Conventional wisdom says that firms need access to experts from their industry to help them develop strategies that will separate them from the competition. Nothing can be further from the truth! I’ve enjoyed a fulfilling career as a management consultant being industry agnostic. Rather, I brought clients all kinds of problem-solving frameworks, strategic planning paradigms and implementation methodologies, all aimed at helping them think differently about how to move their organizations smartly forward.
When your approach to selecting management consulting begins by requiring industry expertise, the best that you can hope to achieve is a “keeping up with the Jones’s” proposition. I knew nothing about Home Improvement Retail, for example, until I got a gig with The Home Depot. Yet, I helped them to realign their store operations to be more female-friendly - which is a good thing, given that women make about 2/3 of the buying decisions (according to the research that I did during the engagement) on any home improvement project. The fact is, you need advisors that are NOT from your industry. They are the only advisors that can provide an objective point-of-view and new perspectives that enable breakthrough thinking.
Why? They think differently than you do - or anyone else with deep industry experience. An outsider, like me, doesn’t know that the question that they’re about to ask might be seen as a dumb one. So, they ask it! Moreover, when they do, sometimes it helps you to break rank with your industry brethren and consider an unconventional path forward.
Indeed, access to different thinking is the only way to derive ideas that will separate you from your competitors. Don’t you think that your competitors are using, so called, industry experts? Of course they use those kind of “experts.” That’s what is expected. But, guess what? Those experts are only capable of delivering to you the same old, tired recommendations that they have delivered to every other firm in your industry. Is that what you want? The same solutions that your competitors are applying to “beat” you? I’d advise against it.
Here are some things to consider when choosing management consulting support:
Does the consultant have a solid track record? You really should not trust the future of your business to anyone that hasn’t proven to be able to make a difference to other clients in the past. Seek out consultants that have a proven track record of delivering results. Check references and see what the consultant has been able to accomplish elsewhere.
Does the consultant have an approach that is industry agnostic? It is essential that the people that choose as advisors have an approach or methodology that is tried and true. Methodologies are essential to developing the strategies that can make a difference to you. It’s not enough to be a “nice guy.” Rather, you want someone that has an approach that they can bring to solve your problem.
Is the consultant a thought leader? Thought leadership in the form of regularly published articles and books is an important consideration when choosing a consultant. You want someone that is interested in contributing to the betterment of the field because that represents some that has taken the time to think through all of the ramifications of whatever it is that they are recommending. They’ve spent the time to demystify the topic and worked hard to make it easy for you to understand and consume. The ability to make simple what others complicate is a mark of a solid consultant - is someone that you want to do business with.
Do you like them? This may sound a bit “touchy, feely,” however, likeability is an essential consideration when choosing a strategic advisor. You really do want someone that you like because you’re going to be spending a good deal time with that individual and you’re going to be putting yourself in a position to learn from that person. If you don’t like them, you’re not likely to gain all that you can from that consultant.
These considerations are critical to choosing the “right” consultant for your business. As you can see, finding an advisor that thinks differently is the only way to surface the blind spots that can hinder you from devising the strategies that enable disruption. If you can disrupt your industry, you gain the opportunity to seize the market share that separates you from the competition and, when sustained, that separation enables you to become indispensable to your customers - for they will always come back to the businesses that they can’t live without.