Successful companies understand the benefits of working with a strategic planning consultant who can help them identify the best longer-term opportunities for growth.
An experienced strategy consultant brings a fresh and independent perspective, as well as a proven planning process to support smart decision making about the firm’s direction, create a competitive business strategy, and develop a sound strategic plan.
An Experienced Consultant Adds Value
Strategy sessions run by an executive usually turn into staff meetings. The status-quo does not get challenged, and group-think goes unchecked. Sensitive issues are carefully avoided, past failures get swept under the carpet. Organizational weaknesses do not get addressed.
As a result, strategic options are not thoroughly explored. This prevents the firm from identifying new opportunities and reaching its potential. Any business strategy resulting from this process is likely to have flaws.
An experienced strategy consultant brings knowledge, a sound methodology, and a fresh perspective. As an “outsider”, the consultant is not constrained by corporate culture, office politics, personal sensitivities, and groupthink.
The Role of the Strategy Consultant
Companies that know how to get the most from working with a strategy consultant want them to be candid, conduct critical and thorough evaluations, and make sound recommendations.
A good strategy consultant is a change agent, not someone who simply rubber stamps the status-quo or acts as a ‘yes-man’ to whatever idea management comes up with.
It is the consultant’s job to advise and guide management in gathering and analyzing information and making smart business decisions. That requires developing a solid understanding of the company’s culture, leadership, strengths and weaknesses, as well as the business environment and market opportunities, both short-term and long-term.
Here’s what to expect from a strategic planning consultant and meeting facilitator:
Facilitating the Process
The strategy consultant should provide an effective process to analyze and understand the organization, its competitive position, strategic options, and a method for developing a sound strategy that will take the organization to the next level.
In the role of meeting facilitator, the consultant makes sure that the planning sessions are productive, stay on track, and that everyone on the planning team is focused and actively involved.
The end result of the strategic planning process is a competitive business strategy, clearly documented in the company’s strategic plan – ready to be implemented.
Asking Probing, Challenging Questions
To maintain the integrity of the planning process and prevent it from becoming a token effort, the strategy consultant needs to ask tough questions.
For management, answering these questions may sometimes be uncomfortable, even personal. But, addressing these questions is critical to obtain deep insight into the state of the business, how it got there, what the options are, and how to achieve the strategic goals.
A strategy consultant who is serious about their role as a business advisor does not avoid stepping on toes. It is essential that key issues are exposed and discussed in a mature, professional and rational manner. There is no room for sacred cows, taboo topics, or “Not-Invented-Here” thinking.
After all, the consultant was hired to help management define a new direction for the business, not to leave things the way they are. Everything should be open for discussion to develop insight, generate new ideas, and formulate solutions.
Challenging the Status-Quo
Questioning the status-quo is a critical facet of effective strategic planning. If challenging the status quo is a “non-starter”, the key issues that stand in the way of change will never get addressed. In that situation it is pointless for the firm to conduct strategic planning in the first place.
It is not until the company’s culture has matured and the status quo can be openly questioned and sensitive topics can be discussed without fear of repercussions, that developing a competitive business strategy becomes a worthwhile activity.
Conducting an Honest Assessment
It is critically important that difficult issues get discussed and the need for real change explained if the strategic planning effort is to be successful. Leaving sensitive issues unaddressed prevents real change from taking place.
Keeping What Works
Of course, every business has certain key strengths. An experienced consultant recognizes this and focuses on preserving these strengths.
These corporate strengths and capabilities are the key elements for defining the company’s competitive advantage in the marketplace – the foundation for the business strategy.
Identifying What Doesn’t Work
Just as it is important to identify the company’s strengths, the strategic planning consultant must also be frank about the company’s weaknesses and what’s not working. Identifying and addressing these weaknesses becomes an integral part of the strategic planning process. Weaknesses that impact the company’s ability to move forward need to get corrected.
On the other hand, corporate weaknesses that are less critical may present a constraint to the strategic options the company has available. These shortcomings may need to get addressed as well, but perhaps at a lower level of urgency.
Doing Analysis and Being Actively Involved
It is the strategy consultant’s responsibility to develop a sound understanding of the client’s business, the organization, and the markets in which the firm operates. This insight is important to properly evaluate the business, identify options, and formulate a competitive business strategy.
The consultant plays an active role on the planning team, carrying out market research, conducting analysis, formulating and evaluating strategic options, developing financial projections, and contributing to the development of the strategic plan.
In addition, the strategy consultant is a sounding board for management, discussing and evaluating ideas for creating breakthrough solutions.
To be most effective, the strategy consultant needs to be an integral member of the strategic planning team, rather than an arms-length external advisor.
Supporting Strategic Plan Implementation
The desired result of the strategic planning effort is an actionable business strategy, documented in the strategic plan.
The goal is not to produce an impressive looking document that sits on the bookshelf to be dusted off at next year’s planning session. Without skillful and committed implementation of the strategic plan, the company is no better off than it was beforehand and the entire strategic planning effort has become a waste of time and money.
A strategy consultant can continue to advise the organization during the execution phase, making sure that the implementation of the strategic plan stays on track and that the company remains committed to the chosen business strategy and does not veer off course.
If you think it’s time to chart a new course for your business, consider hiring a strategy consultant to help you make smart decisions about your company’s future and develop a sound business strategy to achieve your goals.