What does it take to be a good strategist? What are the criteria for deciding whether a consultancy is good or not? And what is a good strategy? How do we measure these, how do we know if we can really go after strategic advice, and where does our own judgement and responsibility as the primary decision-maker come in? With the help of our expert Miklós Palencsár, founder of Mentors & Partners Group, we provide guidance on the current key focus of business.
Our series of articles focuses on strategy making, with a particular focus on the question of how to recognise a good business strategist. What is your advice?
The first filter is definitely not what they say they are, but what they are perceived to be by the partners they work with in the longer term. In fact, I could say that they don’t really talk about it, because a good strategist works with business decision-makers on a long-term basis, gets more and more confidential information, and the relationship becomes increasingly serious, so they don’t say what is obvious. After all, if someone continues to work with a strategist for several years, or even after a short project, they must be satisfied with their work.
This is an important point of reference, because many people in this profession say and advertise that they are strategists. What is your attitude about this?
Well, it’s a difficult question. On the one hand, as a person, I am concerned with getting better and better, and I only expect feedback on that from the small circle of people I value. On the other hand, I sometimes get the feeling that this is not right, because we are talking about the fate of people and companies, and I have a responsibility to ensure that there are no charlatans running around in the market. I believe that I am doing my bit.
Do you personally know any such “charlatans”?
Mentors & Partners Group is able to attract the best-qualified consultancy “recruits” because of its successes and achievements, and the high quality of its development work. They then get serious training, real experience in the firm, and learn to manage their desire to overpromote themselves. People often get carried away in their twenties and early thirties and try to “talk smart” behind the MPG image, and sometimes have to be very forcefully stopped in the process so that we only comment on what we really know. And then those who can’t change are dismissed after a while because they would do real damage to the partner, including the MPG. Well, I see one or two of these ex-colleagues sharing “big ideas” within the framework of other consultancies, while I know exactly that they don’t know whether they eat or drink business development. And by the way, some people even “buy” it. Although I must say, they can make very strong statements with zero experience and results behind them. So I can see exactly the process of how someone becomes a quack. I wanted to know this anyway, to see it for myself. It was instructive.
If we want to find the “checkpoints” at a company level, how should we look for them?
The most important thing is to listen to several presentations from several companies and make a decision based on your own judgement. It is very important that if you cannot decide in this way, do not start developing your business! This is a situation that a decision-maker in the first instance, has to take up. Of course, there are one or two other points of reference.
In many consultancies, you can see that they “advertise” themselves with their previous developments and partners. I sometimes find this puffing up of references in this profession strange. What do you think about this?
It’s not a shoe. I cannot ask someone whether it’s comfortable. Nor is it a detergent that the seller can assure me he has tried and it really works. At least if someone thinks so, their business development will be questionable. We very rarely give out reference information, and in my 20 years I have never had an unsuccessful business development, even though I have often had to fight the owner for the success of his own business. But what we have achieved in one company or another is nobody’s business, and the very question is nonsense. In a business development project, it is mostly the mistakes of the manager or owner that need to be corrected, his or her past bad or not entirely good decisions that need to be corrected in order to move on to the next stage. Can you imagine the “phone call” where a serious business decision maker tells a stranger about his real experience of a business development? I mean, to the point. I’ve had developments where the owners approached me with the number one goal being “don’t have any problem keeping the fridge full for my family every day”. They are now millionaires several times over. I would never put them in a position to share that private intimate thing with anyone. And if not, what’s the point of talking about “nothing”? I know that mainly international consultancy firms have made a living out of this, and have disappointed a lot of people in the last two years.
But then, what are the points of reference in this area?
The success of a company is revenue and profit, which can be quantified at the end of the story. This is doubly true for consultancies. The focus is even more on profit, because the core business of a strategy consultancy is to make the business more successful, and you need to be able to measure that in profit. In other words, if a consultancy’s revenues are increasing over the years and its profits are also increasing, then it is safe to say that they are not in any great danger. But if their revenue or profit is falling, then you can say that they are not very good at what they do, because they are not getting new business or they are not managing their costs and people. In other words, if the presentation of the company is sympathetic, we feel that this is what we need, and the revenue/profit figures are okay, we can’t be very wrong.
What is the key to business development success? What is needed to make a strategic consultancy successful? If you could mention one thing in this regard, what would it be?
Based on twenty years and hundreds of strategic consulting projects, I would say that the key to success is that once the decision has been made, the client really trusts the consultant and, of course, after consultation, actually does what the consultant suggests! Such a project cannot be done “half-heartedly”. The client must understand his own profession and accept that the strategist is the one who builds the strategy.
And what is the most important quality of a true strategic consultant?
Credibility. Absolutely. I do a lot of work in sports as well, and it’s very similar to what mentors say about me and us to their partners in business. They believe that we can really build a strategy, that we can really make a person, a company, a team successful. And that belief comes from honest, traceable credibility. Then they will “go for it” with the energy and confidence they need. And credibility means not only professional knowledge, but also the right “presentation” of it.
Thank you for helping us to guide our readers through this difficult issue!
Thank you for the opportunity.