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Watch What You Wish For

Most executives have been asked this question by a consultant at some point: “If I had a magic wand, what do you wish I would accomplish for you?” The purpose of that question is to begin gaining a common understanding of what success looks like for the project under discussion. None of us holds a magic wand, of course. Except Gordon. Gordon had one, and used it once.

As Gordon met with his client executive, he asked the question. Henry, his manufacturing executive client replied: “Well, first I want every one of my employees to show up on time for work every single day.” Gordon responded: “I can make that happen.” Henry then added: “And then I want all our suppliers to ensure that every order we’ve given them is delivered on time in the quantity we requested.” Gordon assured him that would be accomplished as well. And finally, Henry requested: “And I really want to see sales growth.  Gordon knew that his magic wand could meet three requests, so again assured his new client that he could create these successes very soon. Gordon asked: “Are you sure that’s what you need?” Henry nodded.

The next day, every employee was lined up at the time clock. A few had the flu, and a few brought sick children that day care wouldn’t agree to keep. But all employees were on time.  Supplier shipments began to arrive. Receiving was astounded to discover that every late shipment and every order due arrived. Simultaneously, customer service was ringing the “new order” bell frequently, as the largest customers called asking for more products.

Gordon was proud of achieving the agreed upon goals so quickly, and walked into Henry’s office to share the good news. But Henry wasn’t smiling at all. The workers had clocked in, but were lazing around. They weren’t sure what to work on first and were missing needed supplier parts. As had often been the case, too much of some and not enough of others to meet production goals. The new customer orders created a mess as well. They were low margin offerings that required bottleneck equipment. On top of that, only a handful of workers knew how to make those goods. Every order would be late to the customer.

Henry and Gordon should have identified objectives differently. Henry did what too many executives do. He asked a consultant to eliminate symptoms of problems not well understood. He prescribed tactics instead of business results. Gordon also failed as a consultant. It is our responsibility to challenge client thinking and get to the root of the all-important “why” questions. He failed to probe beyond his mild “Are you sure?” He failed to gain information about the reasoning behind Henry’s stated needs. They agreed on what to do, but not on business results.

There is no magic wand like Gordon’s. To transform business results requires much more than a checklist of superficial problems. It requires insight, experience and expertise. It requires honest communication among all parties. It requires hard questions and different thinking. Most of all, transforming business requires transforming operations. No marketing campaign, no global expansion, no new product introduction, no blue ocean strategy can transform a company without the operational capabilities to support them.

At Fulcrum ConsultingWorks, we are Transforming Operations. Transforming Business.Ò

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