Consulting in a Nutshell

I’ve been cleaning out various corners of my office over the last few weeks. I’m not sure if this is a belated New Year’s effort or early spring-cleaning. Regardless, it has been a walk down memory lane as I’ve retrieved, reviewed, and shredded files from consulting relationships that go back seventeen years. So many people and so many different businesses — plumbers, electricians, remodelers, homebuilders, drywallers, painters, engineering contractors, surveyors, landscapers, and more.

Most of the folks I’ve worked with over the years were already pretty successful when they hired me, but had challenges for one reason or another: too few hours in a day, inadequate profits, employees running amok, etc.

My work always starts by conducting confidential interviews with everyone in the company, or in a larger company, with the key players. I then write up a business analysis with recommendations. As I cleaned out my files, I started flipping through some old reports and realized that I could give my wonderful readers some ideas on what a management consultant might tell them. Why? Because again and again, I see the same issues and challenges facing contracting businesses. If you came and asked me to do an analysis of your business, I can guarantee that I’d make at least eighty percent of the following recommendations to you:

  • Do a mission statement. What type of business are you now and what kind do you want to be in the future — Customer service focused? High-end? Whole house? Green?
  • Start planning. Conduct an annual planning session involving you and your key players and look at where you are now and where you want to be in a year, and then figure out what it’s going take to get there. Start going after what you want instead of taking what you get.
  • Improve your understanding and use of your financial tools. Teach everyone in the company how your business makes money. Create an annual budget based on your plan and monitor it monthly. Start using your financial information as a management tool to track your sales and your gross profit percentages. Double check all your estimates to make sure they are giving you the margins you need, and then job cost religiously. Share all this information with, at a minimum, your key players.
  • Review your employment practices and needs. First, figure out who you have, who you need, who needs to go, who gets to stay, and who needs to be shifted to another position. Then write or revise your job descriptions, start conducting your performance reviews, and tie any raises to an employee’s contribution to accomplishing the company’s plan. Review, revise, or adopt personnel policies. Be sure you are hiring effectively. Treat your employees like the renewable resource they are. Determine their training needs and then train them.
  • Improve your communication, both verbal and written. Start or improve your meetings — a weekly management meeting to focus on the big issues, a weekly field meeting to cover all the logistics and resource utilization issues, and daily huddles between people whose jobs support each other. Identify repeatable activities and create written procedures for these, so they are done effectively and consistently throughout the company.
  • Finally, I would tell you to step into your owner’s role and learn how to delegate to the people around you. As much fun as it is to swing a hammer, it’s not your job anymore. Now, you’re responsible for the big picture and all the stuff listed above.

So, there you have it, management consulting recommendations in a nutshell. Now, the more challenging part of a consulting relationship begins — getting you to implement the recommendations.

Ah, this is where the relationship between you and the consultant becomes critical, because you are hiring a personal trainer, coach, cheerleader, hand-holder, and a nag. Sometimes they make you happy, sometimes sad, sometimes angry, and sometimes they are the last person in the world you want to see. And, I guarantee, it will take all these roles to get the work done. But, if you’ve hired the right person, who identifies your issues, and more important, can work with you and address them, then hiring a management consultant may be the best thing you’ve done in years.