Most consultants fail. They blow it on a regular basis, not because they are bad or that they have bad systems. Quite to the contrary, most consultants and coaches I have met are darn impressive, very business savvy and brilliant in figuring out where their clients are choking. So why is it they do all this work to help a business, yet none of their ideas work, or even if they work, they don’t stick? After about a month or so the business owner simply goes back to their old ways. Nothing has improved. There’s no proof a consultant was even there, unless the owner sees the payment stub in his checkbook or trips over the consultant’s report, sitting in a corner covered with dust.
I’ve been studying consulting and why doesn’t work ever since I wrote my first book, The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur. After all, being a business author naturally leads to having a consulting business. The thing was, I didn’t want to have another run of the mill consultancy that ponies up idea after idea and system after system, but has no impact and no staying power. I actually wanted my consultancy to make a difference.
Then I found the answer to fixing any business problem. I was reading book after book, and interviewing expert after expert, when the blatantly obvious smacked me in the face. Habits are the most powerful currents in our lives and our businesses. Our habits control how we eat, sleep, talk, act, and work. We always go back to our habits, because they’re familiar. And ironically, the stress of trying to change our business, even though it is for the better, makes us MORE likely to go back to our habits because we crave what’s familiar and safe.
A consultant’s job isn’t about introducing new things and new systems. Their real job is finding the habits of the business and of the people. Once they understand all the habits, of the business and the people, the next step is to identify which habits are having the greatest positive impact. Once the consultant has that information they can guide the company and the employees, vendors and even customers, to do more of the habits that are working, and naturally squeeze out the bad habits. This type of change works… because the company is already doing what the consultant is asking them to do, and is comfortable with it. And it sticks because; it’s already a habit.
In short, the goal is to look for what is working, even in the midst of overwhelming failure, and then grow that habit. A simple story in the book Switch by Dan & Chip Heath explains this perfectly. Jerry Sternin, with Save the Children, went into Vietnam to improve the nutritional status of the villagers. He had six months to do it, with no resources a government that didn’t want him there. Dozens of other groups and organizations had attempted the same feat and failed, because they tried to change the culture. Jerry did things differently. He looked for the few nutritionally healthy children in the village, and learned what their mothers were doing differently. It wasn’t much. Essentially the healthy kids ate four small meals a day rather than two big ones (same daily portions). And, the mothers added small shrimp, crabs and sweet potato greens to their rice as well. Jerry had the poor nutrition mothers and the good nutrition mothers work together preparing meals. He didn’t give a class on putting shrimp in the rice. He engaged the mothers in a habit they were already doing—feeding kids—but he added the good habits and reinforced it by having them work with other mothers feeding their kids, but in a healthier way. It’s kind of like playing golf or tennis with someone better than you. You pick up their habits and improve your game simply by doing what you already do.
When my former consultancy,The Provendus Group, went into a client’s workplace we did not force our systems on them. We did not tell them what they were doing wrong. We did not compare them to others in the industry. Instead we went on a SHRIMP hunt. SHRIMP means – Simple Habits that are generating Recurring Income and Maximized Productivity. We found those hidden habits that the company was doing right and then grew them to gigantic proportions. The business problems got fixed and the changes took because we didn’t change the culture or the habits and systems. We encouraged more of the behaviors and actions that were already working, but just were not being utilized as well.
Is your business having challenges? Don’t try to fix them. Find your SHRIMP and grow those small revenue-producing habits into big ones.