Clients typically come away from a strategic planning session or a goal setting session all fired up and focused. It’s one of the best parts of any consulting engagement. As I mentioned earlier in this series, it’s the best time to ask for a referral and to get a testimonial.
Your client understands the value of your consulting when it’s fresh in their mind. Managers and others on the Leadership Team see how the parts fit together, and they’re usually full of ideas that could have a truly positive impact on the organization.
And of course, since you were the consultant who helped facilitate these inspirations, you feel pretty great, too. You feel that you made a difference, and that you will leave the group in a better place than you found them.
The Irony of Excellence
However, almost always, when you check back with the client to discuss progress, invariably you find that they got distracted. The inspiration and the ideas didn’t take hold. They did not complete the Projects they committed to or they didn’t meet the performance standards for Metrics you had set.
Most consultants have had this experience, and so many go to great lengths to try to avoid it. Many will condense the business’ entire Strategic Plan to one page, as we do, so it’s easy to refer to when the day-to-day ‘business as usual’ work crowds their vision. Many provide extensive help with the psychology of management, trying to teach people how to handle today’s unique employees so they stay aligned and make their best contributions. And many will even provide spreadsheets or some other form of documentation for the Key Performance Indicators or Metrics that you so carefully designed to help managers manage well.
And many also try to win a retainer for themselves so they can come back and try to help keep things on track. And what is is so unfortunately ironic in this situation is that, often, a consultant will not get that retainer specifically because they did such a good job over the course of the consulting engagement that the C-suite feels confident that they can take it from there.
The Reality of Management
Some consultants are able to secure long-term ongoing billing relationships with their clients by offering services like quarterly planning sessions, and recurring meetings to drive business execution and coach performance. But typical consulting engagements are for a finite period. Inevitably there comes a time when you have “taught the client to fish for themselves.”
When the consultant is invited back for a review, it’s extremely important that he or she be able to show that their consulting had an impact. But if the consultant has been gone for a quarter or longer, while the client is “fishing” on their own, the consultant has very little control over business execution.
When they come back it can be very apparent that getting people to change, even when they are willing and able, is very difficult. Even if the review takes place a mere quarter after the first one, it will often seem that no one on the management team was holding the goal owners accountable. Projects and Metrics fell behind.
When this happens, it can put the consultant’s business relationship at risk. It can seem that their consulting had limited impact.
But the real problem is that the consultant never had any insight or influence into how the strategy was being implemented. Consultants who really want to have an impact need a method to see into their clients’ businesses even after the initial engagement is done. Ideally, they need a convenient way to know when a Project or Metric is off-track so they can offer to help bring it back into line.
In the not too distant future, only consultants who are able to do this will be able to grow their businesses. It’s possible now. Come to my next webinar, and I’ll give you all the details then.