Management Consulting

Does the title “management consultant” make you think of a vague, nondescript role? This could be true – management consulting opportunities and duties round out a vast area of the spectrum. Consulting is part of any job field, as is management. But the title gives more insight than one might realize. A management consult is an expert who is trained in assisting management teams to improve performance in all types of organizations. Though for-profit business is the most common type of business they work in, management consultants also provide assistance to government and nonprofit organizations. Each consultant will have their own specific field from tech to fashion to restaurant industries where the may flourish, but management consultants across the board are experts who provide advice and services to both struggling and thriving organizations.

Management consultants commonly use up-to-date methods and strategies to improve an organization overall. Businesses can have complex problems from operations to financial costs. Management consultants usually specialize in very specific management related strategies. These experts carry extensive industry insight, problem-solving abilities, and years of experience to be able to improve an organization’s efficiency. Once hired, management consultants conduct a thorough audit using research, analyzing internal data, interviewing employees, and may prepare and present reports on their findings.

Sometimes a management team cannot handle constructive criticism, and sometimes employees do not feel there is a friendly open door policy to communicate issues with them. Often, an entire department may be in such a rut with low company morale that nothing is being accomplished. This is where unbiased, constructive criticism comes into play. Removing the emotional tension that comes into effect when discussing job performance is integral in terms of helping an organization move forward and succeed.
Many people believe that consultants charge for information they may already have themselves. But think of it in terms as a personal trainer–while many of us know workout routines and diets, a trainer gives us a specific workout plan and diet regime for our body type, lifestyle, and health levels. We are not all the same. Nor is any organization. And sometimes we all need a little boost, advice, and accountability.

When organizations feel their employers are on their side, then their job performance spikes, resulting in happier clients. Sometimes, employers can lose sight as to what needs to be accomplished internally to get the executive team on the same page. A sloppy, ineffective and mismanaged executive team with unaligned goals can create chaos in the workplace.

This is why management consulting is so important – when a business is managed improperly or executives aren’t all on the same page, employees tend to feel that. The trickle-down effect of mismanagement begins to negatively influence each team and each individual member in the workplace. Chaos is contagious. Often, upper-level management can be so mired in the day-to-day that individual members of the executive team lose the ability to focus on the internal workings of the company.

Lazy and inefficient management can also cost thousands of dollars if not dealt with accordingly. Ineffective management methodology can be resolved in house through exposure of specific issues and proper correction – most often worked out when goals are established and upper-level management agrees to work as a team toward those shared goals.

These are some common factors that influence why organizations may call in a management consultant, but obviously, there are innumerable reasons. Clearly, a seasoned consultant with years of experience can develop a specific game plan to help any organization.

Therefore, while making a small investment in a consultant might seem costly at the start, the overall return for any organization’s success is far greater.

So, what should one look for in a management consultant? Now we’ve established that a consultant might be effective, it’s time to talk about separating wheat from chaff in terms of the selection. There’s surely an abundance of highly educated people out there who are well-versed in business and management. How do you vet the right management consultant for any business? After all, finding the best fit for any business can make or break the total experience.

First things first: find a consultant who has a deep and extensive knowledge of the given industry. The right consultant will know the specific target audience, clients, and type of employees. They understand the material and what is being sold or bought, whether we’re talking about services or products. They also need to have a true understanding of new and modern methods of management and training. This is key.

Double check their success rate – the numbers will never lie. It’s important to talk to organizations they have previously worked with and hear about their experiences–were their needs improved and changed for the better, even after the consultant left? Cost reduction is also key. Any management consultant who can’t surface metrics that tell the story about their previous experience may not be worth investing in. As always, the key metric is cash.

Once the right management consultant is vetted and brought in, it’s important for the executive team to furnish that consultant with what they need for success. It’s important that the management consultant be set up to win, not fail, by being allowed to remove obstacles toward success. It’s surprising the number of businesses who spend the investment money on a consultant, yet don’t “get out of their own way” once the consultant is placed.

Trust is key, and the management consultant needs to be given the authority and go-ahead to surface issues and solve them using internal resources, as well as bringing in external when it fits a particular situation.

Managers need to be involved in this process. If a consultant wants to just “talk and not do the work” with you, find another one. Bringing in the right talent across the board is one of the most pivotal components to your success story, so take care to work with a consultant who works toward the goal – and not necessarily just to make the brass happy. Your success depends on it.

 

Business Consulting

For a business to be 100 percent effective, it’s leaders/executive team and employees must learn to adapt and change to ever-changing, mutable industries. From technologies to target audiences, something is always a little different, year after year. Sometimes learning and adapting can be complicated and overwhelming, and this is where hiring a business consultant can be the best choice!

What exactly is a business consultant? Business consultants are experts in creating an effective business through strategic methods proven for success. Of course, each business has different needs and problems – concurrently, each consultant brings something unique to the table, though the foundational strategies of each consultant seem to be inherently similar. If nothing else, the goals are the same.

Consultants will meet with company leaders and owners to identify key business systems and then map out the system’s processes from start to finish. Is a process clearly defined, documented, and consistently followed through? Are the current processes efficient or effective? How can a business revamp a system to add value?

These questions are answered by identifying the business’ goals, improvement needs, and problem areas. A business consultant may ask questions such as, Do you want to expand? Do you want to lower cost reduction? Do you want ISO certification?  Overall, the business consultant will help managers see how the people, process, and products interact and flow together, and if the current strategies reflect the most effective way possible. From there, the right consultant will assist the business through the transition and execution of new systems.

Why hire a business consultant? The real question is, why not? Business improvement is a necessity for growth regardless of how business improvement is achieved. On top of that, the outside unbiased constructive criticism is a pivotal component in why business consultants can do their job so efficiently.

While paying a consultant for a few weeks/months may be a small investment, the returns can be incredibly rewarding. Business consults can identify flawed systems that are underperforming, costing more time and money. They can reduce expenses, asset costs, and working capital. Their goal is to help a company reach maximum efficiency when it comes to cost.  

A huge factor in problem areas can simply be the lack of consistency throughout processes, thus a business consultant will be able to help business performance stay consistent through the whole process, regardless of a specific department or project.

Keeping up to date with any company’s  target audience is a must for business growth, and sometimes we all lose touch. But there is no reason not to get back in touch! Connecting with the target audience is the best way to maintain customer loyalty, and this can be achieved through studying the wants and needs of target audiences and building efficient processes around those needs. While, making customers happy is, of course, a priority, this also gives any company a bit of an advantage with your competitors. Business consultants will help get this process moving with the customer in mind, looking at these target audiences and doing a careful analysis of audience and competitor in order to affect change.

Sometimes the change needs to start from the top down. Business consultants will aid in creating from the management side to positively affect the overall business. Company culture and company morale are pivotal to keep employees and customers happy.

Now that we established the benefits of hiring a business consultant, the real question remains; how to decide who to hire? While many people have experience with running their own businesses, that does not always mean they are efficient business consultants. It is the classic example of the college math professor who can solve an equation but is unable to explain how to solve the equation. Just because someone can fix their own business doesn’t mean they’ll be successful at navigating someone else’s.

Any business consultant should have a deep and complex knowledge and understanding of business consulting. What is their experience? What is their success rate? How many years have they been consulting? Does the consultant have experience using modern and up to date tools and methods? These are major questions to ask in the interview process. And if you don’t know, just like buying a car–shop around.

Make sure any consultant is involved in the process start to finish. Reconstructing business methodology is not a delicate choice. Their involvement in the process reflects their business and leadership skills. Merely telling executives how to fix the problem will not yield any results. They need to be in the brunt of it with the top level to fully understand the business and what will and will not work.

Finally, business consultants must abide by an obligation to themselves and the company on the whole not to play favorites. An effective business consultant must remain as impartial as possible throughout the process. One way to initiate “not taking a side” in all decisions is to vet and use a system of tools. Testing such as Myers-Briggs that outlines the strengths and weaknesses of specific employees as well as the management team is a great way for business consultants to know what they’re working with.

Ultimately, the right business consultant will always make a concerted effort to manage to goals. Determining these goals from the outset may seem like a great deal of time and energy, but it’s always surprising how many businesses don’t really have a solid plan to get to the goals. Sometimes, the goals themselves are fuzzy. Many business executives know they want to increase revenue 10%+ by quarter, but don’t have a waterproof plan for getting to those revenue goals.

For business consultants, stepping in as an outsider and reviewing the company’s goals and culture can allow the consultant to come up with game-changing strategies for taking a business in a different direction. If a company’s top branch trusts the hired business consultant, then the change that consultant can make over time can be groundbreaking and phenomenal for the company in question.

Business Consultants and Their Challenges

If you take a minute and look at some of the articles about business management, you couldn’t be blamed for concluding that business consultants and management consultants have earned themselves a less than stellar reputation.

Many conclude that business consultants have no future in small business for a variety of reasons including track record, cost, as well as viability. All these conclusions could be sufficiently justified based on all the past/current information.

Yet they are not 100% accurate: business consulting as a discipline as well as business consultants as experts have never been more important and vital to the success of small business. Let’s have a look at the why and how.

Why?
The answer to the why is rather simple: choices. Take a step back and think about what has happened over the last few years: a rise in available tools and services have created a great deal of competition creating a vast marketplace with immense choices in virtually every subcategory of business products and services.

How?
Now that we have so many choices in selecting our vendors and service providers, the real question is: how do we choose the right one? Does SMB have the experience or the human capital to make those decisions? Of course, some SMB will fare better than others but the majority are unlikely to have internal HR capacities/ HR capital to make the most out of those choices.

Business Consultants to the Rescue
Deploying advisors of any kind has been a time-tested method, and there is no difference in this case. Business Consultants much like any other special advisors have to be selected carefully and purposefully. Yet, more importantly, selection should be a deliberate step in addressing the internal deficiencies of the organization.

Selection should start with analyzing the business needs/internal deficits. Optimally the selection should be based on the conscious and deliberate understanding that no organization has all the needed expertise “in-house”. Unfortunately, that is rarely the case: most of the time SMB leadership resorts to deploying external advisors and consultants either out of fear or several trial and error situations that have gone horribly wrong.

Now What?
Once the consulting entity has been selected the core mission begins. The steps that follow may vary a great deal and are not the subject of this writing; however, the challenges in achieving the end results are.

Traditionally speaking, organizational leadership is the deciding factor in success and failure. All things being equal, the success of a business consultant will greatly depend on the backing of the senior leadership. It is fair to assume that the biggest challenge will be the organizational culture that will inherently resist changes. Hence it is the job of the senior leadership to provide a conducive environment for success. Steps to achieve success could include vocal and strong public support, immediate actions based on the consultant recommendations as well as “transfer of trust”. Such steps will pave the way to a smoother and more effective environment that will lead to success.

In turn, the consultants have their own challenges that could influence the final outcome. Some of those challenges include aligning vendors and third parties, managing the emotional impact of change as well expectation management. All of those could fall under the umbrella term of “change management”.

Many times one or more factors that are mentioned above can and will stray away from the original plans and create dynamic situations that can chip away from success. Hence, it is vital to dynamically and consistently adapt both planning and execution to maximize the potential outcome.

Ultimately, the deployment and end results of special advisors/business consultants are multidimensional and progressive in nature. The true route to success will inherently have to include uncomfortable variables that will challenge organizational synergy as well as internal dynamics. Those will all have limited but lasting impact that will shape the final outcome.

People Problems

People Problems

Not long ago I was speaking to a good friend of mine about micro businesses and some of the inherent and common problems that are not acknowledged. Suffice to say that there are too many to list here but the one that seems to be among the chief issues appears to be “people problems”.

Forget about the #PeopleProblems hashtags on social media. Yes, some of those are funny and timely but there is a more urgent nature to that topic.

Let’s approach this a bit more rationally. Let’s define “micro business”. I see a “Micro Business or MB”  as a business that has grown to a $1M – $10M revenue. It has a small team of employees or sub-contractors that attend to delivering services and products. It has systems and procedures combined with some elementary quality assurance procedures that enables it to deliver goods and services at a “OK level”.

So what is the problem you ask? The answer is simple: growth and scaling. MB is likely to be agile and adaptive, fast moving and inherently more nimble than its counterparts. Yet those advantages are usually overshadowed by lack of the ability to grow the bottom line via scaling. There are many factors that contribute to lack of scaling ability however the most obvious reason is people and the respective problems with people: i.e. People Problems. People problems are usually and inherently a natural part of managing people.

Large and enterprise businesses have been dealing with it for many years.That is where you see concepts such as Human Resource Management, Human Capital Management, Knowledge Management, wellness programs, etc. Those are ways large businesses have been trying to deal with people and the inherent people problems.

So what about MB? How does a micro business deal with the same issues without the same resources? Well, it doesn’t or if it does it is on a limited scale with debatable results. Are there exceptions? Yes of course there are exceptions. As in anything in business there are those that can and are doing it all successfully. That is where you see those MB’s grow and scale. Yet that is not the norm – it is the exception.

In traditional MB when they hit those revenue bench marks a few things tend to happen: they struggle either internally or externally with adding new clients and maintain the same quality, taking short cuts to circumvent quality assurance measures in order to keep up with the work load, make rush judgements in hiring, overworking team members, losing track of customer satisfaction, tuning out or minimizing internal debates, etc. The list is too long to mention here however you get the gist of it. They stop being a coherent team and grow into disorganization and chaos (again there are certainly exceptions).

I think of the above as “People Problems” and how they relate to a MB. A MB has products and services, it has systems and procedures as well as a track record of being able to successfully service clients; however, it can’t grow past a certain revenue. So how do you address that? There is no right or wrong answer but rather just preferences.

Some businesses opt to address people problems by hiring contractors so the burden falls on another business entity. Others opt to invest into training and mentorship, yet others bring in short term consultants adhoc to address particular issues. All of those can and will have results however not addressing the fundamental and the underlying cause: inherent human nature.  Of course there isn’t a magic bullet to handle it all either. It needs to be understood that most of those people issues are not “one offs” nor “temporary”. Those are persistent because those issues are human.

Here is where I suggest that a Chief Operating Officer is ideal. The issue with having a COO is usually a question of the attitude of the business owner and available resources:

Business Owner: this is the biggest issue. Most small business owners don’t feel as they need someone to attend to their daily operations. I have heard it many times, “It is my business; no one can run it like I can”, “It is insulting that you would suggest that you can run my business … I built it from ground up”.

You get the gist of it. It is a combination of the need to be “in charge” and the pain to have to admit that people management does not come naturally. It doesn’t matter if you are managing dozen or a few hundred people the principals stay the same. Team members have to be managed, inspired, motivated and yes …… encouraged. The need to be “in charge” is equally flawed. It is inherent that the business owner is in charge. The need to be “the boss” and / or “problem solver” only interferes with the actual running of the business. The average working day can be effectively used to generate business and attend to maintaining clients however there is very little time for the business owner to attend to daily operational matters. Hence doing so interferes with both and results in meager outcome on both fronts.

Resources: MB has inherently limited resources that need to be strategically deployed to the greatest benefit of the organization. Having a full blown COO is usually not an option. Its cost and work load both would not be justifiable. So what is the alternative? A eCOO (e Chief Operating Officer) Or Remote COO which would both address the workload and resource expenditure.

No, the above is not an infomercial for my services. There are many qualified COOs that offer such services. I am not that special nor do I suggest that I would do a better job than anyone else. I ,however, believe that this need has not been articulated nor acknowledged.

Small business owners have been made to believe that an entrepreneur / small business owner has to have a bookkeeper, an accountant, a lawyer yet never an operations person or eCOO that attends to his/ her daily operational and people issues.

If nothing else this piece should serve as thought provoking fodder for all trying to grow a business.

Customer Service Revisited

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/customer-service-revisited-kamyar-shah

Published on

Customer is the king or so we have been told. But is it really true? It depends on who you ask.

Much like everything else in business customer service and its respective impact on commercial entities are a juggling act. Let’s have a look at the different perspectives.

Employees

I once heard a CS manager say “Who ever said that the customer is the king never had a job that involved customer service”. Though I don’t agree with the sentiment it dawned on me that those who we rely on to provide customer facing services may perceive their obligation differently than it is intended.

Let’s face it. If your CS rep feels that customers are trampling all over them, how will they find the will to perform with conviction day in and day out? The other side of the same situation may be equally important. Does the CS rep need to perform with conviction?

Owner / Stakeholders

We all heard it before: customer is the king and customer is always right. Though I agree with the sentiment it may be a bit too far reaching and abstract. Yes, we are in business to service our clients to best of our ability. We all heard this one “Every customer is the most important visitor on our premises…” but is it really true? Is the customer really the most important visitor?

Of course if taken literally the answer is yes. No business can survive without customers but does it serve our interest to crown customers as “King”? What if that “King / Queen” creates unforeseen costs in terms of morale? How about if that customer costs the business more than just time?

Customers

“If I don’t get the service and support that I like I will take my business somewhere else”. Sounds familiar? It not only sounds familiar to me, but I must have said it a few hundred times myself. Naturally there is nothing wrong with that. A well run business is obliged to compete for customers and their respective patronage.

But what is the limit? What differentiates a “reasonable request” vs. “ad hoc annoyers”? Does a $50 purchase entitle a customer to $100 worth of customer service?

Generally speaking, one could easily shrug off the above by assuming faults or short comings in business model or operations management. Equally, one could just assume that the right HR processes in hiring can avoid all of the potential. But that would be a bit to simplistic and inherently risky.

Cost vs. Benefits

It is important to understand the pitfalls of “free styling” or “shooting from the hip” when it comes to customer service. In today’s age a single bad customer service review can live on for years publicly and sway new or even existing customer to avoid a business. Imagine the negative impact of multiple such bad reviews across different platforms and social media and I am sure you see how expensive it can get.

So now what? Who is right? Who is wrong?

As a consultant my natural reaction and answer would be “It depends”. Yes, I realize it is cliché and an open ended response that would minimize potential criticism.

In reality however there is an actual answer and solution to it. The answer is balance the cost vs the benefit in the long term by using a proven methodology / concept such as Net Promoter (And No. I am not selling anything AND I am not affiliated with anyone that does)

The Net Promoter and the likes have been around for a while in one way or other. However small businesses have not seen it championed in a way that would put it on their radar. From personal experiences I have not met too many small business owners that were familiar with such methodology.

The final answer: all three prospective i.e. CS personnel, business owners and customers have valid points of view that needs to be taken into account. In order to achieve a sustainable balance one has to turn to an established methodology that allows for a closed loop survey and communication in order to optimize customer service.

The bottom line : Use a methodology !!!!

Your shop doesn’t have a shopkeeper

Originally published at :https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/your-shop-doesnt-have-shopkeeper-kamyar-shah

Published on

Can you imagine having a brick-and-mortar business and leaving it open but unattended? Day in and day out customers walking in and evaluating your merchandise. Some buy and others don’t. Can you even fathom the viability of such business model?

Of course no one would open a business, stack it up with merchandise, advertise it and market it and then just leave the doors open and go about doing something else. Is there any way this could work? In a rare occasion such as automatic car wash, YES it could. But it is not a very viable model for most SMBs. But why do virtually all of us do it day in and day out anyway?

Yes most of us do. Don’t believe me? Well – think about your website. What happens when a visitor comes to your website, i.e. your virtual “shop”? You guessed it – they are left to their own devices. Don’t get me wrong; much like any evolutionary path we all have tried streamlining and experimenting with ways to get those visitor to take actions that include a wide range of measures like A/B testing. But the real question is: Is that it? Is this all we can do?

So now what?

Let’s take a step back and think about B.G. (Before Google). Your shop was open and sales people were ready to assist customers by providing product knowledge and help them decide in their selection process. Suddenly along came the Internet and the B.G. ended. We suddenly forget what has been working for a very long time just because this is a “virtual world”.
People get busy with needing and wanting a website, then needed it to be optimized for the engines, bought PPC, started email marketing, and so on. All great things that most businesses should do. Then came the attempt to capitalize and maximize every single visitor resulting in tracking and re-targeting, opt-in emails, big data analysis and so on. Along the way not many stopped to think: do we have to reinvent the wheel? Did all the working concepts in business suddenly disappear? What happened to the SOP’s that we knew worked?

Back to the basics?

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for those actions. Each and every one of the many processes have their place and are successful if implemented properly and evaluated on a continuous basis. Those however belong in the lead generation portion of a plan. When it comes to actually converting a website visitor interactions via providing sound advice while a visitor is on your site, should be considered mission critical. All the traffic to your website won’t be of much use if they don’t take your desired action.

Human Intelligence

The second part of such plan can and should include rigorous data collection and data evaluation. Most savvy business people have been using data for a long time but when it comes to web visitors most of that data is concentrated on actions taken i.e. clicks, funnels, behavior, etc. That data and the respective analysis of it has its place. It can be very useful in helping make many decisions including design parameters, content marketing, etc. But the missing element is what you can’t get out of that data set: the human factors. Did that visitor buy from me because of a given event that can’t be understood from click data? Was that particular visitor comparison shopping and the price alone deterred him/her to go to your competitor without realizing that overall cost of your product is actually lower in the long run? And so on.
Granted some issues certainly can be addressed via testing but none of those possible solutions can replace live human interactions. Now imagine if you could access and analyze human intelligence!!! What would the value of such data set be to your business? What will you actually know in 90 days? Or 180 days?

This is not theoretical in nature. It is just a simple evolution toward a more inclusive IOT. You are already able to interact with your smart house, smart phone, smart watch, and many other daily tools.

Isn’t it time for your website to become a “smart website?”