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Part I – When to hire a strategy consultant

Derek Heiss

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March 19, 2018

For the first installment in our 5-part series, we will outline the best reasons we have seen for why an organization would hire a Strategy Consultant.

The challenge in hiring someone for strategic advice is that it seems to be easier to point to reasons why you would not hire someone, as opposed to why you would.  In our experience at Cipher, we have heard the following sentiments time and again from clients, prospective clients and even friends and family:

  • “I don’t think there is a consultant out there who can tell me something I do not already know about my business or my industry – it is what I live and breathe every day.”
  • “Why would I hire a consultant to tell me how to run my business? If I feel like I need to do that, then my managers probably are not managing and my leaders probably are not leading.”
  • “Bringing a consultant is a risk and a defensive move. If I bring a consultant in to look at our plan or our performance, it just suggests we do not know how to do things right on our own.”

There is certainly a degree of truth in each of these points of view and, the fact of the matter is, a strategy consultant is not the right solution for every problem.  When the Captain of a ship needs to know if there is a storm in the weather forecast for the week ahead, he’s going to call a meteorologist. But when he needs to know how to manage conflict between members of his crew, that meteorologist won’t be much help at all.

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Our experience at Cipher has shown that there are typically seven good reasons to hire a strategy consultant.

  1. Outsider point-of-view: There are times when organizational challenges are truly unique, but there are other times when they have perhaps been encountered before by other players in the market or players in seemingly unrelated industries. Consultants work in a fast-paced project environment and, over the course of their experiences, begin to see commonalities across clients and industries. This outsider point-of-view can add unforeseen value to any given strategy engagement.
  2. Subject matter expertise: Situations arise when companies need access to expertise for a defined objective. For instance, outside of understanding the weather forecast, a ship captain may need to understand the ocean currents in a certain area to prevent his ship from sailing off course. Or maybe he has heard of other ships in the area and needs intelligence on what they are doing and where they are going. For these different insights, the captain needs to consult different experts. 

    At Cipher, our expertise is in helping companies define their market and competitive environments and deriving strategic insights based on our findings to enable strategic action. Fundamentally, we survey the weather, the ocean, and the actions of the other ships to present a full picture of the external factors that could impact the ship’s voyage.

    View Now: Competitive Strategy Best PracticesAccess to best practices: By virtue of cross-company and cross-industry experiences, as well as subject matter expertise, strategy consultants can also provide instant access to best practices. These typically include a clearly defined set of processes and frameworks designed to arrive at actionable solutions quickly and efficiently.
  1. Objectivity: Consultants are, by definition, not a permanent part of the organization. As a result, there are often afforded more freedom in terms of their ability to analyze problems and deliver advice.  The nature of this work removes them from organizational “group-think” and politics that are commonplace at any company.  Strategy consultants are uniquely positioned to ask probing questions, challenge the status-quo and arrive at an honest, objective assessment for leadership to consider.
  2. New ideas: Because of their ability to deliver an outsider point-of-view, be objective and develop expertise, strategy consultants are often a welcome addition to organizations where team members have been in place for a long time. Their fresh eyes and fresh ears can make seemingly unconventional contributions that prove to be thought-provoking and sometimes game-changing. 
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  1. Speed: Good consultants are used to burning the midnight oil and it is even in our nature to be excited about putting in the extra hours in a short amount of time, if they think we can make a lasting impact for their clients. It may seem counter-intuitive if you haven’t worked with a consultant before, but a consultant’s team structure and approach to work makes it easier for them to accomplish complex, time-consuming tasks faster than most.
  2. Results-oriented mentality: Good consultants not only want to leave a lasting impression with their clients, they want to be able to check in 3/6/12 months later to understand what progress is being made and where their insights helped drive the strategy. To accomplish this, good strategy consultants know that what they recommend to their clients needs to be tangible, actionable, and practical to make implementation easy and pain-free.

If any or all of these reasons sound like they could benefit your organization, then it may be time to consider hiring a strategy consultant. Your team may just benefit from the outside point-of-view, subject matter expertise, access to best practices, objectivity, new ideas, speed, and results that come along with a consulting engagement to strengthen your strategy and firm up your voyage plan for the journey ahead.

Competitive Intelligence Buyer's Guide

 

 

Read Part Two:  The Key Components of a Good Strategy Engagement


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Derek Heiss
Derek Heiss

Derek Heiss is the Director of Cipher’s Consulting Practice and is specialized in competitive intelligence and market strategy consulting. Cipher is a consulting and technology firm, based in Annapolis, with a 20+ year track record of delivering solutions to the Fortune 500 and Global 1,000.

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