Short but very comprehensive textbook about strategy consulting. It will be interesting to reed this book (or Element as author calls it) for anyone in consulting business or anyone who consider consulting as a profession.
So this is my assessment of the book Strategy Consulting by Jeroen Kraaijenbrink according to my 8 criteria:
1. Related to practice - 3 stars - author says that the approach described is somewhat idealistic.
2. It prevails important - 4 stars
3. I agree with the read - 5 stars
4. not difficult to read (as for non English native) - 5 stars
5. Too long (more than 500 pages) - short and concise (150-200 pages) - 5 stars
6. Boring - every sentence is interesting - 3 stars
7. Learning opportunity - 4 stars
8. Dry and uninspired style of writing - Smooth style with humouristic and fun parts - 2 stars
Total 3.8 stars
Here are some highlights and excerpts from the book that I find worth remembering:
Strategy Consulting - Jeroen Kraaijenbrink (Highlight: 203; Note: 0)
Ideﬁne strategy as an organization’s unique way of sustainable value creation. It means that an organization’s strategy expresses which value it creates for whom,and how it does this in a way that differentiates it from its main competitors and so that it can sustain this difference for a longer period of time
▪ The focus is on value creation, not on creating competitive advantage as in many other deﬁnitions. Of course, having a competitive advantage as an organization is helpful.
▪ The emphasis on uniqueness means that strategy aims at standing out com- pared to the competition
▪ The focus on sustainability means that strategy has a long-term orientation.
▪ Strategy concerns the way organizations try to realize the previous three aspects. It is not a plan, a document, a set of goals, aspirations or wishes. It is a way, a series of steps or actions that enables an organization to create value in a unique and sustainable way
these deﬁnitions highlight a number of characteristics deﬁning consulting:
▪ External: a consultant is an outsider that supports an organization or orga- nizational unit but is not a part of it.
▪ Independence: This means that they have no personal stake in the issue they consult on or the solution that is sought for
▪ Professionals: consultants are qualiﬁed individuals who have the relevant mindset, experience, skills and expertise needed to support their clients
▪ Support: consultants help organizations solve problems, execute tasks or achieve goals that they cannot do on their own
▪ Change: a consultant initiates, designs, facilitates and/or executes change in organizations. Their task is to help an organization make those improvements that help it survive and prosper.
▪ a consultant is an external and independent professional supporting organizations make changes. Consulting then is providing organiza- tions support with making changes as an external and independent professional
▪ strategy consulting is providing organizations support with making changes to achieve unique and sustainable value creation as an external and independent professional. Or simply, helping organizations achieve unique and sustainable value creation as an external and independent professional.
▪ So far, strategy consulting is largely a left-brain activity. It has a strong fact-based, cognitive-analytical focus aimed at deconstructing and solving problems in a scientiﬁc or engineering fashion. However, the right part of the brain, which is associated with creativity, intuition, holistic thinking, empathy and self-awareness is largely ignored. Given that strategy consulting requires both halves and given that we are all endorsed with two brain halves, it is evident that, to be effective, a‘whole-brain’approach to strategy consulting is needed.
▪ Even further, we need a ‘whole-person’ approach to strategy consulting. So far, strategy consulting is primarily a head-only activity. The image of strategy consultants that we get from descriptions so far is that of cold ‘talking heads’ that are supposed to switch off their emotions, provide clinical advice and are not supposed to get their hands dirty. But next to a head, people have a heart and hands too. Not using those in strategy consulting in today’s challenging envir- onment is a waste of potential. Furthermore, actually helping organizations make changes requires strategy consultants to use their full capacity as human beings including their speciﬁc character, preferences, aspirations, viewpoints and emotions.
To understand where strategy consulting comes from, it is useful to summarize some of the key historical facts and developments as they have taken place over the past century. They are:
▪ 1870-1900: industrial revolution, going hand in hand with the emergence of the ﬁrst ﬁeld of consulting: operations consultancy. With its roots in engineering and the inﬂuential work of Frederick W. Taylor
▪ 1910-1930: development of the second ﬁeld of consulting: organizational consulting. Parallel to the emergence of the multidivisional corporate form and building upon ideas from engineering too, consultancies like Arthur D. Little (1909), Booz Allen & Hamilton (1914) and McKinsey & Company (1926) were founded. They focused on solving organizational issues by designing and changing organizational structures and processes.
▪ 1910-1950: in parallel to organizational consulting, the ﬁeld of human relations and organizational development (OD) emerged as a ﬁeld of consulting.
▪ 1950-1960: as a result of the ﬁrst mainframe computers, development of IT consultancy as new consulting discipline. Especially IBM (founded 1924) played an inﬂuential role in advancing this discipline.
▪ 1960.1980: emergence of strategy consulting as separate discipline, most notably by the foundation of the Boston Consulting Group in 1963, Roland Berger in 1967 and Bain & Company in 1973, where it is useful to notice that both Roland Berger and Bill Bain were BCG alumni.
▪ Also important to notice is the role of the Boston Consulting Group. It is this consulting ﬁrm where strategy consulting started. And it is their growth-share matrix (or BCG matrix, with its cash cows, stars, question marks and dogs) that was the ﬁrst main strategy consulting tool (McDonald, 2013).
▪ Since every single organization can only develop this knowledge for itself, consultants thereby have a knowledge advantage. As such, they can beneﬁt from information asymmetries and economies of knowledge by developing advanced knowledge and reusing it at various clients
▪ whereas strategy consulting adopts primarily a problem-solving approach (focused on ﬁxing what is wrong), HR/OD consulting focuses much more on building upon an organization’s strengths and aspirations.
▪ The core idea of appreciative inquiry is to start with what already works in an organization and build further upon that
▪ It is ‘the cooperative, coevolutionary search for the best in people, their organizations, and the relevant world around them
▪ The main aim of traditional strategy consulting is to provide the client with proper, actionable advice. This advice should be instructional and telling the client exactly what to do and why. Ideally, this advice is presented in a structured and convincing way and laid out in both a substantive report as well as an energizing presentation. While involvement in implementation is sometimes included, the advice is mostly the aspired end result of the consul- tant’s engagement.
▪ The ﬁrst step and primary focus of any engagement following the traditional approach to strategy consulting is to identify an organization’s key strategic problems. Organizations are seen as machines that are broken and that need to be repaired. Therefore, meticulous diagnosis and problem analysis take place to identify, categorize and prioritize the organizations main problems
▪ The traditional consulting approach is built around projects. Projects are speci- ﬁed upfront, have a demarcated scope, have a start and end point deﬁned and an accompanying price agreed upon. They usually follow a staged approach with distinct phases such as initiation, diagnosis, solution development and closure
▪ To diagnose problems, the traditional strategy consulting approach follows a systematic, structured analytical approach. Using tools like cause diagrams and logic trees and following the‘MECE’principle that all analyses should lead to a set of mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive components, organi- zational problems are decomposed into their ﬁnest details. And then, once the root causes are identiﬁed, solutions are designed that ﬁx the problems
▪ McKinsey works hypothesis- driven. This means that, early on in the process, consultants are stimulated to use their gut feeling and make an estimate (hypothesis) of what they think the problem and solution are. The analytical process that follows is focused on proving or disproving this hypothesis
▪ They also come from brainstorming.
▪ It’s what the clients really buy’ because ‘Let’s face it. Most large, modern corporations are chock full of intelligent, knowledgeable managers who are darned good at day-to-day problem solving. McKinsey offers a new mind- set, an outsider’s view that is not locked into ‘the company way’ of doing things’ (
▪ Expert advice only works if the client can be convinced that the strategy consultant has made the right diagnosis and proposes the right solution. Therefore, persuasive communication is another hallmark of traditional strategy consulting
▪ What these descriptions of the process have in common is that they suggest a process with a clear start (e.g. Propose to win or Entry), an analytical phase in which the client’s problem is diagnosed (e.g. Problem Diagnosis or Analysing), a design stage in which the solution is generated (e.g. Solution development or Action planning), a stage in which the solution is communicated (e.g. Solution communication or Presenting), an implementation stage (Solution implementa- tion or Implementation) and a stage in which the engagement is ended (e.g. Close to cultivate or Termination)
▪ strategy consultants probably know more about strategy in general then their clients. But in most cases, their clients know the speciﬁcs of their own company as well as their industry much better. And these are the speciﬁcs that matter for creating unique and sustainable value.
▪ consciously or not, organizations are always in the process of executing and changing their strategies
▪ The holistic view these right-brain qualities can provide, though, is an essential ingredient of strategy consulting
▪ As outsiders, and using the brainstorming and hypothesis-driven approach, strategy consultants can come up with out-of-the box solutions that companies can’t come up with themselves. This idea, though, is based on one particular view on creativity: the ‘sudden spark’ view that ideas must come suddenly, unexpected and from outside
▪ The project-based approach to strategy consulting suggests that a clear start and end point can be deﬁned. But that is not what strategy is like in practice. There is no start, nor is there an end. Strategy is a process that always continues because both organizations and their environment continuously evolve.
▪ In a world where organizations increasingly shift to more agile, experimental and trial-and -error-based ways of working, the traditional consulting approach doesn’t ﬁt. Instead, it asks for more short-cycle iterative approaches in which implementa- tion is integrated as part of a continuous learning cycle.
In Section 1, strategy consulting was deﬁned as helping organizations achieve unique and sustainable value creation as an external and independent profes- sional. To better understand what this means, it is useful to have a closer look at the nature of strategy consulting. We can do this along ﬁve dimensions:
Exploration vs. Exploitation
▪ Exploitation refers to an organization’s operational activ- ities aimed at delivering its products and services in a focused and efﬁcient way. It creates stability. Exploration refers to innovation, developing new products and services and renewal and thereby creates ﬂexibility. To be effective in the long run, organizations need a balanced approach in which both have their place
▪ They are exploitation-focused. Characteristic for such consulting is that projects can be clearly deﬁned upfront and are aimed at resolving unnecessary inefﬁciencies in the organization
▪ Strategy consulting is different. Its very purpose is deﬁning the goal that is assumed given in other types of consulting. It deﬁnes the direction of the organization in the near or far future. Therefore, strategy consulting is mostly oriented towards the explorative side of this spectrum.
▪ strategy consulting cannot be merely problem-focused, hypothesis-driven, best- practice-led or project-based. Because, more often than not, there is no upfront problem for which a hypothesis, best practice or project can be deﬁned. If the strategy consultant is involved timely, there isn’t even a problem at all. Instead, there are, for example, aspirations, ideas, observations and questions the client needs help with sorting out and turning into strategy and action
Reductionist vs. Holistic Thinking
▪ With reductionist thinking, one decomposes something into its ﬁnest parts in order to understand it and improve it.
▪ But this is not how strategy works. Strategy is integrative by its very nature and therefore requires holistic thinking. Of course, we can deﬁne the compo- nents of which strategy consists and this is even useful.
▪ This means that the left-brain, science and engineering-inspired approach of unravelling problems into their ﬁnest MECE components cannot work for strategy consulting. Or at least, it means that it is severely limited and needs to be complemented by right-brain holistic thinking
Strategy Generation vs. Execution
▪ Traditional strategy consulting has a strong focus on strategy generation (or formation). Strategy execution (or implementation) is often optional and not preferred because it means getting one’s hands dirty and taking more responsi- bility for the advice given
▪ Since no organization needs a strategy that is not executed, strategy generation and execution always need to go hand in hand.
▪ separating strategy generation and execution limits the possibilities for learning. It leads to a static, linear process during which little experimentation and learning can take place
▪ separating the two and focusing on strategy generation hinder creating commitment throughout the client’s organization.
▪ On the other hand, though, one must also keep in mind what is realistic and what can practically be achieved. In such case, strategy execution and instrumentalism are given most weight
Instrumental vs. Normative
▪ Instrumental consulting accepts the client’s values and goals as given and helps the client achieve them. The consulting is instrumental because it doesn’t question the client’s values and goals
▪ With normative consulting, on the other hand, the consultant is also involved in deﬁning proper values and goals for the client. This involves bringing in moral and ethical judgements and methods to help the client decide about the right values and goals for the organization.
▪ If the client has questionable values and goals that may harm particular groups of stakeholders or society at large, it is also the strategy consultant’s professional responsibility to help client’s reconsider and adjust them in a more favourable direction.
Idealism vs. Pragmatism
▪ On the one hand, as a strategy consultant, one reaches for the ideal: that strategy that, if realized, would help the organization make a substantial step forward in the value it creates.
▪ Both are needed. Without idealism, strategy consulting is merely an instru- mental job and nothing close to a profession. But without pragmatism, it is largely a fantasy or feel-good exercise without actual impact on the client’s organization. This means that, as a strategy consultant, one always needs to ﬁnd a balance between the two
▪ But for strategy consulting this is too weak. Of course, a great strategy that is not executed is of little use to the organization. However, helping the client execute a mediocre or questionable strategy is of little use too
▪ Of course, a great strategy that is not executed is of little use to the organization. However, helping the client execute a mediocre or questionable strategy is of little use too.
Who Is the Client?
▪ A single stakeholder: this is usually the person highest in rank with execu- tive responsibility for the unit or organization that requires consulting (e.g. the CEO). It is also the person responsible for the budget from which the consultant is being paid.
▪ Multiple stakeholders: one can also follow a multi-stakeholder approach and consider more than one group as clients. Typical stakeholders include management, the board and employees. Each group has speciﬁc needs and stakes that are to be addressed.
▪ The organization: one can also deﬁne the organization as a whole as the client. This means abstracting from speciﬁc persons and targeting the con- sulting at what is best for the survival and prosperity of the organization.
▪ Society: taking an even broader view one can also see society as key client. This means looking at the economic, social and environmental impact of the organization and aiming the consulting at improving this impact. In such case, societal needs direct the consulting work.
▪ What Do They Need?
▪ Organizations have perceived needs and real needs. Perceived needs refer to what clients think they need
▪ It is always the factual change that is the real need. This means the client’s perceived needs and their actual needs may differ substantially and that it is the consultant’s job to make the client realize this and to take both into account.
▪ It is also useful to recognize that the client has both functional needs and emotional needs. Functional needs are strategy and organization-related needs: in their search for more unique and sustainable value creation, organizations need support to identify and realize opportunities for improvement
▪ Emotional needs, on the other hand, refer to how people in the organization feel and how they want to feel
▪ Clients may feel:
· Concerned, worried about the future of the organization and its employees.
· Uncertain, insecure and lacking ideas and conﬁdence about the next steps to take.
· Afraid of what is going to come, of failing, of taking risk or making the wrong decision.
· Overwhelmed, stressed and busy, not being able to take time for strategy.
· Threatened by their superiors, competitors or the world around them more generally.
· Incapable, lacking strategic skills and expertise, ignorant.
· Impatient, fed up with lack of progress, glad to ﬁnally get started.
· Sceptical, suspicious about whether consulting is going to help.
· Curious, eager to learn new perspectives and receive new insights and information.
▪ Most clients will not advertise these feelings. That would make them look vulnerable and weak, they may think. But recognizing these feelings is key to successful consulting
At its core, the targeted short-term outcomes of strategy consulting are shared insights, endorsed decisions and committed actions about what is, what might be, what should be and what will be:
- ▪ Shared insights means that people in the organization develop a common understanding of those things that matter most. This doesn’t mean they all have to agree 100 percent. It means that they speak the same language and that they mostly agree on most of the facts that matter. This is key because it creates mental alignment in the organization, leading to everyone being ‘on the same page’ when it concerns the organization’s strategy.
- ▪ Endorsed decisions means that the choices and decisions being made are approved or at least accepted by the people in the organization. In strategy there is no absolute right or wrong and since it concerns the future, there is no certainty about any decision. But if decisions are widely and preferably publicly supported by people throughout the organization, this increases the likelihood of a strategy being embraced and successfully executed.
- ▪ Committed actions means that people know what needs to be done and are willing to do that. It also means that it is not only clear what needs to be done, but also whose task it is to do it. Even further, it means that people feel responsible themselves for doing it and see it as their job, or even their pride, to do it successfully. Such commitment is key to the success execution of strategy.
▪ With these three as main types of outcomes of strategy consulting, we can immediately see that strategy consulting is not merely about giving organiza- tions a strategy or strategic advice. It is about leading and helping the organiza- tion towards shared insights, endorsed decisions and committed actions about how to create unique and sustainable value.
Generally, and along the deﬁnition of strategy given, they are about how the organization can improve its unique way of sustainable value creation. But this overall purpose can be divided into four questions that strategy consulting should help answering:
- ▪ What is: the ﬁrst question strategy consulting can help answering is creating a shared understanding of what the current, factual strategy of the organiza- tion is. A thorough understanding of how things currently are the status quo needed as basis for any further strategizing. It provides a foundation on which future strategy can rely.
- ▪ What might be: strategy consulting also can help elicit pre-existing ideas, generate new ones and open people’s eyes about what could or might be. Also, strategy consultants can bring in their own ideas and perspectives on the future of the organization. As such, they can help envisioning one or more inspiring and attractive scenarios for the future
- ▪ What should be: there is also a role for the strategy consultant to help the client deﬁne what the new or improved strategy should look like. In this, the consultant can help the client deﬁne goals, values and criteria for the organi- zation’s strategy and thereby facilitate making the right choices instrumen- tally and normatively.
- ▪ What will be: whereas the ﬁrst question is factual and the second and third are hypothetical, in this fourth question the consultant helps the client make choices about what the new or improved strategy is going to be. This involves making the shift towards actually making decisions and committing to mak- ing changes.
▪ The reader familiar with appreciative inquiry will recognize its four-step approach of discovery, dream, design and destiny
▪ strategy consulting should also aim for a more fundamental, long-term outcome: building strategic capability the ability to effectively generate and execute strategy.
▪ it is the capability to effectively generate and execute strategy. Organizations that have this capability have an effective process in place for generating and executing strategy on an ongoing basis. This enables them to seize opportunities and respond strategically to internal and external changes.
high-level characterization of the strategy consulting process:
- Co-constructive: both the client and the consultant have key expertise that they bring in the process. None of them is the ultimate expert and both learn from the other. The consultant doesn’t offer and sell a strategic advice to the client. Together, they create a shared understanding, endorsed decisions and committed actions that should help move the organization forward.
- Intersubjective: implied by the previous, but worthwhile mentioning sepa- rately, there are no objective truths in strategy. The best that can be achieved is agreement between people. Purely subjective opinions are no basis either,
- Iterative: because any idea about the future is speculative and most likely wrong, strategy consulting needs to rely on a short-cycle approach in which ideas are put to the test. This means that strategy generation and execution go hand in hand and that the process is ﬂexible and open to new insights and opportunities.
- Participative: since the organization as a whole is affected by strategy and involved in the execution, strategy consulting needs to be a participative process in which many or even all employees are involved at some point of time. Not merely as sources of information, but as change agents within their own sphere of inﬂuence.
- Appreciative: if they hinder progress, problems need to be resolved. But problems don’t energize people and an organization’s weaknesses are no good basis for strategy. Therefore, the focus is on searching for the best in people, the organization and the environment. With that focus, problems will be easier to resolve too.
- Integrative: a key purpose of strategy is that it creates alignment so that all, or at least most, energy is used in the same direction. Therefore, strategy consulting should foster integration and alignment of all parts of the organization. This implies always keeping the whole picture in mind and also bringing people closer together.
- Social: because strategy consulting induces changes in people’s roles and relationships, the process is inherently social. Of course, identifying a fruitful direction for the organization is important, but it is the people that need to get there. This applies to the execution, but also to the generation of strategy: both parts of the process are social.
- Continuous: even though the consultant’s actual involvement may be only temporary, strategy consulting needs to take place from a continuous perspective on the strategy process. The consultant joins a running organization for a while and can help direct it to a better destination. But unlike in a project, there is no start and end point.
▪ . Non-sequential: the process is non-linear. Not only by its iterative nature, but also because its parts or steps run in parallel. There is a logical sequence in which things are theoretically done. But, as we will see later, to a large extent, things are done in parallel and require attention throughout the process
main activities of which the process is comprised. These can be divided into three groups: establishing context, generating strategy and executing strategy:
▪ an essential part of the consulting job is to establish a good relationship and actively maintain this relationship throughout the process
▪ Also crucial for effective consulting is agreeing on what the consultant and the client are aiming to achieve and what the consultant’s role will be in that. In the traditional approach, this is deﬁned upfront and turned into a clearly demarcated project and planning
▪ To be effective, a strategy consultant needs to understand how the client’s organization works. This includes understanding how communication takes place, which relationships there are between units, who is in power, how formal or informal the organization is and how the organization and strategy have emerged over the last few years.
▪ it is necessary that the support and resources needed to achieve the tasks and objectives agreed upon are available. This includes that there is sufﬁcient budget and manpower available for the process and that the consultant has access to the information that is needed. It also includes obtain- ing the necessary mandate and freedom to operate. Given that the direction of the process may change repeatedly, also this fourth type of activity requires attention throughout the process.
▪ it will only lead to the aspired changes if there is sufﬁcient commitment and engagement by the people that are affected. Commitment means that people feel responsible for doing what is needed and engagement means that they actively participate and contribute during the process
▪ This means involving people, listening to them, informing them regularly and taking their contributions seriousl
▪ Strategy consulting is most effective when it addresses the thingsthat really matter in the organization
▪ there may be important issues involved that don’t get immedi- ately on the table. Often these concern the quality of leaders, a lack of trust or an unwillingness to talk about the real issues going on.
▪ part of their task is to identify these elephants, name them and create an atmosphere in which people are willing to talk about them
Setting Direction: Generating Strategy
▪ Step 1: Activating key stakeholders. Making key persons in the organization receptive to new strategy and mobilizing the resources needed for strategy generation.
▪ This can mean that some of the very ﬁrst activities of the consultant need to be creating awareness and motivating people in the organiza- tion to actively commit and engage in the strategy making process. This includes making sure that the right people are present in the team(s) the consultant works with and getting those people on board to actively contribute
▪ Step 2: Mapping strategy. Identifying the organization’s strategy by describing it on the basis of its core elements
▪ following list: coherence, efﬁciency, effectiveness, uniqueness, ﬂexibility, robustness, scalability and responsibility
▪ the next step is developing a thorough understanding of the organization’s status quo; its current, factual strategy
▪ generates a shared point of reference and understanding of what the current strategy of the organization actually is.
▪ There are various frameworks that can be used for this, including Hambrick and Fredrickson’s (2001) ‘Five Major Elements of Strategy’ or the popular ‘Business Model Canvas’ (Osterwalder & Pigneur, 2010). In my own consulting I use the ‘Strategy Sketch’ (Kraaijenbrink, 2015), a framework containing the ten key elements of strategy: value proposition, customers and needs, competitors, resources and competencies, partners, revenue model, risks and costs, values and goals, organizational climate and trends and uncertainties.
▪ Using detailed frameworks like these has three important beneﬁts. First, it creates a shared language and visualization making clear what strategy is about. Second, it allows people throughout the organization to participate, even if they have no experience or knowledge of strategy at all. Third, it makes the dialogue concrete and thereby more actionable than a high-level discussion about, for example, generic strategies (Porter, 1980) or an organization’s ‘why’ (Sinek, 2009).
▪ Step 3: Assessing strategy. Judging and testing the quality of the organization’s strategy against relevant criteria.
▪ Traditionally this is done in the SWOT analysis to identify the organization’s strengths, weaknesses, oppor- tunities and threats. When distinguishing the positive aspects of strategy (strengths and opportunities) from the negative ones (weaknesses and threats), though, one implicitly or explicitly uses criteria in making a judgement. To make the assessment as objective as possible, it is useful to make these criteria explicit.
▪ Step 4: Innovating strategy. Renewing and redesigning the organization’s strategy through incremental or radical innovation
▪ An additional, more creative and design-oriented step is needed in which the consultant, together with the organization, redesigns the organization’s strategy. Various approaches can be used for this, including‘Blue Ocean Strategy’ (Kim & Mauborgne, 2005), scenario planning (Schoemaker, 1995) or design thinking (Brown, 2008).
▪ Applying one or more of these techniques and the previous steps leads to one or more points of departure for the new strategy. This could be a valuable resource, a market opportunity, a creative idea, a substantial problem, a particular aspiration, or anything else
▪ Step 5: Formulating strategy. Capturing the organization’s strategy in words and pictures that can be understood by the target audience
▪ Once the strategy is redesigned, it also needs to be formulated.
▪ It can also be a PowerPoint slide, a sheet of paper, a brochure or a picture. Formulating strategy is an essential step, as a strategy can only be effective if it can be formulated in a clear and comprehensible manner so that people can understand it and act upon it. Furthermore, formulating strategy also helps discover unclarities in the strategy that may have remained below the surface in the previous steps
Realizing Change: Executing Strategy
▪ Step 6: Bridging gaps. Identifying the gaps between the organization’s current and aspired strategy, and deﬁning projects and tasks to bridge them.
▪ At any point in time there are voids between the organization’s aspired strategy (resulting from Step 4) and its status quo (resulting from Step 2). The ﬁrst step in executing the new, aspired strategy is to make these voids explicit and deﬁne actions to resolve them.
▪ any point in time there are voids between the organization’s aspired strategy (resulting from Step 4) and its status quo (resulting from Step 2). The ﬁrst step in executing the new, aspired strategy is to make these voids explicit and deﬁne actions to resolve them
▪ Comparing both on each of the elements of the framework, is a straightforward activity and it directly facilitates formulating projects and tasks that can bridge these gaps.
▪ Step 7: Organizing strategy. Identifying the most important organizational deﬁciencies, and deﬁning projects and tasks to solve them.
▪ The projects and tasks deﬁned in the previous step are not sufﬁcient to successfully execute the strategy. It will also require organizational changes, for example, in the organization’s structure, incentive systems, communication or processes.
▪ it is helpful to use a structured framework that identiﬁes the main components of ‘organization’.
▪ In my own consulting work I prefer the more recent and complete ‘Organizational Map’ (Kraaijenbrink, 2018), which contains the ten key elements of organization: leadership, controls, motivation, commitment, expertise, information technology, structure, communication, processes and policies
▪ Step 8: Planning strategy. Developing and committing to a dynamic, prior- itized course of action and a way of working for closing the gap between the actual and the aspired strategy.
▪ This changes in Step 8, where a transition is made from the hypothetical is, could be and should be, to the actual will be. This includes helping the client decide about which actions have most priority, when to execute them, how many resources to dedicate and who will be responsible.
▪ given that strategy virtually always implies substantial changes, there will remain resis- tance. And that resistance is most likely to uncover in this step
▪ Step 9: Realizing strategy. Effecting the aspired strategy by putting the execution plan into action and managing relevance, progress and emotions over time
▪ the strategy consultant’s engagement often tends to end when the realization phase is reached, strategy consultants can play an important role in this last step too. In its most engaged form, they might serve as an ad interim manager who is responsible for overseeing the overall progress and receive the client’s mandate to actively manage the process
▪ The strategy consultant can serve as a mentor and monitor who keeps an eye on whether the organization is still doing what is relevant, whether sufﬁcient progress is made, and whether the mood in the organization remains favourable.
▪ this section explains nine roles strategy consultants need to play and thereby what skills they need:
▪ The ﬁrst and obvious reason is that, through attentive listening, the strategy consultant receives important information about the organization, its strategy, its aspirations, its problems and so on. A second and equally important reason, though, is that listening attentively gives people the feeling that what they say matters and thereby that they matter. This is crucial for getting and keeping them engaged and committed throughout the process and therefore for achiev- ing results.
▪ this means building trust
▪ A consultant needs to ask questions, but the main goal is to trigger people in the organization to tell what they want or need to tell. This often means resisting the temptation to respond or to ask another question. Simply waiting may be enough for people to continue their stories.
▪ Being a strategy consultant also requires being a strong researcher.
▪ For effective strategy consulting one rarely needs meticulous details about the company not even about its ﬁnancials. Some high-level data are often enough to create an under- standing of the size and situation of the organization. But for the rest, most information will come from the people working at the organization and will include their views, insights and judgements.
▪ This means that the primary skill needed is not that of the researcher who gathers information, but that of principal investigator who listens to what people in the company have to say, interprets this, connects the dots and draws conclusions in cooperation with the client. The consultant’s role is to see connections and generate insights that people in the company may not see and then to make them see these too.
▪ With interactive sessions being one of the primary working forms, another important role for the strategy consultant is that of discussion leader or facilitator or moderator as it is also called. During the sessions, the strategy consultant’s role is to foster a productive dialogue and make sure that people contribute, say what they want to say, listen to each other and generate insights and decisions in a collaborative way.
▪ Clients are also interested in hearing the consultant’s views. But unlike in expert-consulting, the point is not that the consultant should come up with the answers. The point is that he or she can offer an outsider’s view that challenges the client’s views and that may provide them new insights that they could not have generated by themselves.
▪ This role implies making two types of contributions. The ﬁrst is to be a source of inspiration. With their speciﬁc background and experience, strategy consultants can bring in refreshing opinions and ideas that people within the organization have not thought of
▪ A second contribution is that the strategy consultant also needs to challenge the ideas and views held by the client. People have numerous preconceptions and assumptions, especially if they have worked for a long time in the same industry or organization. This makes them take things for granted that may not be valid. To discover those, the strategy consultant may need to ask repeatedly seemingly naive questions such as ‘Why?’, ‘Why not?’ and ‘Is that really so?’ They may also take the role of devil’s advocate who asks people to defend and clarify their positions
▪ People talk to them and they talk to people in the organization, turning the consultant into a de facto communication channel between them.
▪ they often serve as a channel between people that might otherwise never or rarely talk to each other. This provides them with a unique position that they can use for the beneﬁt of the organization.
▪ Some things are to be avoided because they hurt the process. The ﬁrst is engaging in gossiping.consultants need to make sure that they are not misused as a messenger to someone’s personal beneﬁt
▪ This means that a sixth role of a strategy consultant is to make sure that sufﬁcient progress is made and that the steps outlined in Section 5.2 proceed according to plan.
▪ To avoid this, an effective role of the strategy consultant during strategy execution is that of mentor of the manager or team who take responsibility for the execution of the strategy. In that role, the actual responsibility lies at the client, while the strategy consultant monitors whether progress is as it should be and whether the right things are given priority
▪ The fact that a strategy consultant is involved, virtually always means for an organization that change will come.
▪ Without change as result, their added value is limited.
▪ If there is anything the client needs in times of change it is an emotionally stable‘tower of strength’ who maintains and creates the necessary calm in the organization. This implies working with conﬁdence and not stressing out. And it also implies approaching everything with a bit of humour and lightness, thereby not taking things too seriously.
▪ Being a moral guide doesn’t mean preaching or lecturing the client about what is appropriate and what not.
▪ Serving as a moral guide, therefore, needs to be subtler and an intrinsic part of strategy consulting. This starts with the deﬁnition of strategy. With its focus on sustainable value creation, this deﬁnition provides implicit moral guidance. It makes the organization focus on creating value and on doing this in a sustainable way.
▪ In setting goals or assessing strategy one can bring in, for example, the triple bottom-line (people, proﬁt, planet) (Elkington, 1998), stakeholder theory (Freeman, 1984) or the seventeen sustainable development goals of the United Nations.
▪ This role can also be a bit controversial because it implies sharing knowledge and skills with the client in order to improve their strategic capability.
▪ Being a practical educator doesn’t imply being a teacher or lecturer. It implies creating a learning environment and process through which people at the client’s organization are stimulated and supported to learn by doing.
Roles Not to Take
▪ Decision-maker: a consultant’s role is supportive. They lead the client to ﬁnding answers and making decisions, but it is the client’s responsibility to make decisions
▪ Scapegoat: closely related to the ﬁrst, but nevertheless distinct. With the exceptions of their own mistakes and decisions, consultants are not there to take the blame
▪ Executor: consultants are there to help, not to execute the work. Of course, they can do some of the required work but their role is to consult, not to provide capacity
▪ Persuader: it is not the consultant’s job to present the client a strategy and convince them that it is the right one. Their job is to help the client generate and execute strategy.
▪ Know-it-all: no one can know everything, even a strategy consultant. Saying ‘I don’t know’or changing minds when needed will improve their credibility.
▪ Show-off: there is no point in impressing the client with knowledge, jargon or credentials. It is the consultant’s behaviour in the nine roles above that will impress them
▪ Rationalist: explaining reasons and providing evidence for viewpoints is important, but gutfeel is too. Consultants shouldn’t ignore it or substitute it with numbers and ‘facts’.
▪ Neutralist: consultants want to remain objective. But their opinions count too. They are facilitators, but also part of the process as complete and subjective persons.
▪ Joker: even though humour is important, it is not the consultant’s role to be the funniest person in the room. Trying to be this can undermine credibility in any of the nine roles.
▪ Colleague: especially when working together for a long time, consultants may be seen as a part of the organization. But they are not and need to keep their role as outsider.
▪ Boss: consultants are there to serve the client, not the other way around. Therefore, they should avoid being arrogant and snobbish or trying force things upon the client.
▪ Acquirer: it is not the consultant’s job to safeguard their position or ﬁnd the next project. It is to serve the client to the best of their capacity in their current engagement.
▪ Echo chamber: while it may be tempting to agree with everything people say and conﬁrm that, consultants can disagree too. Their different viewpoints are important.
▪ Saint: Even though their moral standards should be high, consultants can also take commercial beneﬁt of situations as long as it keeps their client satisﬁed.
▪ Problem owner: the more engaged the consultants are, the more they may feel responsible for the client’s organization and worry for them. But, at the end, it is their problem
▪ Actor: consultants shouldn’t play being a strategy consultant. They should be a strategy consultant in a way that authentically ﬁts their background, experi- ence, style and personality.
▪ It is less fact-based, rational, linear and analytical (left-brain) and more intuitive, creative and holistic (right-brain). And it is not only a cognitive, brain-only activity but just as much a social activity in which personal interactions, empathy and emotions play a central role making it a whole-person activity.
▪ The strategy consultant outlined in this Element is a trusted advisor, a person to rely on and with the genuine intent to help the client. But it is a speciﬁc type of trusted advisor, focusing on helping the client generate and execute strategy. He or she is an expert in strategy, helping the client’s organization achieve unique and sustainable value creation.
▪ the approach to strategy consulting in this Element aims for and is based on creating a symbiotic relationship between consultant and client from which both beneﬁt
▪ What works for one clientconsultant relation- ship, may not work for another. Equally important to realize is that both sides respond to each other. If the strategy consultant adopts the traditional approach, the client will respond in a way that ﬁts that approach. And if the strategy consultant adopts the approach of this Element, the client will respond differently.
▪ With the approach outlined in this Element, there is no real advantage in being a large ﬁrm. Standardization of methods, knowledge accumulation and knowledge efﬁciencies are not relevant when using it. Furthermore, working with consultants that are largely interchangeable as is one of the principles in large consultancies is even a disadvantage. The ability to establish personal relationships as a trusted strategy consultant that guides clients in generating and executing strategy is gaining relevance
the following thirteen transitions are needed for effective consulting in today’s dynamic environment:
1. From consultant as expert to consultant as guide.
2. From long-cycle consulting to fast-cycle consulting.
3. From content or process expert to content and process facilitator.
4. From simple and incremental to complex and discontinuous.
5. From single entities to transorganizations.
6. From hierarchical organizations to network organizations
7. From command and control to self organizing.
8. From boss as client to organization as client.
9. From labour intensive to information-process intensive.
10. From doctorpatient to resource partners.
11. From studyanalyserecommend to joint datadiagnosis.
12. From survey research to action learning
13. From plan ﬁrst, then implement to plan and implement together