The executive teams of many mid-sized companies are understandably skeptical about outside consultants. When they hear the term ‘consultant’, they think of someone who is going to borrow their watch to tell them the time! The concern is that the consultant will just tell them what they already know, without really understanding the business. That’s because the typical management consultant simply doesn’t understand what it’s like to sit in an operating executive’s chair.
But increasingly there are “consultants” that aren’t your typical management consultant. These “unconsultants” have lived as entrepreneurs, executives and CEOs of both small and multinational enterprises and know what it takes to scale an organization. Up to now, most small to midsized enterprises (SMEs) didn’t have access to this kind of practical, experienced external help to scale their businesses. The big consultancies focus on multinationals—a much different dynamic. The result is that executives in a company facing an excellent business opportunity may be too consumed by operational needs to make a proper go of it. I remember one instance when I was CEO of Tundra Semiconductor we had a wonderful chance to make an acquisition but our executive team simply didn’t have the bandwidth. I really felt an opportunity passed us by because we didn’t have a trusted partner that could help with due diligence.
The new breed of consulting firms gives SMEs the flexibility to benefit from the expertise of a senior executive in whatever way makes sense. These consultant-practitioners operate as ‘embedded executives’ to help overcome the friction points that limit business potential. Being accountable is cooked into their DNA so they take a high degree of ownership in everything they do with the client. Over time the consulting firm and its client build a long-term relationship in which the consultant becomes a part of of the business versus just consulting to it. It’s quite a contrast to the typical consulting experience that yields a fancy report with a list of hopeful but not always practical recommendations!
Some of these consulting firms specialize in a particular area. The best of them have the multidisciplinary expertise to tackle any business challenge, with practices aligned to the major functions within a growing organization that must be improved to achieve scale. Clients obtain coaching and advisory services up to the executive level, embed interim managers for a particular full or part time role within the organization, or get expert support for a critical project.
For most SMEs, working with a consultancy isn’t yet a natural part of the “business toolbox” as it is for multinationals. But it should be. It’s like building a strong hockey team – you need to practice with the help of A-list players and coaches. The right type of consultant is that A-list ingredient that can lead to cup-winning business success.