Ever met a company which called in consultants and still talks well of them now? Me neither. Well, that’s not quite true. There are good people out there who’ve done really good stuff that has really helped.
A few years ago, a guy I know well went to a charity lunch for the music industry, sat next to someone called Robert whom he’d never met and as a consequence earnt £150,000. How did that happen? It certainly ranks as one of the best lunches ever and he wasn’t even paying! Robert’s large company is a middle ranking finance business, not exactly rock and roll, and he had a real problem. So much so that it might have cost him his job. Falling sales and margins in an over supplied market, struggling to beat the competition, were keeping him awake at night.
So they sat there drinking wine at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, listening to Sharon Osbourne prising money from the corporate wallets of the music industry. Fun though that was, my friend was much more interested in Robert’s problems. What Robert was experiencing he’d seen many times before. To him the solutions were obvious so why couldn’t Robert see them? Being highly qualified, articulate and intelligent should have got him through, right? But it wasn’t enough, nothing like. Had he been over promoted? Possibly. Promoted for some good reasons, but not all the right reasons.
Until the recession business had just arrived, no need to market or sell, contacts and referrals were all that was necessary to hit budget. Then the orders and briefs started to dry up. So what did he do? He told his very large team they needed to sell! No way José! These were mostly long standing executives in an established professional services company. Selling was way too challenging and far beneath them. Off they all went to learn the missing skills on a 3-day course.
Can you teach people something in 3 days they’re not interested in learning? Of course not, so that was an expensive waste of time. What they should have done much, much earlier was ensure that Robert had the skills and experience to lead in tough times and that his team was fit for purpose. Would you fly in a plane where the pilot had never had emergency landing training? I think not.
At the beginning they should have hired people with the right DNA to prospect for business. But that’s a piece of hindsight they could probably do without hearing. Lunch was over for all but the hard liners, which was probably most of them. They moved to the bar and my friend explained how he could help. He’d recognised through his chat that Robert and his team were only part of the problem. The other culprit, which was far harder to fix, was the company culture. He knew he couldn’t change that, so all his work would need to be carried out in that context. They agreed to meet soon to explore working together. The result was a three year collaboration that turned the division into the best in the company.
In my next column I’ll begin to explain how that happened.
By David Mansfield, founder of The Drive Partnership and visiting professor at Cass Business School