This is the fifth in a series of articles that builds on my strategy manifesto that I posted a couple of weeks ago.
As a consultant myself I know that, done well, working with external consultants can add real value to the development and delivery of your business strategy. The problems arise, however, when CEOs and their executive teams start to rely on these consultants for strategy, rather than working with them as partners. This means that instead of asking the consultants for help with process and for input on ideas, managers end up delegating to the consultants the overall strategy itself.
Such reliance creates the following problems for executive teams:
Lower levels of management involvement and ownership.
Developing and executing a great business strategy can be time-consuming and hard work. But it is a key job of your managers, and, behind all the jargon, is less difficult to do than many managers believe. By all means get external support where this makes sense, but a commitment to action is driven by a sense of ownership of the strategy, and that sense of ownership is, in turn, driven by involvement. The most successful businesses I have worked with all have a huge sense of ownership of their strategy, and although their top team may work with external advisors, it is the leaders that take the lead in setting the direction, determining the big goals and taking accountability for their delivery.
A focus on analysis ahead of action.
Many consultants have followed a traditional business school education, which emphasises analytical tools and approaches. Unsurprisingly, these consultants tend to focus their efforts on analysing data and producing information packs – often 100 pages or bigger! – rather than helping the company’s managers and teams to take action. It’s not that the analysis is not accurate, but that it just doesn’t help move the business forward.
A me-too strategy.
Consultants, under pressure to demonstrate their expertise, share their knowledge of their clients’ key markets. They identify what others have done to succeed as the basis of their recommendations for growth. Their insights and recommendations are fine as far as they go, but they will not create true distinctiveness. It is difficult to imagine an external consultant recommending breakthrough business ideas such as Apple’s iTunes, Facebook. Or, in a previous decade, Renault’s distinctive design of its family of automobiles.
In my book, The CEO’s Strategy Handbook, I met with Dennis Sadlowski, the former CEO of Siemens USA. Dennis hit the nail on the head when he said that strategy implementation only worked if the executive team were fully engaged with the strategy. He continued,
“Engagement starts with involvement, and I ensured that the excutive team and key managers at the next level were intimately involved in the development of our growth strategy. We didn’t rely on external consultants to tell us the way forward; we led the work ourselves, doing our own blocking and tackling to make sure we understood the detail.”
By all means work with trusted consultants to aid and accelerate your strategy process. It offers ideas and challenges to your company’s internal thinking and priorities. But do not let the consultants take over. Do not be afraid of strategy but get out there and make sure that you are in the driving seat. But not the back seat, when setting the future direction of your organization.
It’s the only way that it will succeed!
© Stuart Cross 2017. All rights reserved.