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Selecting Engagement Targets

By Anas Dabbakh

It is a widely shared opinion in the consulting industry that the primary objective of an assessment (or diagnostic phase as some firms call it) is review of client’s business processes, management systems, and behavioral culture. Consultants then identify gaps and quantify potential for improvement, which serves as the target for future engagements. Quite often, in an effort to impress the client and win and engagement contract, the consultant stretches the target and demonstrates many different areas for improvement. This potentially may create risks for the future engagement, and deteriorate the client relationship. One needs to be cautious of several aspects, when selecting and presenting improvement target to the client:

How will the target be achieved?  When estimating the improvement target, the consultant has to clearly see how this target can be achieved: what processes will be changed and how; by what means these changes will be achieved; is it supported by the client’s organizational culture and structure? Put yourself in the place of an engagement manager and draft the implementation plan. Target improvements have to be realistic – this can be compared to industry best practices and benchmarked against past projects.

Sustainability of achieved results. Does the client have the organizational capability to sustain proposed changes? Will the improvements “stick”? Who will play the role of sustainability agents post-engagement? What may prevent process changes from being sustainable?

Alignment with the client’s strategic goals. What are the client’s strategic objectives for the next 3-5 years? Are proposed improvements aligned with these goals, or will they only have short-lived impacts? Will proposed changes help the client achieve these strategic goals?

And finally – necessity. Are these changes truly needed by the client in this period of time? Would implementing and sustaining changes drain client resources from more important or valuable objectives?

Setting ambitious goals is useful; it allows consultants to test the organization for readiness for changing the business environment, and set the pace for further development. But overstretching goals, or not aligning them with the true needs of an organization may lead to tensions, additional problems, and financial consequences.