Friday, June 26, 2009

Consultants = Big Strategy, Little Execution. Client Needs = Little Strategy, Big Execution

"There's a lot of money in prolonging a problem, telling the client what they already know, not taking the steps to solve it, and just sprinkling in some buzzwords." - NumbaJockey
NumbaJockey nailed it. Consultants get paid to ponder, strategize, optimize, align, accelerate, etc. But rarely at a strategy consulting firm do we help the client to execute.

I once worked with a guy who had done several projects at a large auto manufacturer. He described, with some condescension, how our firm had given our clients all these brilliant strategies, but the client had never implemented them, and therefore it was their fault. My response was that if the strategies aren't implemented, it's a worthless strategy, and that's our fault.

For the consultants out there, how often does your "strategy" recommendations, ACTUALLY get implemented? Clients always say great things about the work at the final brief out, but what percentage actually result in changes at the client?


Rick said...

Refreshing to hear that sentiment actually come from those on the strategy side!

I work for a boutique operations consulting firm and we (as well as our competitors) sell potential clients with the tagline of "we will actually IMPLEMENT the changes with you!"

I've recently wondered how true it was that the strat firms actually do just provide a fancy binder or ppt slides and hit the road...

Chris said...

It can get even worse.

I had a client that for five years paraded around a strategy presentation done by another firm. It was good work, but it was obvious no one in the client organization really understood or owned making it come to life. In many cases they took actions that actually went against the stated strategy.

Unless your client has a very good idea on who owns implementation - and some sort of clue as to how to go about it - then the best strategies will always end up as self-ware.

@Rick, my work is about half strategic analysis/development and half re-org/merger integration. The implementation work isn't as glamorous but is much more fulfilling.

NumbaJockey said...

Thanks for the love.

We'd like to think we help support the glamorous strategies with follow-up projects and tactics, but sometimes I just get sick of the language coming from people who would get red-flagged by BullFighter if they dared to run it. (But they revel in it)

I think the problem is selling what the client tells you they want, and not necessarily what they need. (Helping build initiatives that support a bad business model). Or wanting to have beautiful decks crafted rather than getting down and dirty with a simple concept to win. It's easier for a client manager to show his boss a great idea on paper rather than go through the actual effort.

What's sad though is looking through old client decks from a few years ago and literally seeing the exact same problem and project being done currently. Why? Client screwed up implementation... but thinks this time it'll be different.

Steve Shu said...

FWIW - My personal experience related to strategy consulting often falls into a couple of buckets: 1) more blue sky strategy - here I am comfortable helping a client get to the next decision point and to a greater level of understanding even if this does not lead to execution (because the client organization may not have the commitment and resolve at that moment in time), and 2) must-have strategy: here a client knows they need to do something, but getting a better handle on what it is and what they must do is a critical next step.

What can be disheartening are the nice-to-have consulting, nice-if-we-have-time-to-solve problem statement situations. How these types of situations arise is probably a whole topic of discussion in of itself, but I do not think such situations are limited to consulting.

The ANALyst said...

They do sometimes get implemented. But often those are strategies where the client had already decided what they wanted but needed an endorsement from a well known consulting firm. Whether it was the right thing for them to do or not is a totally different story altogether. Very often, what they want is not what they really need.

Marek Ranis said...

I think that the "generalist consultant" model is no longer viable. Consulting firms that want to succeed must offer subject matter expertise, not just visions. This presents a challenge to the traditional consulting model of hiring bright people and throwing them at projects as they come. Specialization is a difficult thing to obtain at large consulting houses that are obsessed with chargeability. On the other hand, boutique firms with deep expertise seem to be doing well, especially if they partner with other firms that fill in the gaps.

NumbaJockey said...

@Steve: I do actually believe that both of these scenarios we can truly add value for clients. In #2, perhaps it is the first merger opportunity they have had or a new experience of having a competitor introduce a product that is higher performing than their class leader, but firms have potentially helped companies through these things several times before with success and best practices.

It feels good, honestly, to be able to help someone with our experience and abilities through these cases. On the other hand, we don't get satisfaction if it is the other scenario of someone thinking that just hiring consultants will magically make their losing company successful or make even more money just because they spend on high bill rates and get pretty decks.

@ANALyst: It's really frustrating when the solution is right there but the client does not agree or won't admit the truth of the matter... or if your Partner or EM won't even allow you to present an idea in order to not upset them.

Andy Heys said...

I believe the structure of the consulting industry and the client knowledge of the different types of consultant is the root cause of these issues.

Time and time again I see clients who have spent big bucks on strategy consultants. When the report finally lands, they often cannot afford to keep the strategy consultants on for 6 to 12 months required to implement the recommendations. Instead, they try to do it themselves with a team that didn't develop the strategy and don't understand it, with weak change management processes and ineffective governance structures.

So if clients can't afford to hire a strategy house for the delivery phase, what should they do? Here are some ideas:

• Look for strategy consulting firms who have partnerships with operational implementation consultancies
• Hire a middle tier consulting firm who do both at lower daily rates
• Hire a contractor with a big 4 background to help through implementation
• Use a consulting firm to set up your change programme office and provide a periodic review / assurance that the project is still on track

My company recently partnered with a middle tier consultancy firm. They had acquired a staff search and selection business to ensure that they could offer continuity around delivery of recommendations at lower daily rates. This is a good idea but my favourite is the last one, where assurance is provided, the original consultant regularly coaches the implementation managers, and it is very cost effective.

I think in the future there will be an increasing demand for consultancies to ensure more effective delivery of their recommendations and increasingly pressure on clients (procurement departments) to get the most out of the consultants by better understanding the dynamics of the consulting sector.

I often run sessions for my clients at the beginning of an engagement to help them understand the consulting industry better which helps them to make the right choices to support implementation and really deliver lasting change. You can find out more about this on my website.


Friday, June 26, 2009