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Consultants Cite What We Can Learn from the Financial Crisis

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Society for the Advancement of Consulting® has asked its global members to comment on what, if anything, most businesses can learn in the aftermath of the financial crisis. This is a cross-section of the opinions:

"You can't wait. You can't wait for opportunities, answers, better times, or a return to normal,” says Ann Latham of Uncommon Clarity, a Massachusetts consulting firm ( According to Latham, too many organizations, big and small, did exactly that. Those who crafted a new future while things were slow, whether by repositioning themselves in the market or building capacity and expertise, are now reaping the benefits. "But then again,” she adds, "why would you ever want to leave your future to chance and external forces, regardless of the state of the economy? Embrace change and find the opportunities it inevitably creates!"

"Business executives can take three key lessons from the financial crisis," says John Carroll, growth consultant and president of Unlimited Performance, Inc. in Mount Pleasant, SC "First, conditions never reach the level of alarmist media pronouncements. Questions such as ‘Is this the end of the capitalist free economy as we know it?' push concern into needless worry and fear among listeners, readers and viewers. In the meantime, audiences come away unsettled, even immobilized, wondering what to do next besides catching tomorrow's scarecast.

"Second, conditions are rarely as good or as bad as we think they are. By putting a caution meter on the extremes, organizations are more likely to top off the rainy day fund during a growth spurt and invest in a new marketing, product or service initiative during a lull. These safeguards run contrary to what most do during such segments of the economic cycle, thereby lifting the high-functioning organization above the crowded, confined space of current thinking.

"Third," Carroll says, "too much of a good thing eventually goes bad. When there's too much money available for real estate deals, that sector and everything touching it suffer. With too much focus on profit, your best customers and employees leave you and damage future profitability. With too much information compromising your ability to think clearly, wisdom watches from the sidelines while mistakes are made and the inevitable fall ensues. Instead of American football's two-minute warning, savvy executives adopt their own personal alert known as the ‘too much warning.'"

D. Kevin Berchelmann is the President of Triangle Performance, LLC in Houston, Texas, helping organizations succeed through leadership, and is a two-time recipient of Houston's Fast 100 award His comments:

"There's no question that the financial upheaval we went through was significant. What's less touted were the benefits, however difficult. For example, we learned that our output per employee had slipped. Productivity is higher today, particularly in the services sector. The same people are doing more work, and capacities have been maintained though employment has decreased somewhat. Certainly, we would prefer higher employment, but this isn't all bad news; it does mean, however, that adding demonstrable value—not simply breathing air or "keeping your head down"—is the key to success today.

"Further, this value-driven thinking has created stockpiles of cash in uncertain times; this cash will have to find an invested home soon, and this influx of capital push will undoubtedly create additional need for additional value—from employees, outside providers, and others associated with those investments."

Dr. Maynard Brusman is a San Francisco Bay Area consulting psychologist and executive coach. He is the president of Working Resources, a strategic talent management consulting firm. He offers a few insights:

Dr. Brusman notes, "We live and work in volatile, uncertain and complex times. Various sectors of the global economy vacillate between signs of recovery and omens of collapse. Many businesses seem paralyzed; they are risk-adverse and strategically incremental. Companies need innovation, culture change and future-focused leadership now more than ever.

"Riding out the economic recession of the past few years, many organizations put the brakes on growth, cautiously contained costs, and dramatically reduced spending on research and development. In such a fear-based environment, innovation—and the risks that accompany it¬—moved to the back of the bus. But as the global economy has tentatively returned to health, companies are learning that not innovating can make them another Kodak. As Apple so clearly demonstrates, organizations need to do more with less, solve complexity, and come up with creative solutions their customers want, and perhaps those they don't even know they need."

"How can business exploit growth opportunities and mitigate risk blind spots until they get a better grasp on the right metrics in time to make better business decisions?" asks Gary W. Patterson, the FiscalDoctor® Atlanta, author of Stick Out Your Balance Sheet and Cough: Best Practices for Long Term Business Health.

Issues to address to determine and monitor the correct metrics include: (a) Yesterday's correct metrics can be tomorrow's wrong metrics. Look at how relatively quickly the telecom world has cannibalized major companies for cellular. (b) Far too many boards and management teams get overwhelmed measuring too many metrics. Yes even those with billions of revenues and international reach seem to short this back to the basics approach. When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. (c) Focusing enough to reduce the plethora of measurable metrics to a handful of the five to seven key metrics to measure is hard work, even before political infighting makes it more difficult.

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