Pattern Recognition

I’ll be honest. When I started my consulting firm, I had no idea what consulting was. We just thought it would be cool to help companies figure out their strategic challenges, particularly when it comes to the massive technological shifts occurring. 

Now after 6 years, I think we’ve figured it out somewhat even though we’re not perfect. 

The thing that strikes me the most is the similarity in the nature of the problems our clients face. We work at the exec level and get to see the challenges across the entire organization. Having this pattern recognition is partially why our customers hire us. Having an external point of view can bring perspective and that can be valuable.

Most of the issues we’ve come across can be boiled down to three main areas.

Alignment 

Every problem is a people problem. Most of the issues we’ve seen arise from people on a leadership team not being on the same page. Alignment can be a bit of a buzzword but you can see it when people are not rowing in the same direction. 

The illustration below shows the concept. The people being the leaders of a team and the arrows representing vectors. Their collective effort generates an impact on their organization. The better the alignment, the higher the impact. 

It boils down to three questions

  • Do people buy into the vision? (the company’s goal long term)
  • Do people buy into the plan to get there? (the strategy)
  • Do people believe that the company has sufficient resources to achieve the plan? (organizational capabilities)

Some founders I’ve spoken to are sometimes hesitant to bring on outside investment. They are afraid that having a board of shareholders will push them around and kick them out of their own company. From what I’ve seen, this is the extreme minority of situations. Usually, if it goes wrong – it’s because of a lack of alignment with the other founders and management team. 

Communication

At my old job, there was a saying that “repetition doesn’t spoil the prayer”. Essentially, it means that you often have to repeat yourself and that is a good thing. Communication isn’t a one time thing, it has to be constant (both top down and bottom up). 

  • Up: your board and shareholders need to know what’s going on. To get proper counsel, they need to be informed on a regular basis. 
  • Down: the good, bad and the ugly needs to be completely transparent. There is no benefit in hoarding information at the executive level. 

More information sharing is always better than less. 

Strategy vs. Operations

This wouldn’t be a post about consulting without a good two by two matrix 

Working on operational items is easy. It’s important and urgent. However, it’s the strategic priorities that usually move the organization forward. These of course super subjective concepts. The role of the leader is often to give breathing room to her team to level up and stop spending time on operational issues. 

Looking around the corner 

The benefit of working on your strategy is that you get to spend time on stuff that will change the direction of your company. There’s the old saying of working in the business vs. working on the business. You have to find time to work “on” the business. Otherwise you won’t be able to see ahead and act accordingly.  

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