Can a Consultant Save the Day?
I’ll admit that watching the movie “Office Space” is one of my guilty pleasures. There’s something universal about corporate culture that is captured so perfectly in this ’90s-era comedy. It’s hilarious when the consultant, after interviewing the slacking, snarky main character, declares him to be “just a straight shooter with upper management written all over him.”
I roar with laughter at that scene because I have been on both sides of it. I have been the employee who has been “consultant-jacked,” meaning a consultant from a large firm came in, interviewed me for a big project, stole my ideas and got paid bank without crediting the source. I have also been a consultant who is the first person in the room to step up and say: Don’t fool yourself into thinking that hiring someone like me is going to solve all your challenges. Fast-forward to today, my experience has taught me that there is a time to hire a consultant, find a facilitator or get a “solutionator.” That’s my name for someone who is a hybrid facilitator-consultant.
So before you hire me or anyone else, you should ask yourself these 4 questions first:
1.What do I want to achieve? Is it improving your internal processes, selling more product, retaining more veteran employees, adapting faster to changing technology? Innovation can be found just about anywhere in any department, but it helps to have a target and a goal. Simply telling a consultant that you want things to be better isn’t good enough. It’s like telling a doctor that your stomach hurts without being able to describe exactly where the pain is and what it feels like on a scale of 1 to 10. You must know what outcome you need.
Here is a fancy-pants matrix to help you decide:
|Results/Outcomes||Approach/Intended Usage||Who to Hire|
|Niche expertise, assessment and recommendations, limited employee involvement, limited execution support||Outside expertise, limited scope and engagement, third-party perspective||Consultant|
|Consensus-building of common objectives and helping teams create a plan to meet those objectives but with limited execution support||Outside neutral expertise that helps employees understand common objectives and assists them in a plan to achieve these objectives||Facilitator|
|Applied external expertise to employee talent, employee engagement, Buy-in on all levels, accountability, guided execution, ROI and cultural transformation||Facilitate employee-driven solutions with execution support and accountability||Solutionators – Hybrid Consultant-Facilitators|
Don’t fool yourself thinking that a consultant’s recommendations will be easy to implement, especially if she hasn’t built buy-in and participation from every stakeholder, which means every employee from the mailroom to the boardroom. Inclusiveness has always been part of the unique approach I take with my work because while change may start when I get there, it should continue long after I am gone. Facilitators help build that inclusiveness, but they don’t help with the execution. Solutionators offer both: group facilitation to find the answers and then hold everyone accountable to turn those ideas into execution realities.
2. Is my business viable? The most sustainable companies are the ones that see far enough down the road to change lanes before the crash. Take chemical giant DuPont, for example. The company started in the 1800s as a gunpowder mill and became the largest supplier of the stuff to the U.S. military. By the next century, company leaders saw the demand for gunpowder dying out and began investing in research that led to the invention of nylon, Teflon and other synthetic products that revolutionized the world. A third-party can help you find the innovation that will help your company go from good to great, but she isn’t going to be able to help you sell ice to Eskimos, as the saying goes. If you don’t have a sustainable business model, it’s unlikely that anything anyone has to offer will save it.
3. Have you overlooked your employees? The easiest solution to many workplace conundrums is to outsource messy solutions. It is easier to hire a consultant to work independently and come up with recommendations. It is easier to buy technology to help streamline a process. But the messiness of working with employees is what matters. It will be your competitive advantage, but it doesn’t happen without HARD work. It’s the one thing we all want to avoid but the only thing that will deliver now and in the future.
4. Are you truly ready for outside help? Hiring a consultant, facilitator or solutionator should never be a last-ditch effort to save your bacon, nor should it be the first answer to every problem. I urge executives to do their research, both internally and externally, before writing that check. Is there someone on your staff with the technical skill or expertise to handle the current problem? Does the person you want to hire have the right experience and a track record for getting things done? Ask a lot of questions and demand answers before pulling the trigger.
Studies have shown that attempts at internal innovation fail up to 90 percent of the time because there is no follow-up. That’s why I was determined to make my business different. That’s why I have a proven 30-day, 60-day and 90-day follow-up as part of the process of holding everyone accountable, including myself. Ultimately, solution generating is about delivering results, and I believe that happens when expectations are clearly communicated and aligned with the reality of whatever situation a company is facing.
I’d like to think that through 48 Innovate, I’ve helped save the day for many companies I’ve worked with. But the truth is I can’t do it alone. At 48 Innovate, we are solutionators. We offer the best of both worlds, because in today’s hyper-collaborative business world it is critical for companies to source their innovations from within in order to deliver not just once, but ongoing. Unlike many consultant firms today, our business model is not based on keeping organizations dysfunctional. We believe it is imperative to build skill capacity within your organization in order to compete sustainably for the long haul.
Now, about those TPS reports….
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