The Nature of Value

Some members of my team from the US and UK spent a fascinating day with my co-author and friend, Alan Weiss. I had asked Alan to help us with a new process for helping companies convert current performance into potential performance. We’re excited…it seems we’re clearly onto something.

With any consulting offering, a common question is, how should value be established? I can think of a particular company who hired an ex-consulting firm partner in a senior role, whose response to an outbreak of rabid cost-cutting was to try and convert every trusted advisor to the level of a commodity vendor, demanding time sheets virtually and even reneging on established terms of business. This then became a company that signed up for “deliverables” (consultant-speak for methodology, activities, inputs) at the lowest cost rather than outcomes at the best value (defined as ROI, transfer of skills, relevance of solutions, depth and degree of customization to their particular situation, etc).

Most of our clients are either inherently wiser, or have sagely allowed themselves to be educated in this regard. I remember recently an HR person going into “shock” when I advised that a coaching intervention being asked for by his boss, spanning six months would be $35,000. I wasn’t doing the coaching personally, it would have been more. But I’m not sure it would have been more value to the coachee, given the situation I wasn’t needed. This other coach from our network was the perfect foil. When I unpacked “value” in terms of this coachee being a country manager for a $25 million country operation, who they knew was at a behavioral plateau that would keep him from moving up in the organization to potentially oversee a $100 million per annum regional operation, the money ceased to be the discussion. We shifted to making the coaching valuable. We would do a base-line 360 before and after, provide access to the coach throughout the period and some teleconferences as needed in preparation for the face-to-face time, there would be time observing behavior “live”, their regional boss would get input as to how to reinforce the coaching, and we would be tracking throughout clearly defined improvement areas. Heck by the time we finished the discussion, they were excited by the “deal!” We received another call to engage another country operation head for them just two months into this assignment! Fees were never questioned again.

The nature of value is multi-faceted. But eliciting and defining value from the perspective of the organization and the leader(s) in question is what our job is. Until that is established, running around “doing things” is just feverish confusion. Billing anything for that is definitely charging too much.

Some value facets include:

*Business outcomes (improvement in some overall business metrics or results)

*Market based continuous improvement and/or innovation (growing the capability to profitably and distinctively serve a market segment and customer base)

*Process simplification (ways to simplify, focus or amplify business activity for gains in productivity or elimination of waste)

*Interactive benefits (less wear and tear, candid and constructive communication, stronger relationships, more productive collaboration)

*Engagement benefits (creating an environment that enables discretionary commitment, improving your employee value proposition to improve retention and development of top talent, aligned and focused effort)

This is almost a “balanced scorecard” of value, where the business results are almost lag indicators and the improvement/innovation, process, interactive and engagement improvements are lead indicators.

Not all assignments may require a focus on all these elements, but to the extent that what you do, in partnership with your clients (as you have to ultimately get them to take accountability and take appropriate action), provides gains in these five arenas, you will not only deliver value, but that value will be palpable.

Without awareness of the potential interplay of these or similar elements, you may well help to produce gains, but your clients most often won’t be able to sustain them.