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A forest of colleagues
August 17, 2020   |  Articles

Lost in the Forest? Who You Gonna Call?

Recent events have forced many businesses to rethink everything from their primary product or service offering to the smallest details of day to day operations. Planning and executing such changes can be overwhelming and while most business owners have clear strengths, few people are highly skilled in all the areas required for such fundamental changes. This can feel like being lost in a forest.

Luckily, there is good news for the small business owners feeling overwhelmed by all that is required to grow and sustain a healthy organization: help is just a phone call (or email) away!

But who do you call? There are so many options to choose from: strategic planners, executive coaches, organizational efficiency engineers (like me), just to name a few. To someone new to the terminology, distinguishing between the various options alone can be an overwhelming task. Fortunately, there are clear advantages to each specialty and differences we can articulate starting with these three.

Business owners who find themselves with a fuzzy long term vision for their business, even those who are seeing strong results at present, can benefit tremendously from the advice of a strategic planner. Strategic planners bring a combination of tools to the table, ranging from structured forecasting and scenario planning techniques to the benefit of their own, often extensive, experience.

When the long term vision is clear but the responsibilities of leadership are overwhelming, executive coaches are here to help! Coaches, just as the name implies, work with individual leaders and their teams to build leadership and communication muscles. They also leverage a variety of tools to help leaders better understand themselves and their teams or learn to make good decisions with incomplete information and prepare for the unexpected.

Exemplary leaders with focused goals and vision sometimes still find themselves at the helm of organizations where each individual feels as though they have three bosses, six sets of goals, and yet no idea how their work relates to the company’s primary mission. These are symptoms of systemic misalignments and that is where organizational efficiency engineers, like me, come to the rescue. We analyze org structures, incentive plans, program governance models, communication norms, and any other systems that make up the structure within which employees work day to day. Then we guide the company through revising (and realigning) those systems. The end result is higher engagement and more effective operations.

Even summarizing these three roles is a lot of information so imagine, for a moment, that a business is at one edge of a forest and that their goal is somewhere on the far side of the trees. Within the woods, there are no roads but there are plenty of windy animal tracks. Many leaders are simply trying to get to “the other side” of the woods and have no clearer destination than that.

Without any additional skills or training, the leader of the company will often find themself following the animal tracks in roughly the direction they want to go, sometimes veering off even this vague course and possibly even having to backtrack. Leaders with sufficient forestry skills to find their own way through the undergrowth are still likely to see their team back on the paths doing their best to follow without directly bushwhacking themselves.

So how can our consultants help turn this woodsy nightmare into an achievable journey? The strategic planner works with the leader to pinpoint the exact location of the goal on the far side of the forest. The executive coach gives the leader the forestry skills they need to beat a more direct path to the far side. Organizational efficiency engineers help the leader build a new path with each step so that the entire team can easily follow along.

There is a reason that few leaders are able to excel in strategic planning, day to day leadership, and systemic optimization – these tasks are just as different as selecting the best destination, navigating the woods, and building new paths. Each of these skills also improves with practice and can be learned with the assistance of experts. By leveraging consultants and coaches, business leaders can position themselves and their teams to stand on the shoulders of giants, seeing farther and covering more distance with each step.

So now that you have a better idea of who can help with various business challenges, who you gonna call?

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