As a senior leader for over twenty years, there were clearly times where I needed help! Most leaders have found themselves in this position throughout their careers. There were assorted and varied reasons I needed help. Some examples:
- Having leaders that needed coaching to see and elevate their potential
- A team that needed facilitation and tools to increase agility or organizational health
- Being responsible to build a 3-year growth strategy to leapfrog the competition
- Leading a multi-billion-dollar global company needing to deploy an enterprise-wide ERP system on time and on budget
I could list many more scenarios, but as a senior leader, you will likely need outside consultants to ensure success. When spending thousands or millions of dollars on your next consultant, you need results, wins, and a significant ROI.
The average consultant, worth their keeping, will bring expertise, process, market research, and validation to the table. Better consultants add flexibility and the resources to scale to your company’s specific needs and timing.
So, what does great consulting look like? I have signed seven figure, single project, consulting contracts and worked with many firms throughout my career. I found that, the following capabilities, not the firm’s size, led to the highest impact and success for my leaders and their companies.
It can be critical to have a neutral party, unincumbered by organizational history, norms and practices at the table with you when developing strategy. For all such projects I recommend that you bring your consultants in at the beginning of the process for the sole purpose of Switzerland Creativity. Great consultants can help you ensure that you have all the necessary voices at the table. They bring an objective and outside perspective that can challenge company bias and traditions. As a neutral party in the process, they can ensure that great ideas are not easily dismissed by company rituals or egos.
As you move from strategy development to execution, great consultants move into the role of Power Balancing. Too often a great strategy will be sub-optimized during its implementation as institutional power positions in the company take the reins. The most powerful segments of the company (usually determined by revenues, number of people, or past success), begin to set policy and procedure for the entire enterprise strategy. “Easy” policies for these large power bases, will not likely produce the best results for the future of the strategy or company. Great consultants will help to ensure that power for execution resides equally across the significant stakeholders in the emerging strategy.
I love to watch the 400M relay in the Olympics. It is the pinnacle of teamwork and speed. It is the perfect analogy for the powerful relationship you can build with your consultants and the great ones, they have perfected the handoff. During the race, your consultants will help you and your leaders run faster. They will teach members new techniques. They will help find ways to beat your competitor. Heck, they will even carry the baton when you don’t have a runner for that leg of the race.
The best consultants know, that the final leg of the race they cannot run, they must pass the baton. You and your team, alone, must cross the finish line and hoist the trophy. I knew I had the right consultants when the handoff was not about a date, a set number of hours, or even a set deliverable. The best handoff came when my organization was up to full speed and could carry the baton to the finish line.
As an executive leader, I came to the humble realization that at times, I could be part of the problem to finding and executing the best strategies. I can have biases toward past success, business loyalties, and positional authority. The best consultants, using Switzerland Creativity, Power Balancing, and the Perfect Handoff, helped my leaders and I break through our preconceptions and roadblocks and deliver significant and lasting success.
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About the Author: Alan Duncan
Alan is a writer, speaker and coach who has a passion for developing leaders. He founded the TableRoc Group, and partnered with Aperion, on the belief that all leaders and businesses have an obligation to continually grow their abilities to serve, making real impact in their families, the businesses they run and the communities they live in.
With over 20 years of senior leadership roles with Fortune 200 companies the likes of RR Donnelley and Marmon Group/Berkshire Hathaway, Alan shares his boots-on-the-ground experience in the areas of strategy creation and execution, operational excellence, leadership development and coaching, organization transition and negotiation strategies with today’s leaders and businesses.