Ever wonder how a Starbuck’s Latte tastes the same whether you buy it in Boston or Beijing? Or how Kentucky Fried Chicken can be just as “finger lickin’ good” in Kansas City as in Karachi? Process consistency is the key, and manufacturers have been perfecting it since the early days of the Industrial Revolution.
But consulting services? Now that’s a tough one. How do you ensure a consistent, high-quality product when the product is different for each customer? When it must constantly adapt to an evolving industry, a changing competitive landscape, or both?
For manufacturing companies, of course, consistency is everything. Create and perfect a high-quality product, and success will depend on your ability simply to replicate it thousands or millions of times by way of standardization and controls.
For example, when Henry Ford planned to mass produce the Model T, he spent years studying the use of assembly lines in slaughterhouses and conveyor belt systems in warehouses before perfecting his own system to bring auto parts to his workers on the line for assembly. Intent on making his factories as efficient as possible, he also insisted that the parts be interchangeable.
Ford’s use of the assembly line enabled him to reduce the time it took to build a Model T from 12.5 hours to 93 minutes. Process consistency was how Ford lowered both costs and the Model T’s price.
Yet many consulting firms and business services companies, driven by the fluctuations of the stock market or the exit timeline of a venture investor struggle to offer customized services and advice while maintaining the highest standards.
For more than 30 years I’ve witnessed some amazingly high quality products delivery to clients, but it was almost always due to one individual’s expertise, the consultant who happened to be assigned to that particular client.
So what’s the answer? How can a consulting firm steer an effective course that meets the demands of both consistency and customization at the same time?
Here’s the concept:
Stability in the organization enables flexibility in execution
Organizational Stability → Workforce Stability → Process Maturity → Project Success
In other words:
- A stable organization supports a stable workforce.
- A stable workforce in turn supports the development of long-term processes flexible enough to react to changing client needs while at the same time maintaining the highest standards.
- Flexibility + the Highest Standards = Project Success
Of course, the reverse is also true – a lack of stability in the organization undercuts its effectiveness. Many consulting and business services firms attempt to achieve consistent results without fixing an organization’s foundation, and find they are unable to develop stability in either their workforce or in their process. Consistent results for clients demand a consistent process, which depends on a stable workforce.
How does one build-in organizational stability?
One way is to shun ‘fast money’ from investors. If the investor has a shorter time horizon than what’s needed for the business, or if the investor has unrealistic expectations for return, that expediency and chaos is inevitably transferred to the organization.
Another way to build stability into the organization is through sound financial planning. Organizations built for stability have debt to equity ratios lower than what banks allow. Moreover, they have a larger cash reserve than what a typical third party investor would allow.
From ownership structures, to financial ratios to operational metrics, there are numerous strategies organizations can implement to “build in” stability. All those strategies are quite clear and eminently achievable. To make it a reality, however, you should first be convinced that stability is a virtue worth pursuing and make it a priority for your organization.
Learn more about how to organize a professional services firm in our blog titled, "The Only Way to Structure the Professionals Services Firm".