Make it useful.
A new client told me recently that they’d "been through this strategy process before" and the result had been a document that they never looked at again.
As consultants we hang so much of what we do on giving a great presentation. Selling our ideas to our clients in that one hour window we have to show a series of dazzling slides that will take them on a journey and convince them of the importance of our thinking.
But if we’re honest with ourselves, how much of our work never really gets off the slide and out into the real world? And how often do we blame the clients for the ideas that don’t fly?
I have the words ‘Make it useful’ pinned above my desk to remind myself to keep checking how practical and helpful my work actually is for my clients.
What is useful work?
I think it is work that is prepared for ideas to get roughed up a bit when they come in contact with the real world. Better still, it’s ideas that have that ‘roughed-up-ness’ built in.
The urge to streamline ideas into the perfect slide presentation can be overly reductive. If we don’t build in all the messy realness and unpredictable humanness of how organisations operate we miss opportunities for our work to be useful and therefore of greater value to our clients.
Useful work needs to understand not just what problem it is solving but also the complete context in which the solution will be executed. There are often seemingly unrelated roadblocks – and opportunities – within the lives of people and organisations that get in the way of executing perfectly polished strategy. And it’s easy to just dismiss these as ‘client-side’ problems.
Maybe it’s because I’ve run businesses myself, but I like getting into this weedy, rubber-meets-road part where ideas are really tested. I like the strategy deck to feel like the beginning, not the end.
It doesn’t matter how sparkly the ideas, how precisely crafted the strategic logic or how awe inspiring the presentation, if the work doesn't embrace the details and day-to-day challenges of how better organisations are built, then it is likely to live and die in a google doc.
It may sound obvious, but do you ever look back and ask yourself, honestly, ‘what did I do today, this week, this year, that was genuinely useful?’
Kate Leury Nielsen