I have been doing facilitated planning and strategy consulting for over 30 years. When I first started, the ‘technology’ was a desktop computer. You would facilitate sessions with your clients, write ideas, objectives and plans on large pieces of paper taped to a wall in a conference room and bring it all back to your computer for transcription. When Post-it Notes came out in giant format that seemed like a real advancement. Instead of large pieces of paper with masking tape, it was peel and stick. It wasn’t technology, but it was a development that made our jobs easier.
Several years later we got white boards with internal photocopiers that rolled over the top of the board for easy note duplication. Finally we graduated to large conference room monitors that could display our PowerPoint slides in front of the teams we were hired to facilitate. The tools we were using to do our jobs were getting better all the time.
And then the tools started getting really good because tech showed up in the form of cloud-based platforms that housed your whole plan, available for everyone in the organization to see and work on. But, it seemed we didn’t want to leverage that. Many consultants stopped embracing tech.
Our customers didn’t though. They kept on going right through the tech economy. They discovered these cloud-based apps that could walk them through planning and could communicate the plan throughout the organization with a list of email addresses.
And, all of a sudden they needed us a lot less.
While we still produced our slides and fancy presentations, our binders and section dividers, and our beautiful artwork displaying cool concepts that justified our fees, our customers were managing without us. And some of us were left wondering what happened.
Strategy planning, consulting and facilitating is an interesting industry. It’s very broad and its practitioners are varied. If you don’t have a Chief Strategy Officer internally to help you plan and execute your strategy you will probably rely on external firms to help you facilitate your plans. Oftentimes this is good practice. Someone from the outside is usually better positioned to go after sacred cows and ask uncomfortable questions.
At the top of the food chain, there are the firms with huge brand names like McKinsey, DeLoitte, Boston Consulting Group, Bain, etc. They are usually dogmatic in their approaches, promoting their ‘proven’ method of planning that commands healthy fees. Since large usually attracts large, their clients tend to be the multinational firms that can a) afford them, b) like the cache of working with …you know…McKinsey. The problem with this model is that it operates according to the old structures of doing business that really don’t apply anymore. Information is distributed and good ideas don’t just come from the top. They come from everywhere. So having a large firm ‘tell you what to do’ not only doesn’t fit, it doesn’t really work anymore.
Then there are the mid-level companies that have a group of independent practitioners working together, serving a book of business that they have developed over time. These firms also offer an individualized service but at a lower price point. They usually have their planning methods and develop loyalty among the executives they serve.
And then there are the single practitioners. They know planning because they’ve done it within the confines of a company. They’ve worked the politics. They’ve done the convincing. They’ve helped allocate the budgets. They’ve tried to actually implement the plans their teams created. They have great insight. They also have much fewer resources than the other two levels of consultants. They build their businesses through direct referrals and word of mouth.
These are the consultants who may be suffering the most with their inability to leverage technology.
But we’re failing our clients if we don’t use tech’s new tools for planning. Because our clients are using technology in every conceivable manner to help them achieve incredible productivity at scale so why wouldn’t they use it to plan? Why wouldn’t they use it to execute? And why aren’t we using it to make our jobs easier? Fear? Inability to admit that it’s not rocket science to put together strategy and make it happen? Consultants used to be a part of the mystery surrounding successful companies that executed their strategy. But execution is not a mystery and technology gives you the tools to ensure everyone is involved.
And therein lies the key… everyone is involved in both the planning and execution. Alignment is the secret to actually making the plan happen. And the most effective way to make it happen is using a planning platform that distributes information throughout the organization. The platform I use and represent is called MPOWR Envision. Let me outline the three main things it does to help both clients and consultants:
- The final product you deliver to the client is fully distributable to the organization digitally. The plan ‘belongs to everyone’. That means it’s more likely to happen. There is no report to generate, no binder or fancy printed material to collate. The plan is more likely to be an accurate representation of what the organization is trying to accomplish and provides a platform for everyone to see exactly what role they have in helping accomplish the organizational goals.
- If leadership is supportive and the client executes the plan, you are more likely to retain their business. When they need to go through another planning cycle, they’ll choose you because of the tool you introduced to make planning easier, communicating better and executing a reality.
- You can monitor their progress. You can help coach them through the tough spots. You don’t just drop the plan and say, “See you in three years.” You get to see the challenges, the successes, the failures, the accomplishments. Again, it more firmly embeds you as a member of the client’s planning team and helps them be more successful.
- People throughout the organization now have a part in the plan because they are in it. They receive notifications about projects that need updating, about a colleague’s action item that affects what they’re doing. The plan engages the very people that are critical to making it happen. It is one more element in the distributed work force that unites people in accomplishing something for the organization.
- A cloud-based planning platform is easily modified when client’s need to shift and pivot in a changing environment - a spreadsheet, a Word document or a printed report, not so much.
- Using KPIs and Critical Success Factors, the organization can really focus and tie together the things that make them successful. And they can work to improve where things aren’t working as well. The plan and its elements actually get measured while they’re happening as opposed to a kind of plan measurement.
The ease, simplicity, inclusiveness and accountability inherent in a straightforward software platform that actually helps to accomplish a plan is a development that is light years ahead of any planning tool we have had to date. If you have a consulting business and you haven’t yet used a cloud-based platform to ensure your clients are successful, I highly recommend checking it out.
You’ll never go back to business as usual.