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  • Writer's pictureHamish Mackenzie

Aim at foot. Shoot.

Are most of your business problems self-inflicted?

One of the most common objections I hear from prospective clients when I discuss an engagement with them is, “We can do that ourselves.” My automatic response: “Really? Then why haven’t you?”

The answers I get are diverse, but what it usually boils down to is this: daily business. And if the issue just isn't a high enough priority, then OK, I can live with that. But often, the problem is so important that resolving it or letting it deteriorate further could have a significant impact on the future success of the organization. And that really frustrates me. The kind of things I am talking about include:

  • Sales people and customer-facing executives sending conflicting messages to the same audiences, causing confusion and mistrust.

  • Poor customer experiences that undermine marketing promises, costing the company sales and market share.

  • A lack of agility in the face of a disruptive competitive environment, threatening the firm’s existence.

  • Internal resistance to executing on a new market position that eliminates ROI.

  • Declining executive performance due to stress and overwork

Of course, it’s understandable that our daily work consumes us and that new sales take priority over everything else. But that doesn’t make it right. Moreover, the longer-term consequences can range from damaging to catastrophic.

Even when companies do try to tackle issues like these internally, they often make one of two critical mistakes:

1) Going at it half-assed: Giving a junior or low-profile person with limited experience the task of finding a solution, framing it as an opportunity to prove their worth. This almost always results in constant requests for assistance from the employee, and/or complaints from more experienced colleagues. The typical result: more work for everyone and a poor outcome.

2) Throwing the kitchen sink at it: Star performers are asked to resolve the issue, even if it isn’t directly related to their work. Business performance drops in their absence, which either makes the original problem worse, or creates new ones.

So, what are the other alternatives?

Many companies tend to ‘Call in the cavalry’. They engage a large professional services firm which sends in a team of crack consultants. Then, three things happen.

Firstly, an atmosphere of fear and loathing develops within the organization, as employees assume they are in danger of being fired.

Secondly, costs escalate quickly thanks to hourly or daily rates that reward consultants for taking as long as possible to solve the problem.

And finally, some consultants end up taking semi-permanent residence within the organization to defend the validity of their work. In other words, they come in to solve a problem, and end up becoming part of it.

Fortunately, there is a third option.

Employ an independent expert skilled in solving a specific issue discretely, quickly and for a fixed cost directly related to the value delivered.

So, here’s my suggestion to you:

Identify an ongoing issue in your business that you know needs solving before it causes long-term damage. Then ask me if I can solve it. Even if I can’t, I probably know someone who can.


Copyright Hamish Mackenzie 2019


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