Hadley Associates, Inc - Business Consultants
Insight-for-Clients

A Consultant's Perspective

Every industry needs to hear from a different perspective to challenge their current thinking. Hadley Associates has consulted in a wide variety of industries for seventeen years, including assignments with manufacturers and service organizations. When blended together, these experiences are worth sharing.

WHAT SUCCESS LOOKS LIKE

Successful companies have one very simple commonality; they have a strong conviction for the fundamentals. All know themselves very well and are focused on excellence. Every high-performing company Hadley Associates has ever interviewed or assisted has these traits:

  • Understand their strengths and limitations
  • Have a vision greater than where they are today
  • Communicate with customers and stakeholders

  • Involve their people in the business direction
  • Base discussions and decisions on facts
  • Follow a plan, use metrics and adjust as needed

While these observations seem obvious, making it work is difficult. This is true for the three-employee business or a multi-line production facility. In reality, the hard cold fact is that most owners/mangers say they do all of the above, but really do not. They honestly "believe" they do, but there is a "disconnect".

If you are in a position of leadership, ask your employees, customers and suppliers about your company. Do they have the same perceptions and vision as you? If they do, you are to be congratulated; if they do not, welcome to the majority. While this feedback may be frustrating, there is a remedy.

CHANGE IS DRIVEN BY PROBLEMS

Consultants are pulled into difficult situations. Often you are asked to "fix something that is broken" or is very troubled. When you enter this situation, the consultant begins to probe, asking basic questions and then drills down to get the details.

This approach is used for several reasons. First, the consultant is seeking to understand and develop an overview of the company, industry segment and the issues. Second, the advisor is observing and developing an impression of the management and personnel. Finally, the consultant is thinking how to address the issues; what are the alternatives? This process is universal.

Most of the time, the reason a client calls is not the real problem. The client may be focused on the end result and not the root-cause. Other times, he is caught up in the problem itself and is overwhelmed. In rare cases, he just has a "gut feel that sometime is not right" and needs verification.

Let's look the major reasons why clients call a consultant.

1. Rapidly declining performance
2. Base revenue stream faltering
3. Increasing competition pressure
4. A feeling of no clear direction
5. New manager wants a "fast-start" plan

Are these factors in the your industry? More important, are you experiencing them? Only you can answer those questions. Experience shows businesses tend to be complacent and reluctant to question their future or change. For example, a business owner may "feel the pain", but the "fear of change" is much stronger.

It is interesting that creating a "fast-start" plan is the solution. Turnaround consultants do this all the time. New managers bring the same new perspective. They both want to make a difference quickly. They tend to throw away "conventional wisdom" ("this how we do things here" thinking). They are proactive and focused of success.

When they succeed, envious people wonder how they did it or say, "timing was on their side". In reality, we know why. They saw something the rest of us did not see. They changed the rules, acted and adjusted as needed.

Troubled companies, including manufacturers or service providers, have common symptoms, such as:

  • Have lost a key business
  • Need new products or services
  • Do not understand customers
  • Miscalculated their real costs
  • Misaligned assets (i.e.: inventories, capacity)
  • Lack the ability to set priorities

The fact of the matter is that by identifying strategic issues (sources-of-pain), you can make an immediate impact on your business. Longer term, strategic choices will need to be made. Some may seem daring, but depending on your vision, they may be worthy of consideration.

CREATING SOLUTIONS

From a consulting perspective, senior business managers should periodically challenge his or her current business model (business practices). This should be done at least every three to five years. Start with the critical functions, such as marketing, manufacturing and administration.

The goal is to identify several "bold moves" that will make a significant and positive difference. We are not seeking subtle change; we are talking about a shift in fundamental direction. As an individual business, you can define what is a "bold move" for yourself. For discussion purposes, the following will to help you get started.

Bold Moves in Marketing:

  • Enter a new channel-of-distribution
  • Add/delete a product or service category
  • Re-define the way you sell and service customers
  • Listen to your customers as a competitor
  • Enter non-traditional market

Bold Moves Manufacturing:

  • Develop standard procedures and costs
  • Measure/display performance metrics
  • Adapt "rapid response" work centers
  • Introduce "flexible" work teams
  • Change the work flow and layout

Bold Moves in Administration:

  • Complete "backroom" process mapping
  • Adopt "activity based" cost accounting
  • Switch the responsibility of key managers
  • Adopt outsourcing of non-strategic activities
  • Hold a management retreat

"Bold moves" do not have to be unique, but it helps. They do need to be dramatically different for your operations to make an impact.

In practical terms, the current senior managers usually cannot accomplish the "bold moves" by themselves within their organization. It must be a human limitation, but existing personal relationships have invisible barriers like preconceived notions, historic baggage or limited thinking. It is suggested you use a facilitator or consultant initially as a resource. In time, the new thinking (paradigms) allows existing managers to carry on themselves.

Assessing the appropriate "bold moves" is an important step. A "bold move" is a shift to another performance level. It is distancing your business operations from "look a likes". The transformation begins with the your vision of the business and the opportunities you see developing. Products, processes, technology, channels-of-of distribution or a myriad other possibilities could drive this; it depends on you.

A FINAL THOUGHT

The best selling book, "Who Moved My Cheese?" had the theme that change is ongoing and rewarding if you embrace it; if you do not, your world will wither away. The book forces you to think about how do you want to live.

From a consulting perspective, every manager should lead by questioning and listening, be receptive to new ideas, think "outside the box", manage and encourage change, focus on the fundamentals and measure what is the important.

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Hadley Associates is a consulting firm focused on industrial market research and facilitating strategic change. Drew Hill, principal consultant, is a certified focus group leader and management consultant.


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