they want to come in, listen for a few minutes, do all the work for you and then tell you’re the team the plan? Or do they want to spend time getting to know the team, the problem, and then work together with all key stakeholders to develop a collaborative, executable solution?
3. They’re analytical.
The reason many people begin to look for strategy consultants in the first place is because they offer skills that a business does not already have at its disposal. Most C-suite executives have a lot of items vying for their attention on a daily basis, and it’s difficult to get out of the weeds long enough to perform the objective analysis it takes to create a dynamic strategic plan. It’s truly my pleasure to be able to come in and provide the support and expertise that executives just haven’t had time for.
This is where good strategy consultants come in. They should show a dedication and passion for analysis and practicality. How much of the nitty gritty details about your industry do they understand? Do they have a track record of results?
4. They don’t try to boil the ocean.
Good strategy consultants are decisive. When it comes to complex, multi-faceted challenges, it is tempting for many to zoom in and try to address every single little detail without knowing what’s actually critical — a good strategist will be able to do the opposite. When I work together with clients, I always make sure we’re addressing the most crucial and essential issues at hand, not selling you on the extraneous details – this leads to big unnecessary fees and project costs.
The easiest way to find out if the strategy consultant you’re considering is decisive is to look at the history of their experience. Consultants with more experience and firms with a narrower, more boutique focus will be able to drill down to the core of the issue easily. Firms that use younger consultants and large, general consultancy firms will not have the added benefit of experience in your industry to help them see through to the core of your challenge; they’ll require time and effort in order to educate themselves, which requires getting into the weeds and drives up your project cost.
Of course, the easiest way to find a good strategy consultant is to seek out recommendations from colleagues and peers who’ve worked with consultants before. Since not everyone has access to recommendations like this, however, keep a close eye out for these key qualities (all of which can make a world of difference between a good and an ineffective strategic consultant). Experience, coaching, analytical skills, and decisiveness all play a huge role in smart, strategic development — don’t choose a consultant without them.
Think we might work well together? Email me and let’s get a conversation rolling about how a strategic consultant like me might be the best choice for your business.