Strategic Planning

Is using an outside consultant for planning really necessary?

This past week I was asked by an acting CEO for one of my clients how long I thought the organization would need to depend upon me to do strategic planning. “The organization should ultimately be able to do it on its own” was his comment.

a compass

I replied that our strategic planning clients stay with us an average of 4 years, some much longer, and that the primary reason that they cease using our services is due to a change in leadership and the new leader wanting to use their own resource.

The conversation brought up a question I have wrestled with before, what is the value of an outside consultant when it comes to strategic planning? After all, such thinking and action should be an expectation of management without an outside resource. Right? Well, over many years of planning, I would say “yes and no”.

It is true that strategic thinking is a key skill and responsibility of leadership. However, one should consider the value of an outside resource to guide the effort. Here are a few whys.

  1. The leader wishes to participate rather than facilitate the discussion amongst his team.
  2. The consultant brings a methodology that enables the team to achieve a high quality product in less time.
  3. The consultant has demonstrated the ability to push the envelope with questions that enable the team to go outside their comfort zone and confront questions and issues that would not be the case otherwise.

One of my mentors and author of the profound book Corporate Lifecycles, Ichak Adizes asked at the end of a training session, “How many of you consider yourselves consultants?” All the hands were raised. He added, “Well, if you consider yourself a consultant, you are simply telling the client what they want to hear. If you want to add value, you must be an ‘insultant’, willing to risk taking the client where they are not willing or able to go on their own”. His comments sum up the true potential value of a consultant.

What are your thoughts? Any especially positive or negative experiences with a consultant in your strategic planning process? Send me an e-mail to share your experiences.

Bill Dann