Lessons from a Year of Business Consulting

I am quite pleased that my fledgling venture, Advisory and Consulting Services LLC, has reached its first birthday.  The indicators are positive, and figuring out how to scale the business is what keeps me awake at night.  A good problem to have!

During my first year, I’ve worked with business owners and executives to enhance their business and improve results.  Perhaps some aspect is underperforming.  Maybe there’s a market opportunity at hand, and results are underwhelming.

Of course, I ask a lot of questions. What exactly are they struggling with?  What is success in their eyes?  Why is it important to do this now? What has been done so far to address it?  Pretty soon, I can visualize a path, and propose and deliver the solution.

Typically, the path is fairly self-evident.  After a few engagements, I began to wonder, “These are smart folks. What’s going on here that they can’t fix it themselves?”

Then, it struck me.  Assumptions.

We all make assumptions.  Explicit, conscious assumptions, like “The client prefers quality over price” or “Sally’s our best sales person. She’s just going through a dry spell” Worse are assumptions that limit us: “The market is soft for everybody.”

Greater danger lies in the implicit, unacknowledged assumptions.  Our blind spots. Those formed through life, through years of experience in business, courtesy of our past successes and failures. The assumptions that are part of our fiber, our psyche, and color everything we do.

A couple examples:

“We pay more than most firms and have never had a layoff.  Why do so many A-players leave?”

Maybe because challenging work and a dynamic environment mean more than money to the millenials you hire. Different from how you, a baby boomer raised by Depression-era parents, view work, rewards, and motivation.

“We have great sales managers, and a group of successful, established sales pro’s. Still, we seem to be hit or miss on hiring good sales people, and can’t grow without adding sales talent.”

Perhaps your “great” sales managers aren’t so great at hiring, onboarding, and coaching. And, maybe your bottom third performers need to be “boosted” – up in performance or out of the organization to achieve your sales goals.

If you’ve try everything to overcome a challenge, and are stymied, start by listing all the assumptions, explicit and implicit.  Throw them away, one by one, and see how that impacts how you approach the challenge and the solution you design.

You might just be able to send me packing.  Then, I won’t stay awake at night wondering how I will scale.

Instead, I’ll lie awake at night for other reasons.