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November 15, 2022   |  Articles

Byproduct or Best Product

Every independent consultant, including me, spends time trying to articulate just what makes them so valuable to their clients.  I have even hired The Client Whisperer (who I highly recommend) to interview my clients and pull out their articulation of what made our work together worthwhile.  So I was recently surprised to realize that something I have generally considered a byproduct of my work might actually be a perfect service for my referral partners to bring to their clients.  There is the potential for this seeming byproduct to quickly become my best product.

I am far from the first person, or business, to have such a revelation.  The history of the oil industry, for example, is riddled with shifting definitions of “byproducts” as the most lucrative derivatives of crude oil evolved over the decades.  But this is the first time that I have seen such a clear opportunity for Belleview to bring a byproduct forward as a formal offering.  My hope with this month’s article is to share the story and hopefully encourage others to reflect on their own processes to see if there might be a similar gem hiding in their own work.

To dispense with any suspense, the service I am referring to is creating “Future Dream Team” org charts and operating models – something I often create with my clients as a tool for making decisions about how to structure their current organization.  

Although my engagements tend to be project-based with clear deliverables handed over at the end, I always tell my clients that the primary value will come from the conversations and revelations that happen along the way.  This has been born out by my own experience and by the feedback that Bruce collected so perhaps I should have been less surprised to realize that one part of the process might be a product all its own.  Regardless of the surprise factor, I am delighted to discover that there might be something specific I can point to beyond “the experience of the process” so it is no wonder I am tossing around the phrase “best product” so freely!

I will go into more detail about the process overall next month, when I talk about the experience of hearing my approach articulated by someone else for the first time (spoiler alert: it was awesome).  So for now, suffice it to say that one of the common pitfalls I developed my approach to avoid was the trap of creating organizational dead ends.  All too often, I saw larger or more mature companies going through massive restructurings because their teams were very poorly suited to their current challenges.  While this situation is sometimes unavoidable as a market shift forces a change in product design, for example, often these challenges would have been completely predictable if anyone had stopped to think about this particular set of consequences.

To illustrate how this might happen, let’s think about an accounting firm that begins by building out a tax practice.  The founders of the firm are actually excited about doing strategic planning with clients and moving into the fractional CFO space but they believe that the tax practice will give them the cash runway and financial insights they need to really penetrate that market.  As they build the tax practice, they appoint a CTO who has a particular expertise in the tax preparation software they use.  Most of the IT support is outsourced so the CTO is primarily a liaison to the IT provider and an internal advocate for this one piece of software.

As the practice expands and the vision of fractional CFOs starts to be realized, the CTO becomes increasingly ineffective for the practice as a whole.  Their software expertise is so narrow that they are struggling to properly support the more complex planning tools that the fractional CFOs are relying on.  Eventually, it is clear that the current CTO needs to move into a position dedicated to the tax practice and another person needs to come on board to oversee all the technical needs of the company.

This will now seem like a demotion to the CTO, a painful discussion that might lead them to leave the practice if handled incorrectly.  But this entire situation could have been completely avoided!  If the practice had mapped out what their organization would look like with the fractional CFO service before appointing the CTO to that role, they would have seen this exact conflict coming.  I always advocate for designing the team you want in the future, using that to back into the team you want now, and then adapting those roles to allow your current team to be successful.  

In practice, this means that our accounting firm might have drawn a far future model with a CTO role that supported the entire organization and then backed into a CTO role that supported the tax practice with planned growth into other areas.  Then, when they considered the person they planned to name as CTO, they would have realized that that person was poorly suited to that version of the position.  By identifying the conflict up front, the founders would have had several options for how to proceed.

One option would have been to remove the Future Dream Team CTO role and replace it with parallel roles below the C Suite that specialized in supporting a particular service (tax, CFOs, etc), perhaps embedded in the service teams or under the COO.  Another option would have been to appoint the current candidate to a Head of Tax Software role, or other title that allows for a CTO to come in above them, that would eventually report into the CTO team while making the CTO role more strategic.  In either case, having a plan would have allowed the leaders to explain to the current candidate what the expectations for a “CTO” role would be.  If the candidate developed those skills by the time the role was needed, they might still be able to move into the role but without those skills, there would have been no surprise when a new leader joined the team.

I have always been so focused on how *I* use the Future Dream Team model that it never occurred to me that it might be a useful deliverable to a client all on its own.  While I am sure that my insights are generally appreciated by my clients, not every company that could benefit from articulating their Future Dream Team actually needs external support for the rest of the conversation – or needs *my* external support.  Depending on the size of the company, having that reference might be sufficient for an executive coach to take the conversation over again and guide the client where they need to go.

All of this is a very long way of saying how grateful I am for my colleagues and thinking partners, with a particular shout out to Glenn Gow and Tina Quinn who both contributed to this particular insight.  Without those collaborations, I might never have noticed that I could do the consulting equivalent of selling the hammer rather than the birdhouse.  I am very excited to see if this insight really does yield my best product yet and what all these brilliant sounding boards will ensure I hear next!

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