Pros and cons
I am not going to criticize my colleagues from the major consulting firms. Moreover, I believe that sometimes such an approach bears fruit, and this is exactly what customers require. This avenue has plenty of advantages, such as follows:
1. The consultants are the ones who do most of the work - desk study, data collection and analysis, benchmark research, and so on. Unfortunately, employees who are ordinary drowning in a day-to-day routine don't have time (and, often, expertise) to do this work.
2. They look (or at least try to look) at a company and industry from the outside. If a company attempts to devise a strategy on its own, it risks narrowing the opportunities spectrum to what its leaders have seen in their lives.
But this approach has its shortcomings as well. I've often seen that employees, especially at the average level, feel unheard and frustrated after a project. They believe that the consultants ignored their valuable insights and recommended some unrealistic moves. Of course, it doesn't mean that employees had "good" ideas, whereas the consultants proposed "bad" ones. Moreover, I know from first-hand experience that the team members sometimes are better at criticizing someone else's ideas than at offering their own initiatives. But if a team feels frustrated, it won't help implement the strategy successfully anyway.
Another issue is that if the consultants have done practically all the intellectual work, the company will need to resort to their help again as soon as the strategy becomes outdated. And it will - rather sooner than later. A couple of words about creativity and engagement
It is hard to imagine that this analytical approach can help a team work out a disruptive, innovative strategy. As I have already written
, strategy is an act of creativity rather than a result of a cognitive effort. Using best practices and finding critical internal weaknesses that can be fixed to boost productivity are undoubtedly valuable, but it is not a way to create a game-changing product or a business model that will revolutionize an industry. In my mind, in the future consulting companies will need to help client companies' teams unleash their creativity and help them devise their own strategic initiatives rather than offering them rigorously elaborated options.
I use several tools to reach this goal:
1. Foresight games
as a way to envision the possible futures
2. Design thinking tools as a practice helping delve deeper into customers' experience
3. Strategic games inspiring the team members to look at their products and the industry as a whole from a different perspective
Big consulting firms help companies outsource some hard work of research, but I believe that all the significant team members must be deeply informed about what happens in their world - in their industry and outside it, inside the country, and on other continents.
Strategy is not a job done once a year - with the consultants involved or without. Instead, strategy is what a company does every day (read more here
) to improve its business operations so that it can reach its long-term goals. Moreover, in the modern world, every firm must carry out three critically important kinds of activity - run, change, and disrupt – simultaneously. So, strategy is an ongoing work, and a strategic consultant should help a company's leadership organize this work properly.
I believe that a strategic consultant is a coach, a mentor, and a methodological expert rather than a person who knows what to do. That's my private opinion, but it is based on years of practice, both as a CEO and a strategic consultant.
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