I’m seeing the game and I’m disgusted. I’ve been watching this now for almost twenty years and I can’t believe this keeps happening. While consulting in general has a bad name and skyrocketing bills, innovation and startup consulting displays some of the worst practices and decision making I’ve ever seen in business. It’s like normally intelligent people suddenly develop the persona of lemmings and just randomly jump off of the cliff for the salty, wave crashed rocks below and pay for the privilege with cash. Don’t get me wrong – there are the good ones, but they few and far between.
High Bills, No or Low Results
Why on earth do some spend hundreds of thousands to millions on innovation consulting for no real results, day after day, year after year?
Training by The Untrained
Why in this world do some spend the same vast amounts for innovation training – by people who usually have never run a business, never truly innovated persistently with profitable success or worst and finally actually get trained by mostly people who usually could be our children with as much real life business experience as a defenseless duckling?
Advice from the Blind
These same then let these expensive, inappropriately experience, tactically often new to the world “consultants and experts” try things on their firms and staff so alien to their lives and business sector that failure, anger and frustration is not only assured but often times personal, brand and firm reputations are tarnished or worse.
Sold by essentially…well, I’m not quite sure….
Has anyone seen a job ad from those bigger consulting firms? Well, here’s one….
Strategy Consultant’s primary responsibilities will be the day-to-day management of;
- $5 to $10 million in consulting to agreed quality, profitability and needs
- Scoping, planning and delivering projects of $150,000 to $1,000,000
- Managing 5-10 projects to budget, scope, quality and schedule
- Strategic account management and senior client relationship development
- Deliver the highest quality work to schedule and budget
We are seeking individuals with the ambition, drive, expertise and skills to help make XYZ the preeminent specialist advisory and research firm in the world.
Ideally you will have have:
- An exceptional career in consulting or management consulting
- A track record of winning and delivering business
- A wide industry network and/or business experience in consulting
- Client service mentality, always aims to impress with service
- Aims to be the best with a strong drive to succeed
- Dependable, can be relied upon to get the job done, no matter what
- Able to see the big picture while paying close attention to quality in detail
- Sets high standards and leads by example
- First rate credentials in x, y or z or an MBA or related field.
Notice that there’s not a thing really about actually helping customers. There’s nothing about prior actual success in an industry. There’s only questions about consulting, contacts, opening doors and generating annual business in the millions. Nice. Real nice.
To be honest, there’s just no excuse. I don’t get it. Is it the big name? The cool name? The trendy? Well, I don’t know but here’s some advice from this consultant who does none of the above…
Try something different…logical…revealing…demanding…and maybe directional…
Ask a few really basic questions:
- Has the team I’ll get ever run our type of business?
- Has the team I’ll get ever run anything in our supply chain?
- Does anyone on the team we’ll get have an understanding of our technologies or business models?
- Has anyone on the team ever commercialized, from insight to concept to launch to maintenance any product, let alone one in our space or a similar one?
- Has anyone actually innovated?
- Has anyone on the team ever won an award for these products?
- Are any of those products market leaders?
- Are any of those products disruptive? Revolutionary?
- Are any of those products sold in the hundreds of millions? Tens? Billions?
You get the picture….
Expect something novel – Costs inversely proportional to risk
There is absolutely no reason for any engagement with anyone to even start with a billable hour. Maybe travel costs and expenses, but that’s about it. If the group cannot look at the situation, especially for innovation, and listen for a few hours and then make some basic directional recommendations with some teeth, logic and evidence, you’ve got the wrong people. Maybe an afternoon or a day, dinner and a follow-up breakfast and then part ways. Try a few firms. Such engagements can often convert or start as monthly retainers on the lower end to allow learnings and trusting relationships to develop slowly and effectively.
After that, if you even pick one, they should not be jumping even then to the $50,000 or higher start. That’s a hint about that sales guy thing. Instead, it should be a five to twenty thousand dollar bit centered, at least for innovation, on the situation in more depth with an expectation of several specific paths forward in quantifiable markets with abstracted to specific specifications of the what must be trues and a basic business fairy tale – problem, solution, metrics, financials, resources and timing.
Only after all of this should bigger budgets with well segmented breaks emerge. In other word, the costs should go up only as confidence builds.
Expect only experts to serve you
Never ever compromise. Not twenty somethings who have never even likely run a lemon aid stand. Never a herd of MBA’s – never anyone in fact -with no germane experience in your industry at actual companies with proven, documented, profitable market successes. Many firms I’ve heard follow some 80/20 to 70/30 rule where the high number are those inexperienced, usually newbies with no germane experience. Often the experienced lead, if that’s the right word, shows up once a month, if that.
Running a fashion firm? Apparel? Well, I’d expert fashion experts, design experts, fabric and materials experts, assembly experts – just not “innovation experts” or “consulting experts”.
Running a materials firm say in adhesives? I want sales and marketing guys with 20 years in adhesives. I want chemistry experts. I want manufacturing and processing experts. I want relevant industry application experts.
Yeah, I also want the lateral in innovation – if its water resistant clothing, give me experts in boating, in scuba suits, in house wraps, in fish. If its assembly of windows at high speed, get me experts in other types of high speed assembly, high speed chemistry, high speed anything. You get the point. Just not more generic “innovation consultants or trainers”, not more “strategy experts” or “big data guys”.
No finely dividing – expect real breakthroughs
Big Data? Really? Major trends, big ideas, real breakthroughs are easy to spot once the value proposition is there and you don’t need a ton of data or 1000 focus groups for it as if its’ the ultimate over confirmation of Double Stuff Oreos®!
In a process, it’s not in innovation with consulting about incrementally improving steps for millions, it should be about radically improving it – often by eliminating steps, not improving them, by utilizing or eliminating equipment, not adding it, about the switch back if it does not work costs, not just the switch to costs.
Expect big things and you will get them. Your spending big bucks. Expect an awesome return. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s the right thing to do.
Consultants should complement your staff, not replace them
No one knows, in reality, your business better than you and your staff do. It’s there. Deep down if not right on top. In all of your staff, top to bottom, if only you let it out, let them play, let them shine. Great leadership knows this. Consultants cannot fix that. If the leadership is failing at this, then replace them.
What consultants can really do, especially within innovation, involves complementing leadership and your staff’s skill sets to unleash that potential. They are not there to replace your people. They should be there to make them better. Again, no one knows your business like your people do.
Finally – and most importantly – expect bottom line results.
I always say every time that I meet someone a few basic things that you should expect from every encounter with anyone in business or even your personal life:
Opening – “When we are done, my objective is that, no matter what, I leave you better off than before we started speaking”
Closing – “Are you better off than before we started speaking?”
The same goes for engagements. Every single session, every single project, every conversation your consultants should be leaving you and your colleagues and firm in a better position with some type of bottom line result. At a project’s end, you had better have a quantifiable, crystal clear set of recommendations that are actionable and most likely you should have an action plan and even a product, a demo in hand to show someone, to prove something. No theories. No simple scenarios. Something tangible, that you can demo, hold in your hands, show someone and verify that there is interest and intent.
So, how do I close? I know….
”I hope this open some eyes and left you better off than before”