Take the Money and Run: Why Traditional Consulting Models are Increasingly Unsustainable


In 1969 Woody Allen directed Take the Money and Run.  It’s a slapstick.  A small time crook, gaff after gaff, winds up in the slammer.  He plots an escape.  Allen’s character carves a revolver from a bar of soap and smears it black with shoe polish.  In the dimly lit prison the “gun” looks authentically lethal.  His jailers release him from his cell for fear of being shot.  And, as Allen leads his guards in to the free and open air, it begins to rain…the “revolver” is reduced to suds.

I was talking with my dad tonight.  He’s a bright man.  40 years in finance.  He shared with me, “After all of those years I can say that only one consulting class made a lasting impact.  My team knew that the message from the consultant meant that I had to be accountable to my team and that my team had to be accountable to me…and suddenly my actions and my teams’ actions started to come together…” (paraphrased as he just had hip surgery.  Love you dad.).

Consulting, coaching, call it what you will, is experiencing a rain storm.  There are many coaches, consultants, trainers, visionaries, revolutionaries, gurus, and the like that all–in their own ways–have their “silver bullets.”  In general these folks (some of whom are friends) utilize Woody Allen’s aspirational optimism: An idea that looks good in the dark is not susceptible to the environment outside of the cell walls.  Linear thinking.  If you do “X” then “Y” will always follow.  Some may argue: “Trust me, I’ve done this before in ‘real life.  I’ve been very successful.” or “I’ve got ‘real world’ experience and results.”  Generally,  those results existed in the past, in different markets, under different circumstances.  Call it “Miss Havisham Syndrome”.  Traditional consulting models, for lack of a better description, are melting in the rain.

Allen’s problem is precisely the problem that most business owners face: strategy (make a gun out of soap) and execution (use the soap gun to free yourself during a rainstorm) are largely disconnected from the reality of the execution.  The hermetic idealization and the practical application of the ideal have little to do with each other.  As a result there’s a burst of enthusiasm followed by the sinking realization that, shit, this plan ain’t so perfect.  I see it all the time.  Excited and enthusiastic front-line employees are jazzed up over the next “game changer.”  Back at the office, however, a lack of strategic support, resources, and accountability leads to short-terms gains.  Operations feels deflated.  Strategy feels (best case) that the time and investment weren’t worth it.  But there is a smarter alternative: Embedd strategy and operations in to each other.

As I’ve written recently, strategy and operations must be accountable and embedded in to each other.  It’s the only way to sustain lasting improvements.  It’s absolutely the only way for business owners not to feel as if sending their teams to seminars and events is anything more than a check box item in the HR “professional development” file.  For front line employees the integration of strategy and operations represents a viable and accountable means of personal and professional fulfillment.  For leadership it represents a clear line-of-sight throughout the organization.

This type of evolution is already occurring in business segments everywhere.  My company included.  The future of Arrow & Fletching is based on my ardent belief that strategy and front-line execution of this strategy must be adaptable, integrated, and accountable.  Markets are evolving too quickly to rely on silo thinking and isolated coaching models.

The traditional consulting model, which is to say “accepted,” is being disrupted.  In the digital era, many consulting companies will say “We need to adapt a video format to accommodate a bigger audience!”  A few will say, “We need to create a subscription service and sell the subscriptions for residual income!”  But almost none will say, “We know what the real, focused, no-bullshit issue is: that information efficiency and results-driven effectiveness are two very different things.”

And then it starts to rain.

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