For several years, I was a strategic consultant helping clients transform their businesses. Far too often I would go in and introduce changes and improvements to make the business grow bigger and better, only to come back a year later to discover everything had reverted back to the way it was.
It was disheartening.
After a few of these experiences, I came to a realization. The problem wasn’t with the initiatives or my services, it was a deeper problem – the people and organization weren’t changing; only the processes and systems.
Like most change efforts, if the change isn’t embraced deeply enough, people will slowly shift back to the status quo.
That’s when I shifted to being a business coach instead of a business consultant.
A strategy consultant is somebody who develops your strategy for you, then (often) implements it for you. They will do the research to know your business, industry, market, and anything they need to apply that knowledge for you.
A good strategy coach is very different. A strategy coach comes to you with a set of tools and walks you through a process that will get your leadership team to develop its own strategy and lead their teams to execute the strategy.
This distinction is incredibly important. A coach enables your team to create the plan and execute it, whereas a consultant creates the plan and sometimes helps implement it.
It’s like hiring a coach for your sports team, vs a free agent. One helps you level up your team so they can win more, while the other comes in to win for you.
There is value in both approaches, but there are important differences.
There are elements of strategy development, such as market research or international expansion, that require specific expertise. It makes sense to have a consultant or an outsourced firm to do that work because they’re experts in that area. Their work can then be used by your team to develop the actual strategy.
Avoid SPOTS at All Costs
Have you had a strategic planning experience like this?
The strategy consultant shows up to “facilitate” your two-day planning meeting. You go through the standard agenda:
- Success metrics
- Strategic priorities
- Execution plans
The consultants then go away to create your plan. A month (sometimes more) later, they arrive, with a thick binder full of beautiful charts on every page that explain what to do to achieve the goals they’ve laid out.
You’re ready to go!
The problem arises when, after marvelling at that binder, you close it up thinking, ‘’We’re going to get on this tomorrow!’ before you put it on a shelf above your desk. And then a week later, it’s still up there on the shelf. And weeks go by and slowly the strategic plan in that binder begins to gather dust. And it stays that way, forever.
Or you’re one of the awesome companies who get started, but a month or two later, it’s been left by the wayside, gathering dust.
We call that a case of SPOTS. Strategic Plan on Top Shelf.
The problem isn’t in the creation of business strategy. The problem is often in the execution of the strategy. In my conversations with CEOs, it’s scary how often this happens.
Why does this happen? There are lots of reasons, but often it’s about ownership and engagement. You see, it’s not your team’s plan. It’s the consultant’s plan. Your team was just along for the ride.
There’s a very big difference between someone saying, ‘this is what you need to do and the team agreeing and fully owning their plan.
A coach- facilitator is more like a guide. You (and your team) decide where you want to go, then the guide provides the tools, process and awareness to create an environment where everyone feels heard and part of the process.
That awareness is a key component. Part of the coach’s true value is in making people feel safe, encouraging discussions, managing conflict and deepening the team’s ability to work together. It’s about levelling up the team so they can level up the business.
Discipline is Key
Like with any sports coach, one of the things a business coach does is help you create discipline. That discipline is one of the missing elements in the strategic consulting process. The consultant may be disciplined, but not the client.
The true transformation happens when the leadership team builds the disciplines around thinking and execution themselves. As that happens, they create more focus on the execution of the plan, their goals and levelling up the whole company.
It’s a vital cultural shift that embeds winning throughout the culture. Winning teams are disciplined. They go out night after night and perform at 100%, as a team to achieve their goals.
This shift needs to start with the leadership team. As they become more disciplined (and accountable), that cultural shift will spread throughout their teams and the whole organization.
What is Your True Goal?
When talking with leaders about their need for a strategic plan, I love to ask the sometimes troublesome question “what’s the underlying goal here?”.
Sometimes it’s the growth of the business. Others it’s succession. Or it could be solving issues in a part of the business. Rarely is it “well, I want a strategic plan”.
Creating a strategic plan is the wrong goal.
Creating a healthy, accountable, disciplined, GREAT business is the goal.
A well-led strategic planning process helps develop the clarity needed and levels up the team so they can execute it. The strategic plan is simply a step to communicate clarity.