You may be focusing on the wrong “level” of your consulting firm’s problems to create rapid progress in your firm’s results.
Today’s exercise in questionable metaphor usage features The Beatles’ hit single, “Baby You Can Drive My Car,” which was decidedly not about cars. And even more decidedly not about how you’re leading your consulting firm.
Nevertheless, we’re going to (mis)appropriate the song to make it a metaphor for how you’re approaching your consulting firm’s challenges.
For those unfamiliar with the lyrics, here’s the gist: a young woman who intends to be a movie star invites a gentleman to be her chauffeur. When he agrees, she reveals that she doesn’t yet have a car, but now at least she has a driver.
The heroine in the Beatles’ tune adopted a distinction that will serve you and your consulting firm well:
Solving today’s problem today is fire-fighting.
Solving tomorrow’s problem today is future-building.
In the ditty, the lack of a car is the current, immediate problem. However, the celebrity-to-be recognizes that her vision of being a big-time star requires someone to drive, maintain and clean the car, and help her in and out of the vehicle. She set her sights beyond her current problem and solved for the future-oriented, vision-level problem.
Your consulting firm’s current challenges may sound like one of the following examples:
“How do I get the next client?” or, perhaps, “How do I create a steady stream of clients so that my consulting firm’s current capacity is utilized fully?”
Or, on the flip side, “How can I locate high-quality talent that will delight our consulting clients, since demand is high and the labor market is tight?”
Or, “How can I reduce my hours working in my consulting firm so that I can spend more time with my family?”
Or, “How do I scale my consulting firm… what’s the immediate, next step?”
These and other challenges are common for small consulting firms. They’re current-level problems.
And solving those problems–fighting those fires–is important. For instance, if demand for your consulting firm’s services outstrips your capacity to deliver, you need talent pronto.
However, fighting fires generates plodding growth, at best.
Solving vision-level problems today rather than tomorrow accelerates your growth and propels you toward a brighter future.
For example, rather than closing today’s capacity gap, what’s the next, larger capacity issue you can address? Instead of finding one consultant, find three. Maybe you hire two, or perhaps you hire one and keep two close-at hand. Either way, you’re ahead of the game on capacity.
That’s just one illustration, though. I’d appreciate your help expanding on this idea.
What’s a current-level problem (i.e., fire) you’re working on for your consulting firm, and what’s the vision-level (tomorrow’s problem) version that you could work on now?
Text and images are © 2023 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.
Hiring more talent seems like the ‘brute force’ way of scaling. Figuring out how to deliver value more efficiently (even if it is only a portion of the value) is much more interesting.
You’ve touched on one of the tricky parts of building a consulting firm, Ian. Consulting is a bit of a brute force business. You can absolutely scale the business better than a linear relationship with the number of consultants; however, very few consulting firms can scale meaningfully without adding talent and still remain consulting firms.
Of course, the talent problem–whether it’s today’s talent problem or tomorrow’s, is just one illustration of a current-level fire. If you’re solving the problem of adding scale when adding more bodies is no longer feasible, that’s definitely a vision-level effort. (And one that has paid off handsomely for a number of firms.)
Thanks for your thought-provoking comment, Ian.
Ever find that a client’s vision-level problems become a consultant’s current-level problems? For example, when the quality and quantity of talented resources are limited in a client organization, implementation efforts grow exponentially.
Identifying competing vision-level problems on the client side can help to avoid current-level problems, or at least allow you to better scope and price engagements.
Wow, Chris, that’s an outstanding, meta-level observation. You’re right that our client’s vision-level problems can manifest as short-term fires that they hire consultants to fight.
Great addition to the idea, Chris!
My BHAG is “Hassle-free Healthcare.” This affects my decision-making. So, every month, I do a Zero Harm – Million Dollar Prescription webinar targeted at quality improvement professionals in healthcare (next one is Tuesday). I run a Lean Six Sigma for Hospitals group on Linkedin. I’m obsessed with making our QI Macros for Excel healthcare customers wildly successful and tuning the software for their needs.
Without my “moon shot” objective, my focus would be more scattered.
The overlap between audacious goals and vision-level problems is high. You’ve provided some excellent examples of translating a vision into offerings and value for clients.
I appreciate your providing a case study, Jay.
David, Following the principle that the CEO is the best person to sell for a consulting company, I recently hired a younger “green but keen” project manager. Of course, I have had to invest significant time to train him, but I am delighted with his progress. He is MUCH more amenable to training than some of the senior consultants we have used. And he is starting to take the project management load off my shoulders, allowing me to focus more on networking and selling. For boutique consulting companies like us, filling the pipeline is the perennial “tomorrow” problem.
Outstanding, Chris. As you know, I 100% agree with the path you’re taking. You are the best person to tackle Business Development. A young, eager, “batteries included” employee is an investment that will generate enormous routines for you. Great job tackling the vision-level problem, Chris, and thank you for sharing your experience!
Another winner, David. You’re teaching concepts and distinctions I’ve never heard of. I don’t know what I don’t know, but you do!
Thanks for your kind feedback, Jebb. We all have plenty to learn and, fortunately, this community of consultants is very generous in sharing their insights, experience and wisdom. As a result, we’re all growing and moving forward.
I’m glad you took a moment to post your reactions, Jebb!