BY NATALIE BAUER
- Hiring a consultant to help formulate an organization's strategic mission lends outside authority to new initiatives, increases efficiency and speeds the strategizing process.
- Strategic planning consultants help executive teams suspend judgment and think big.
- Strategic planning project teams must link the overall strategy to daily operations via a simple, yet comprehensive plan.
- Contingency plans must accompany the strategy to ensure a smooth transition.
When Currency Systems International Inc. (CSI) President Phillip L. Strobel hired a consultant to conduct brainstorming and process improvement sessions for his management team over a five-week period, one of Strobel's program managers was tempted to bet that the sessions couldn't be done quickly or effectively.
He would have lost a lot of money, says Strobel, who also serves as vice president of operations for CSI parent company De La Rue Cash Systems, Basingstoke, U.K.
Charged with turning a poor-performing Irving, Texas, USA-based CSI around, Strobel plans on enlisting a consultant periodically to ensure the management team stays centered. Despite the jokes about borrowing your watch to tell you the time and other derisive sentiments about consultants, Strobel is one executive who believes in a consultant's power to help get things done quickly. “In one week's time, I can accomplish 10 times as much as in one year,” he says. “The magic is, it's done. It's not a suggestion or a proposition. Plus, it's taken more as gospel. [A good consultant] gives more authority, more reality and strength of voice or message.”
Whether they don't have the time, the internal talent or expertise, or the confidence in a strategic plan, executives often find that, with the right match, hiring a consultant to help sculpt an organization's new strategic mission can proffer great value.
Currency Systems International Inc. (CSI), an Irving, Texas, USA-based subsidiary of De La Rue Cash Systems, Basingstoke, U.K.
CONSULTANT: Pete Sorenson, CMC, owner of GINKGO Enterprises, Dallas, Texas, USA.
PROJECT: Manage organizational development and stress, and facilitate during company's remolding
- 1 Conducting the session over one week allows for an incredible amount of work to be completed in a relatively short period of time. “They aren't gone until they're done,” says CSI President Phillip L. Strobel. “They don't lose their thoughts, they're not thinking about another meeting and you have everybody there. They can't leave. Nobody can get them out. Not even me. Now I have them masked together in a single focused direction.”
- 2 Collaboration enables innovation. “Anytime you give anybody a challenge, it's amazing what they can do,” Strobel says. “People are limitless in what they can achieve. We simply need to give them the atmosphere in which they can do it.”
- 3 Teamwork is a fringe benefit. “The team dynamics that it builds is fascinating,” he says. “They're all in the swimming pool together, and they'll swim or drown as a team. They've passed my expectations.”
[A good consultant] gives more authority, more reality and strength of voice or message.
Phillip L. Strobel,
President, Currency Systems International Inc. (CSI), Irving, Texas, USA
Internal change teams often rely on past and current measures to determine what can happen in the long term, but this perspective can limit an organization's full potential.
Consultants, however, can work with their executive sponsors to clean the slate, suspend judgment and dream up a whole new scheme.
“Most organizations don't actually know what are the indicators of success,” says Gordon Parker, partner of Strategic Direction, High Wycombe, U.K. “They think they're what they did last month, but that's like driving a car and looking out the rear window. You're always going to crash.”
To avoid an “accident,” consultants and the change management team must incorporate flexibility into the corporate strategic plan, allowing for market changes, mergers and other changes of fortune, while maintaining a sufficiently large scope. “We always start at what is the next thing that can be achieved without limits,” says Kevin Parry, Group CEO of Proudfoot Consulting, London, U.K. “We're not intent on benchmarking. We don't care what's currently best in class. The starting point should be as ambitious as possible.”
Most of the strategic plan's ambition, however, lies in the hands of a worthy executive who believes in the company's potential but is willing to accept its downfalls and who can grant necessary change. “You've got to have the type of executive that's high-caliber, somebody who believes you can always do better, that there's always more to be had,” Parry says. “You need an impatient, dynamic person who is intent on driving the business further and further.”
“When you're talking about real results, about real implementation, you need project management,”
Eric R. Pelander,
partner and global leader, IBM Business Consulting Services' Strategy and Change Consulting
They think they're what they did last month, but that's like driving a car and looking out the rear window. You're always going to crash.
Partner, Strategic Direction, High Wycombe, U.K.
Don't Sweat the Details
“Many strategic plans fail because they contain too little of the right information and too much of the wrong kind of detail,” says Christine Davis-Goff of Focused Change International, Seattle, Wash., USA. “Most strategic plans lack focus and measurability, containing values that are undiffer-entiated in terms of importance, mission statements that are too general, and goal areas that lack specific targets.”
Consultants must work directly with executives and team members to fill the disconnect between the lofty goals of a mission statement and the daily work of employees at all levels. They must recognize the company's current culture and values and create a strategy that aligns with, but doesn't mirror, those elements. Tying future aims to strategic result areas—concrete, measurable targets—will allow for the strategy to become reality, making the enterprise's strategic goals a daily routine for employees.
“Organizations don't understand the relationship between an objective, a strategy and a plan,” Parker says. “And management often isn't related to this. Often it's people doing jobs. “Change only comes about when all people have that vision and when they feel they are not working alone.”
Project managers must work through the process to bring these lofty goals down from the management offices into the daily schedules of employees across the enterprise. “When you're talking about real results, about real implementation, you need project management,” says Eric R. Pelander, a partner and global leader of IBM Business Consulting Services' Strategy and Change Consulting. “The more complex the [strategic engagement] becomes, the greater the need for effective, visible project management.”
Many strategic plans fail because they contain too little of the right information and too much of the wrong kind of detail.
Focused Change International, Seattle, Wash., USA
But be wary of incorporating detail that ignores the stakeholders' business requirements and processes and readiness for change, which can turn the plan into what Ken Goldstein, president of KSG Consulting Group, Dallas, Texas, USA, calls “credenza-ware,” a hefty document that sits unopened on an executive's shelf collecting dust.
Set It Straight
To ensure the strategic plan's successful implementation, executives also must be upfront with stakeholders about what's likely to change, but they need to frame it in a positive sense. For example, if layoffs are a possibility, try using a consultant to buffer the blow and provide stress management and transition services to put people at ease, Strobel recommends. “This gives them an understanding of the status and goals of the company,” he says. “Show them the company isn't as profitable as it could be. It's really amazing when you're upfront.”
We're not intent on benchmarking. We don't care what's currently best in class. The starting point should be as ambitious as possible.
Group CEO, Proudfoot Consulting, London, U.K.
Parker says putting an optimistic spin on the goals—that they're being implemented for the good of the company—helps get the entire team on board, even if their jobs are in jeopardy. “The objective is to improve something in the business. That sends a positive message and one that focuses on the benefits the goals,” he says.
However, even with positive and honest communication, strategic team leaders must identify potential troublemakers and plan accordingly. Parker and his team go to great lengths to create contingency plans. “We identify key people who are going to use guerrilla tactics, people who've been identified as medium to high in their ability to cause difficulties,” Parker says. “Then we put into place a way of reducing that probability, reducing the consequence of an event or outright eliminating the problem.”
SoftSelect Systems, Vancouver, Wash., USA.
CONSULTANT: Ken Goldstein, president of KSG Consulting Group, Dallas, Texas, USA.
PROJECT: Goldstein signed on with SoftSelect to troubleshoot the company's sales process. The company's sales personnel—largely composed of independent consultants—presented messages to prospects that conflicted with the company's voice and struggled to put the service's full benefits into clear, tangible terms. “He let us know there were aspects of the process that are very flat-footed,” says CEO Mark Engleman. “We recognized [Goldstein's] solutions immediately as sound. [Previously] we had been so busy operating that we were unable to see the solution.”
SOLUTION: Goldstein helped formalize a support method and a framework that got remote sales personnel in sync with the company, so eventually concise messages were delivered to the right people. “When selling complex and expensive services, there is a communication threshold one seeks to cross,” Engleman says. “When crossed, prospects understand value, begin to trust and likely will buy. On the other side, they are only confused and skeptical. [Goldstein] helped us cross this barrier.”
RESULT: Engleman and his team still are working to implement the process across the organization. He predicts it will be another one to two years before the implementation is complete. However, nine months after Goldstein's recommendations became visible, “a subset of our partners have made the transition, and it's a beautiful thing to watch.”
When selling complex and expensive services, there is a communication threshold one seeks to cross. When crossed, prospects understand value, begin to trust and likely will buy.
CEO, SoftSelect Systems, Vancouver, Wash., USA
But no matter how many precautions a strategic plan incorporates, the degree of detail involved or how practical it may be, a solid roadmap requires frequent updates. The best executives and their management teams constantly question their organization's direction and explore how to enhance performance.
Strategic plans must be a regular part of business. “When you're in an evolutionary environment, where the winds of change are blowing constantly,” says Mark Engleman, CEO of SoftSelect Systems, Vancouver, Wash., USA, “you have to assume that you're not going to be on target after six months. So you have to be proactive about change.” PM
PM NETWORK | FEBRUARY 2004 | WWW.PMI.ORG
FEBRUARY 2004 | PM NETWORK