I had a terrific time this past Monday consulting with a small business owner (revenue less than $2 million) who appears to have a very strong product but is significantly missing growth opportunities. I spent a couple of hours over the weekend reading about his product, his current customer relationships, his missed market opportunities and his organization. We then spent the better part of the first hour talking about the history of the business, the product and the current financial position of the business. At that point, I was overflowing with ideas that I felt could help short term growth, business/product market positioning and longer term broader market opportunity perspective. However, one of my most important jobs in this consulting assignment was to make sure that it was not my ideas and thoughts that drove the actions of this business’s future. This is not because I did not want to help but rather because if the actions were to get long term traction they would have to be owned by the CEO and his team not a consultant.
With this in mind I proceeded to ask lots of “what if” questions and waited for the CEO to form his own opinions about what would be needed in each of these areas. If I thought his responses were off the mark I would steer him hard to think about alternatives. In fact, in one instance I insisted that he was missing a pricing opportunity and walked him through why I thought that was true and how to do it. The longer we dialoged like this the deeper I was able to probe into some of the real issues and opportunities that were deeply rooted in the business and clearly preventing it from growing.
We ended our session with numerous short term actions to drive margin and revenue growth and many longer term possibilities to strengthen his team, his market position, his sales efforts and his own leadership style. At the end, he asked me for prioritization as he clearly felt thia was a very valuable session but one where he ended it with his mouth on the proverbial firehouse! I shared with him that I would be happy to meet again and discuss his decisions on action prioritization but as the business leader he will need to think and act with the inputs from his team for their real buy-in to all our work. In other words, I had forced him to think beyond his constraints and now I wanted him as a leader to pass that on to his team. Then the actions will be the commitments of a leader and his team who were both encouraged and allowed to think and act!!