While serving more than 30 different clients in my career, I have noticed a pattern in almost all of my consulting engagements. Every strategic planning session has three main components: current state assessment (“Where are we?”), gap analysis (“What do we need?”) and future-state plan (“How do we get there?”).
Yet even with a methodical approach, one cannot ignore the human factors that will determine whether a consultant can have a successful business or organizational transformation project. When beginning any project, a consultant will need to 1) understand the political climate, 2) determine how to get all the key players in a room, 3) discover what “it” is and who owns “it”, 4) establish executive backing, and 5) socialize the strategic recommendations.
Understanding the Political Climate
When starting a project with a new client one of the first things you will realize is various department heads are at odds with their peers. In addition, you will also find out that some department heads have more influence in “getting things done” than others. Your client’s employees are already aware of this fact and usually have chosen sides. So tread softly and do not make waves. Learn to listen to complaints without expressing your own opinion – at least initially.
Remember, you are there to solve problems and not solve the political challenges of your client’s corporate culture (unless, of course, that is the premise of your consulting engagement).
Getting Key Players in a Room
High priority projects usually will not have any trouble getting on the schedule of stakeholders. However, if you happen to be working on a project with low to medium priority, it can be challenging. It is important for you, the consultant, to realize that you need the majority of stakeholder participation, and getting everyone in a meeting at the same time may not be plausible. This is the moment that you lead the organization by driving meetings and schedules. In addition, when inviting these stakeholders be sure that you communicate the time, the agenda and objectives because without them, you can anticipate low participation. Do not wait for everyone to be available. Proceed with setting a meeting time and sending an invitation to all stakeholders.
Often the main executive or stakeholder necessary to make things happen will send a delegate. It is this person who will be responsible for selling your solution “upward.” So treat this person as if he or she were the final decision-maker even if he or she is in fact the main influencer.
What is “It” and Who Wants to Own “It”?
Once you begin uncovering the challenges within your client’s organization, you may find a lack of ownership. Remember, what’s important to the client always gets managed, but it is the items that go unmanaged where problems generally arise. When transforming an organization, you will begin to discover areas to optimize business processes.
These processes will fall under someone’s responsibility but management has not formally established ownership. Therefore, these items go unattended, unmanaged and remain inefficient. Through persistent negligence, these processes arise in the form of an emergency or crisis. It would be easier to capture the business process, integrate it into an enterprise-level model and assign someone to be responsible. Yet far too often, no one knows what these processes are and who will own them. It is management’s responsibility to enforce such ownership by making it part of an employee’s performance review.
Getting Executive Backing
Offering value is the most important aspect of any consulting engagement. Costs are always a key consideration but my experience has told me that offering value will lead to long term client satisfaction. So ask yourself what is the value proposition to the client. Executives spend most of their time fostering relationships and looking at data in the form of ratios, percentages and dollar values. Always speak to executives in terms such as:
- By implementing x, you will save y%
- Providing x, will reduce y by a ratio of 5:1
- This project will produce an additional x in revenue while maintaining your current y in costs
In order to get executive backing for your project, these statistics have to be clearly defined and understood by the person calling the shots. This understanding will matriculate itself downward to mid-level management and become part of performance reviews and promotion opportunities.
Socializing a Solution
Once your plan has been completed, your strategy is mapped out and all the stakeholders have been informed, the most difficult item is left to be done: making the transformation process work. It is my recommendation that a clearly defined workflow management system will have an approach that will provide individuals with a step-by-step task list of items to complete for all manual processes. It is usually something simple, that through practice and time will become part of everyone’s daily routine.
In addition, the ability to establish performance metrics will allow you to optimize the process in the future is very important. But we are talking strategy adoption, and the best way to socialize any strategic process recommendation is to keep it simple. So remember the K.I.S.S principle – Keep It Simple Stupid.
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