September 30, 2013

Results should always be part of the equation

By Mike Karst, Senior Partner, Entira

One of my colleagues was venting last week about an experience with a high-end frame shop. She went there to pick up a family portrait the shop had custom-framed for her home. It was done in a beautiful wood frame, finished with the highest quality museum glass. She spared no expense in framing this picture. It looked great, so she shook the shop owner’s hand and took it home.

At home, she measured, laser-leveled and marked the spot to hang the portrait.

That’s when she realized there was no picture-hanging hardware on the back of the frame.

That was aggravating. After spending all that money on a specialized frame, they’re not even going to set it up for her to hang it properly? Why wouldn’t that be part of the package? The framing experts know exactly what kind of hardware is needed to support such a heavy frame. Never once did they ask where and on what kind of surface she intended to hang it. Their service started and ended with the frame.

This got me thinking about how much—or how little—we demand from all those experts we turn to for specialized services. Whether it’s picture-framing or business consulting, how far should the service and consultation reach? Businesses hire third-parties when they need expert help finding solutions. Consultants give their recommendations, their clients happily pay them. Then what happens? The consultant moves on to the next thing, but the client’s work is only beginning. They’re on their own to implement all those recommended solutions and hope they are effective. But is it really a solution if your problem doesn’t actually get solved?

Are you holding your consultants and other service providers accountable for results? I would advocate that we in the business world change the term from “consultants” to “results makers.” What good is a consultation if it’s not going to turn into real positive change? You could be investing tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars—even millions—on a brilliant, comprehensive, strategic plan, only to let it sit on a shelf and collect dust because it’s unrealistic to implement with the resources you have on hand.

When something’s wrong with your body you call the doctor. What you get is a treatment plan, perhaps some tools (in the form of medication or medical devices) to help you get over the ailment. And you schedule checkups to make sure the plan is working. The result is that you feel better. Likewise, when you go to a business consultant, you are looking for professional advice from a third-party expert, but you also are investing in an expert perspective that can lead you in the right direction toward positive change for your business. You don’t just want an opinion based on gut feeling and a wish for good luck. That’s like getting a diagnosis with no treatment plan.

Just as you rely on your physician to lay out a treatment plan and work through it with you, you want a business consultant who’s going to see you through your plan, start to finish. Here are some ways to tell if your consultant is in it for the long haul:

  • Do they lead with a comprehensive, in-depth analysis of your situation, or just a superficial once-over? Good consultants know they can’t rely solely on what’s visible on the surface. Do they make research part of the plan—are they looking at market research, competitive analysis, customers, company leaders, etc.? Those who invest extra time upfront in the discovery phase lay the groundwork for a plan that is more likely to succeed.
  • Does their solution come off a shelf or from a box, or is it customized specifically for you? They should be asking a lot of questions, and asking the right people. Do they ask to connect with others in your company or other partners you work with…even customers? Sure, the consultants may be the greatest subject matter experts when it comes to your particular business challenge or industry, but the smartest minds don’t always have the most realistic ideas. Consultants that can synthesize their own real-world experience and knowledge with the reality of your business challenges are more likely to offer a winning strategy.
  • Are they keeping you engaged in the process? No one knows what will and will not fly in your organization more than you. This transparency is critical so you can spot potential implementation pitfalls before it’s too late. It should be clear that they consider you a partner, not just a client to whom they’ll deliver a final package and call it good.
  • Does the scope of work include implementation? Success cannot be measured until the plan is implemented. Does the plan include follow-through and follow-up? It should include strategies, but also support through implementation; training and on-site support to ensure everything goes smoothly; and scheduled checkpoints to make sure the strategies are working. That’s called having skin in the game.
  • Is the consultant demonstrating flexibility to adapt its standard plan to fit the uniqueness of your company? It may seem to be the smartest and biggest breakthrough solution imaginable, but can it actually be implemented? It would be like an irrigated corn grower in southwest Kansas planting a few hundred acres of a new corn hybrid—procured from a seemingly knowledgeable seed rep—only to find out after a mid-August windstorm that it’s susceptible to green snap. It’s a great product, but it wasn’t practical for his operation inside a region prone to high winds.

It’s critical for consultants to consider the climate within the organization, the organizational structure, the politics, the management’s willingness to accept the change, and the overall availability and adeptness of the people resources to carry out the recommendations. The plan may be strategic, but is it feasible?

I read a recent Harvard Business Review article on this very topic—“Let’s Hold Consultants Accountable for Results”—and I’m proud to say my company, Entira, is one of those that never takes on a project without having some skin in the game. Entira grew out of the belief that it is essential to understand the entire picture to build and implement the most effective solutions to today's challenges in food and agribusiness. Our business and marketing consulting always includes implementation and execution, because we believe we can’t claim victory with a solution until it actually solves the problem. We are conditioned to look at both sides of the equation, and we care about doing what’s right, not just what looks good on paper. If we recommend something, you bet we’re going to stick around to make sure it works.

You can reach Mike at 901.734.3245 or