Note: This article is an editorialization of a webinar presentation by Tom Uva, Practice Leader, Management Consulting Services at Elliott Davis. Tom shares knowledge derived from more than 25 years of extensive, high quality operational experience. The recorded webinar is available to members of Woodard Alliance. Join for free for 30 days to view this and other webinars in the Transformative Advisor series.
In Part 2, we discussed one of the three areas we focus on in transformative work: creating visibility for the client. This is the area most accountants and bookkeepers will gravitate towards naturally, because we already know the financial information. We need to interpret and apply it more effectively for our clients, which we can do through predictive analytics, trendlines and key performance indicators.
In Part 3, we’re going to cover the operations of the business. Let’s get grounded first: Operational advisory is about process, strategic planning, coaching, scalability, stability and standardization. It can be broken down into three areas: production consulting, organizational consulting and owner mentorship.
Business strategy drives four other disciplines that inform operational advisory:
- Business optimization – How do we identify and eliminate wasteful things in any business of any size?
- Project management — Projects are the execution of strategy in unique ways.
- Technology advisory — These are large, strategic conversations about technology.
- Turnaround and recovery — How do we change to meet targets and expectations?
The techniques involved in operational advisory scale in both directions. They are applicable to clients regardless of size with appropriate adjustments and tweaks.
Business strategy is based on two premises:
- If you don’t know where you’re going, any road can take you there.
- If you do not know where you are, a map won’t help.
Regardless of size, having a business strategy which is highly effective, low maintenance and integrated with periodic operations across all areas of the company is easy to say, but difficult to achieve. It can be compared to a “playbook” with multiple “tabs.” Each functional area or discipline of a business – for example the front office or the back office - has a tab. That tab lays out:
- where it is,
- where it wants to be in the future,
- what capabilities it needs to get there,
- and the objectives and initiatives the business needs to implement to achieve those capabilities, over specified periods of time. This “playbook” allows advisors and business owners to jump-start new strategies and improve effectiveness and alignment of existing strategies.
A transformative advisor needs to break down the “playbook” into digestible sizes. The team at the client’s business can then systematically and strategically compete for the limited resources available, execute plans and projects and realize benefits.
Having a clear, well-articulated, easily understood business strategy sets exemplary companies apart from their competitors. It significantly impacts employee relationships in a positive way. While this approach is not always possible, this is the ideal place to start transformative work in operations.
We advise having a highly integrative, cross-disciplined business strategy. Create lightweight, low maintenance and high-touch methods to link tactical and strategic behaviors. Work to achieve clarity and consensus among company leadership in cross-functional business priorities, capital and operational expenditures and what the company supports.
Are existing business strategies out-of-date and needing re-platforming? Is there a lack of team alignment, executive alignment or clear articulation of business strategies? Is everyone on the same page about where the company is going and how to get there? These are all areas to look for when creating and implementing business strategies.
All companies have efficiency opportunities. A transformative advisor can proactively identify targets across a client company where processes can be improved. The advisor can evaluate, prioritize and select opportunities for investment in optimization by understanding how individual and collective contributions impact the business. Then the business can optimize using lean techniques, measure the results and realize the benefits of optimization. Most significant benefits will be realized using cross-functional optimization. The largest opportunities for business optimization exist with clients who have never done it or done it only once previously.
Business optimization objectives include eliminating waste, positioning for continuous improvement and innovation in people, processes and technology and freeing up capital for incremental revenue generating activities. The best time to do this work is when a business is doing well. If a company hasn’t been able to fix a problem on its own, doesn’t know the root causes of the problem or doesn’t know how to fix it, transformative advisors have opportunities to transform the company. Reassure clients that it’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help if they see problems they can’t fix on their own.
Project management involves unique sets of challenges and applications of skills that differ from day-to-day operations. The levels of complexity and risk for a single project increase exponentially as the number of business and functional areas involved in the project increases. The advisor and client should inventory all the existing and planned projects in the company and extrapolate the costs of a single project. Your client could receive benefits over the long term from changes to its project management methods and systems.
Does the client have a technology strategy for the business? If not, the advisor has an opportunity to help the client create strategies and align them with business objectives and goals. Advisors can provide interim IT leadership for clients undergoing transitions. They can also assess contracts, financial performance and organization structures for optimization opportunities to improve IT delivery and operations.
Turnaround and Recovery
These are crisis situations where the client must operate under tight time and financial constraints. Often, they are deeply stressful. None of these conditions are conducive to good decision-making. A transformative advisor can assist clients recover by providing deep experience, new and different thinking and a clear perspective. This will help clients see “the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Operational advisory includes multiple opportunities for a transformative advisory to improve a client’s processes, strategic planning, coaching, scalability, stability and standardization. Although taking the first step into operational advisory may feel daunting, it really does come down to that first step.
Regardless of what industry or size of company you are dealing with, its landscape, e.g., clients and customers, is changing rapidly. There is always some operational improvement your client can make to improve, stay competitive and increase its profitability. Meet with your client to create a “Pain Point List.” Find one pain you can alleviate that is within your core competency. It will allow you to provide billable service and give your client the impression that you can be an effective transformative advisor.
If you prefer to have additional support as you begin operational advisory, there are several paths you might take to begin. First, work alongside a peer who has already begun operational advisory work. Another option is to join a virtual or face-to-face community of professionals, such as the Woodard Alliance, who can support and mentor you through your first few engagements. Finally, enroll in a coaching program that will not only teach you what to do and why you should do it, but will also teach you how to provide operational advisory.
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