Saturday, June 15, 2013

Listen To The Real Experts

CEO bunch of 5's
I recently ran a workshop for a small business. The owner of the business asked for my help to improve the business performance and as part of the initiative I suggested, like all good consultants to “borrow the watch, tell the time and then charge for the privilege”. In other words I was going to ask the business what was wrong, and then tell the owner what was wrong based on what the business had told me was wrong! OK, slightly facetious but you will get the idea.

There were 10 managers who joined us for an exercise I call “The CEO’s bunch of 5’s”. It is a simple process of:

  1. Asking each individuals for the 5 things they would do to achieve the desired outcome. In this case the desired outcome was to “grow profitable sales”. At this stage each person writes their 5 actions without discussing their action list with any of the other participants
  2. I then created groups of two. It depends on how large the total group is i.e. you may choose to have groups of 3 or 4 etc. The groups were to discuss each of their 5 actions (10 in total assuming no crossover) and then come back to the main group with only 5 from the list. The purpose of this is to force the participants into prioritising what is important for the business.
  3. Each group then presents their 5 actions
  4. As the moderator for the activity it is important to listen to the key themes. In every session I do this the outcome is always the same
    1. There are a number of common themes
    2. The answers are general and lack detail
  5. Congratulate everyone for their work but then I say something to the effect “it is not good enough. As a CEO you can’t make general recommendations. We want to hear the detail behind your recommendation.
  6. The groups go back to their 5 key action list and re-write the list with specific detail
  7. Moderator summarises the action list and charges the client for the privilege.

This specific exercise is something I came up with myself (I am sure there are similar ones out there) but the technique was learnt by watching all the big consulting firms come in, interview the staff, slice the numbers and charge a fortune for the recommendations. I always found it unbelievable how many times I saw, verbatim, the recommendations from my colleagues make their way on to the smart guy paper.

However, there is significant merit in the consultants methodology. The fact remains that most good employees can see the issues in a company and have probably thought about potential solutions to the issues. The consultants are smart enough to know that listening to these employees will inevitably lead to a probable outcome that is palatable to management.

As managers, business owners or CEOs, you are faced with challenges every day. Whether you chose to outsource the solution finder or look internally is entirely up to you. However before you decide, phrase your two options as such:
a) Employee, we value your opinion and will listen to what you have to say
b) Consultants, we value your opinion and will listen to what our employees have told you

You may have just saved yourself a lot of money, potentially made even more and all by listening to the real experts ... in your business!