Strategy Consultants: When to use one, What to look for

by Dr. Donald N. Sweet

Strategy is just one piece of the business puzzle, although an important one for sure.  Strategy, we believe, drives the top line of your organization.  If you’re not happy with the growth of your top line it is usually a strategy issue.

When looking for a strategy consultant several important items to consider are:

1)     What kind of broad business experience does the person have?
2)     Do they come only with a specific industry background?
3)     Do they have an integrated framework to assist you in strategy development?
4)     Where have they been successful in strategy development previously?

While specific industry knowledge can have some benefits, often times what a company really needs are thoughts and questions from outside of their industry.  It’s hard to get a new perspective when everyone “knows” how the industry behaves.   There is no one to thoughtfully question long held beliefs.  People with experience in a number of different industries bring a broader perspective to the planning table.

Strategy has a number of integrated components that have to fit well for the strategy to be effective.  Just because someone has participated in developing any number of strategies in the past doesn’t mean they know all the components and how they interlock.  If you’re not happy with your top line, then you probably don’t want to follow the same process you’ve used in the past either.

Too many of us have been in businesses, even led businesses, which followed the same strategy format year after year even when we weren’t happy with the results.  Often times it was really just an annual budgeting exercise with a slim slice of real strategy bolted on.  That’s what many consultants have experience with, too.

Ask your prospective consultant to show you their integrated framework before retaining them to help you with your strategy.  We find tools that are simple but effective to be the best.  At the end of the day, your strategy is only as effective as its execution.  Complex strategic tools result in complex strategies and complex strategies are less likely to be implemented well.  Early in my career, one of my mentor Presidents told me he would take an average plan well implemented over a superior plan with only average implementation.  Complexity is as costly as incompleteness.

Your business strategy needs to be both comprehensive and straightforward.  As many of you begin thinking about your strategy for 2013, we hope you’ll find these past two posts helpful.  The right outside perspective is invaluable when building your plan for future growth.   Good luck in 2013!