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#241: Best in (Whose?) Class

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, February 15, 2010
Updated: Monday, February 15, 2010
My clients always want me to conduct benchmarking studies and help them be a world-class company. For most, there is no way they will soon, if ever, be world-class. How should I let them down gently?

You had me right up to "let them down gently." Organizations vary widely in both their current capabilities and their potential. Our job as management consultants is to help them improve as much as possible within their (steadily improving) capabilities. We help most by being clear and realistic about their path to improvement. Implying that they will never be world-class contradicts the experience of many companies who originally never seemed to be world-class prospects. Despite its bumps along the way, for example, Hewlett Packard started in a garage and has become a widely admired company.

When a company talks about being best in class, we should be clear that this means best in a specific class, not best in all classes. If you are a small nonprofit, do your benchmarking on similar size and function organizations, not multinationals with no similarities with your client's current or near-term capabilities.

Tip: It is easiest to focus on exemplar organizations when creating scenarios for a company. For example, describe the desired improvement in sales function to be like Company X, the capability for innovation like Agency Y, and the governance like Company Z. These should all be organizations whose current operations are realistic targets. You can always raise the bar after you have made some progress. Depending on the effectiveness of your advice and their follow through, who's to say they can't eventually become world-class?

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client development  consultant role  customer understanding 

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