Business Consultants and the ‘Toblerone Paradox’

With the demise of Business Link (in the UK) and the large numbers of recently redundant senior business people now looking for work, there can be no surprise at the growth in the number of business consultants and coaches around.
Each has a different core discipline and is looking to make a living supporting other businesses and organisations. So each is now operating in a very competitive market where it is difficult to separate the good consultants from the bad.

Consulting 101

One of the key points of guidance that a consultant should provide is an independent assessment of strengths of the organisation and team and then help that organisation work towards the development of a strategy that exploits those strengths.
That should also be true of the consultants themselves. Know what you are best at and only work within that area.
Therefore, a marketing specialist should be looking at how to market the strengths of the product or service for that company.

A sales specialist should be looking to maximise the performance of the sales team and channels.

An operational performance specialist should be focusing on the supply chain and the delivery processes.

The Toblerone Paradox

As consultants, there is always a backbone of basic business knowledge that can be drawn upon. Consultants will generally have the basic understanding of the 5 core disciplines of business:

  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Finance
  • Delivery
  • Management

And so any consultant can provide some very general support on each of these areas.

However, when specialist knowledge is required, a specialist should be sought.

If you consider the Toblerone chocolate bar shape as a model of how this can be viewed.

The base of the Toblerone represents the general business knowledge that all consultants will have.

We all understand how marketing works, how to sell, how to manage money, how to deliver our service and how to manage (at least ourselves).

The peaks then are the areas of expertise where we are at our best, where we are applying our strengths and being the most authentic consultant we can be.

As a client, I would expect my consultant to only offer support in an area that they had expertise.

After all, I wouldn’t go to a general practitioner to have my appendix out! They are great for coughs and colds and minor ailments but not great surgeons, generally speaking.

It’s the same with consultants. A “marketeer” is not generally a great leadership trainer!

A “sales specialist” is not a great finance director!

However, the paradox is, that in a time when the number of clients is small and the driving need for the consultant to make revenue, there is a tendency for the consultant to offer support in areas that they are not expert.

So What?

A superficial view might believe that this is OK, some help is better than no help at all.

But I would argue that some support is not always better than no support if it is the wrong support.

Consider now the “marketeer” who offers financial consultancy, an area that he may be familiar with but by no means and expert. The solution will probably be sub-optimal.

Is this serving the client in the best manner possible? Certainly not!

It is also not serving the consultant well, as they will provide only an adequate service and have now confused the client (and other potential clients)!

When faced with a number of options, clients need to place consultants in a ‘pigeon hole’. As a marketing specialist you are easy to place. As a generalist, you are harder to place and so make it harder for a client to select you when they need marketing advice.

ack to the model, a generalist will create a lower level of performance improvement whereas a specialist will generate a much higher level of performance in a particular discipline.

The paradox is clearly that as consultants, we understand the need to focus on our specialist area but our desire to help and our need for revenue seduces us to be inauthentic and so work in areas that are not within our expertise and so produce a sub-optimal performance.

Focus on your strengths and you will not only help your clients perform much better, but also serve yourself by identifying you as a domain expert in a specific area, making it easier for your potential clients to find you.

Dare to Aspire

7 Questions to Help you Focus on Productivity



In general terms, productivity is about getting more from less. More money, more output, more product, more customers from less time, less resources, less people, less money…Well, just more with less…


This will clearly make you and your organisation more effective and help not only reduce costs but also build the bottom line. 
Here are 7 questions you can ask to get you thinking of how to improve your personal and team productivity:
1. What can I do more of that will make the largest positive impact on my bottom line?

2. What am I doing now that isn’t adding value to the business or me?

3. What resources do I have that are under performing, lying idle, not used enough?

4. Is there a better way to do some of the things I am doing?

5. What have I learned that will allow me to do this better next time?

6. If I employed me, what would I have me focus on doing?

7. What are others doing that means I am missing a trick?

These questions are but a few that will get you thinking about increasing your personal and team efficiency but are a good way to start thinking of the possibilities of improving overall performance, cutting costs and generating more income.

Dare to Aspire

Professional Efficiency – Lean on a Small Scale

If you have been in the manufacturing or automotive arena, you will not have been able to escape the cry of the ‘Lean evangelists’ and the drive to reduce waste.

This has been typified by the Toyota automotive company and the Toyota Production System (TPS) which has been at the forefront of the Lean process for decades.

Lean, can however, be applied on a much smaller scale and here are a few things you can consider to start implementing Lean principles yourself.

But what actually is the Lean process?

Lean is a change in culture that looks to create capacity and increases production through the elimination of waste.

To benefit from the Lean approach, we need to change our outlook and focus on the long term performance.

We must strive for – High Quality Output
At the – Lowest Cost Possible
While delivering – On Time

In the Lean philosophy, activities are either Value Added or Non Value Added.

So we maximize the output of our activities we need to focus on the Value Added activities and  reduce the Non Value Added activities.

The five basic principles of Lean:

1.    Value – as the customer or user would see it.
2.    Value Stream – the steps in the process.
3.    Flow – the activities have no hold ups, stops or barriers to overcome.
4.    Pull – activities are undertaken ‘on demand’.
5.    Perfection – strive for continuous improvement.

To continually improve our performance, Lean Style, means to remove all waste from the value stream.

No matter the area we work in or the profession we have, there will be waste.  The Lean process looks to reduce that waste to a minimum.

But first you need to find it!

The Lean process identifies several kinds of waste:

1.    Unworkable plans or too much workload (negative impact on people’s morale).
2.    Over-production (doing too much too soon and then storing the output).
3.    Excessive inventory or too large of a batching.
4.    Queuing time where people and products are ‘waiting’.
5.    Redundant processing and un-necessary work.
6.    Transportation and the wasted effort in the unnecessary movement of stuff.
7.    Unnecessary motion or people in the processing of stuff.
8.    Rework from errors or defective outputs.
9.    Wasted talent and creativity.

To identify and reduce waste in any process or production method, we must adopt a few new disciplines.  In fact 5 + 1 new disciplines:

5+1 ’S’s:

1.    Sort – get rid of that which isn’t needed.
2.    Straighten – Organise what still belongs.
3.    Scrub – Clean up and identify and fix what increases the friction in the process.
4.    Standardise – Make processes simple and standard so that they are easy to perform and to train people to do.
5.    Safety – Identify and resolve any unsafe conditions.
6.    Sustain – Having done the first five ’S’s keep doing it.

An early stage in the Lean process is to identify how you are adding value for the customer.

This is known as the Value Stream Analysis (VSA)

The undertake a VSA we need to follow the following basic steps:

1.    Map the steps in the process.
2.    Analyse the map, identifying the way in which components can be made with less waste.
3.    Restructure the process so that the waste is removed.
4.    Implement the new process structures.

The Visual Workplace:

To allow your team to measure and assess the efficiency and effectiveness of the processes they are undertaking, have a way of displaying the statistics relating to that process.

Visual boards identify activity very quickly and are both illustrative of performance and motivating at the same time.

Standardisation of Work:

By standardising work, any operator has a ‘step by step’ procedure to follow so they can carry out the activities as efficiently as possible with a minimal of training.  Think of this as a recipe to follow to complete the task.

3 elements are involved in developing standardised work:

1.    TAKT time which is Available Working Time divided by Customer Demand Quantity.
2.    Work sequence.
3.    Standard Work in progress (the minimum quantity to complete a work sequence).

Creating 1-Piece Flow:

Aim to undertake a activity so that 1 piece of product completed at a time.  Arrange value-adding steps in a sequence so that there is no waiting and no piles between the steps.

The Pull Approach:

To allow each stage of the process to operate efficiently, a Pull system should be established.  This means that demand from the customer will trigger the activity in a process ensuring that no part completed products are sat waiting in a store.

If you begin to apply some of these basic Lean procedures you will start to build a culture of continuous improvement and begin to reap the benefits of the reduced waste and higher quality output for minimal cost.

Reference: Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation

Dare to Aspire

The Capstan Blue Performance Framework

There are lots of models to draw upon when considering performance improvement.
The model I will use in most discovery situations is the Capstan Blue Performance Framework.

It has utility in a number of different ways:

1. It is useful in assessing a candidate in the recruitment process.
2. It is useful when identifying a particular behavioural or performance shortfall.
3. It is useful in articulating the responsibilities of people in the management chain and in particular the senior roles such as Operations Director or Managing Director.
4. It is a useful aide memoire when identifying performance problems within teams.
5. It is useful in the coaching of your staff particularly for identifying people to delegate to and when a problem in performance occurs.

To paraphrase George Box, the famous statistician (or not so famous as I can almost see the furrowed brow now) ALL models are wrong because they generalise, but some models are useful.

This framework is no different. it isn’t perfect but it is certainly useful.

Lets look at the bottom row.

The 3 blocks are:
K – Knowledge
S – Skill
A – Attitude

On the second row we have:
B – Behaviour
R – Resources

And at the top we have:
P – Performance

If a person is missing the K (Knowledge) of how to do a task then they will not be able to exhibit the successful behaviour.
If a person is missing the S (Skill) of how an action is undertaken, then they will not be able to exhibit the successful behaviour.
If a person doesn’t have the correct A (attitude), then they will not be interested in achieving the successful behaviour.

If all 3 characteristics are present in a person, then there is potential for them to perform and induce a successful behaviour, whatever that behaviour is.

However, even if that behaviour is possible, if the resources aren’t also provided then the required or potential performance level will NOT be achieved.

However, if all of the factors at the lower level are in place, then a level of performance is achieved.

To maximise the performance of any individual, we can improve Behaviour or increase the Resources. As a manager and a leader, there is a decision to be made about maximising the use of people and resources and generally speaking that decision is relatively simple.

You normally have your people on site for a set period of time and so you are paying for their time whether they performance efficiently or not, optimally or not. So effort spent in training and improving your people will lead to more efficiency and effectiveness for the same manpower costs.

If you increase the use of resources, then cost always goes up.

So financially, the best way to improve performance is to invest in your people so that they can be more efficient and give you a better return on your investment in your workforce.

That training, however, must be effective and result in an enduring behavioural change. This requires the spaced repetition that longer term training programmes such as those of LMI-UK provide.
For the more senior leader, a potentially more appropriate solution is that of 1-1 coaching where high performance can be enhanced with the correct techniques.

Think about this framework and see if you can identify where the performance improvements can be made in both yourself and your work force and then contact us at Capstan Blue to see if we can help you provide the behavioural change needed to take your business to the next level.

Why settle for what you have, when with some focused effort, you could be what you want to be?


Dare to Aspire

I am the Greatest – The Book

Perhaps the most famous boxer and sporting statesman in the world, Muhammed Ali has influenced many people during his incredible life.

From humble beginnings to greatness he lived and breathed his person mantra…I am the greatest.

An inspiration to many, it is awful to see a man with so much to celebrate struck down by Parkinsons.

To celebrate the live of this amazing man, Mark Currie has crafted an illustrated book of Ali’s greatest saying.

As inspirational as the man, this book makes a perfect gift for anyone, and 70 pence from every purchase will go to Parkinson’s UK.

Find it here

Dare to Aspire


7 Tips for Coping in a Tough Market

Maintaining you position in the market place can be difficult enough without the pressures of an economic meltdown and further financial bleakness on the horizon.

Here are some useful tips to help you maintain and perhaps even grow that market share and your business despite the challenges.

1. Talk to and listen to you customers – the people you serve know best what will keep them returning to you and what you offer.  It may be great quality, fast response or great customer service. Find out what it is and make sure you continue to do it!

2. Know where you are – have a clear understanding of where you are financially and operationally. What are you doing? Is it working well? What does it cost? Does the Market want it? Is it selling? Is it priced correctly?

3. Know where you want to be – how much can you service? what is you target turnover? Profit goals? Have a vision of where you want to be and define this as a goal.

4. Stand for something that makes you stand out! – people find it easier to identify why they should be associated with you and your company if they can see what you stand for. Apple – Think different attracts a certain clientele. The body shop attracts another group of consumers. What do you stand for?

5. Leader both your team and your customers – people want to see a figure head that is committed to the company vision and sets the standard of behaviour and performance for the team. Be that leader.

6. Think like a number 2 – Alex Ferguson suggests that thinking like you are number to stops you from becoming complacent and drives you to achieve for fear that you will be left behind. It drive you to continually do better.

7. Enjoy it – if you are not enjoying it then you will not be giving 100% of your effort to it. Your lack of drive and passion will then start to permeate your attitude and behaviour and you will start to suffer a downward spiral of performance loss and drop in motivation and confidence. life is too short not to be doing something you dislike. Do what you love as much as you can even if it does pay you as well.  You’ll be happier in the long run, enjoy your life more and often find ways that your passion will pay.