Can you swap out the partner during a strategy consulting engagement

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hey it's Michael and welcome to another

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hi everyone and welcome to the next

episode of the strategy skills podcast

it is my hope that at this stage where I

think we're in 270 or odd podcasts where

we detail this major study I hope at

this point you are excited to learn you

are able to extract some patterns and

you're able to find some useful

techniques that you can apply now it is

obviously impossible for you to learn

the skills of a partner from one study

because typically a partner spent many

years of the firm at different levels

then he does a few studies at a partner

level before he rounds out his skill set

as a partner so if you're listening to

this and saying well I followed the

whole study and I'm not yet operating at

a partner level you know assuming you've

understood everything a person you've

applied it correctly you're not going to

be at that level yet it will take a few

to apply the skills in a few initiatives

you are running and of course this

podcast series touches on many of the

concepts but we just don't have the

space to attack

all in a lot of detail which is why we

have the videos and so on on our

separate website but you should see a

material improvement in your performance

and of course most of our thinking and

our work is counterintuitive because we

take the viewpoint of partners we attack

problems from multiple angles and

everything is logical if you follow what

we are saying you will find it is

eminently illogical so in today's

session I'm going to continue teaching

you things that are not obvious but I

important to understand and I've

selected a set of questions from readers

about the visioning works up and I've

also added in certain points that were

triggered based on the questions I've

seen so today's question was an

interesting question whereby someone

wanted to know could you swap out a

partner during this engagement so the

question is in an engagement of the

scale or any scale I suppose but more of

these large complex studies can you swap

out a partner and replace them with a

different senior partner my view on this

and it's not my view if you've worked at

a senior level it would be clearly

obvious but again if you never worked at

a senior level and one of the major

firms it won't be obvious and that in

you shouldn't feel bad it isn't obvious

and even if you work at some other firms

who operate in a different model it may

not be obvious so you shouldn't feel bad

about it but the answer is no and I'll

tell you what to swap out a partner is

to assume that all partners are

following the same approach and you can

just change a partner and they'll go in

and they'll follow the same approach and

get the same answer another man of

speaking assume you're at the McDonald's

line in you I don't know how McDonald's

makes hamburgers I suppose they flip

them and they grow them or whatever it

is but they follow a set methodology

they extract the hamburgers I'm guessing

in a certain way from the refrigerator

I'm assuming they unpack it in a certain

way they distributed on the girl in a

certain way at a certain temperature

they flip it in a certain way and it

comes out if you can swap partners in

and out it means what you're doing is

basically a commoditized routinized

process whereby it doesn't matter who

the partner is because the process is

more important than the partner and that

is not

true it's not true because the business

judgment of the partner Matt is enormous

Lee and I've explained business judgment

in previous episodes I'm not gonna go

into this but it's an important one and

because each partner has a different

business judgment background the

experiences are different they have

structured the study in a certain way

they have interpreted the findings in a

certain way and they are steering the

study in a certain way and the way they

are doing that is different from another

partner who would have a different set

of issues and a different business

judgment they bring to the problem in a

nutshell in the most brutal way of

saying this and it's gonna surprise some

people what is true to swap out Partners

means that there is a precise answer

there is just one true answer and it

doesn't matter who the partner is

everyone is tracking towards coming up

with that one answer there is no one

solution for the client there are

multiple solutions that are all viable

if you gave to McKinsey partners or to

BCG partners if it's possible in some

world to clone an engagement so you have

two partners going through the same

engagement separately so you've got two

of the same energy clients two of the

same executives you split them up

somehow and you put two separate

partners who are very similar

through these two twin clients they

would come out with maybe different

recommendations altogether and the

reason for this is because one of the

fallacies we have is we assume that

there is a precise and perfect answer in

everything we do there is no precise and

perfect answer there are very good

answers but there's more than one very

good answer so if you choose to swap out

of one let's assume you swap me out one

of the other partners from the study

again if you're leading the core part of

it and you setting the direction of the

study you shouldn't swap out the partner

because for another partner to come in

understand all of the issues figure out

where the study is going understand how

the senior partner wants to construct

things he's not gonna work they may

choose to do it in a different way they

may not understand why everything is

being either understand rough areas but

to pull it all together it's gonna be

difficult if not impossible

so the question about swapping out a

partner assumes that all studies are

done the same way assumes that there's

one ounce and everyone's rowing in that

direction and obviously studies are not

done the same way we all have a top-down

approach we do benchmarks we do case

studies we probably would all have done

a value chain analysis yeah I guess so

but that doesn't mean we would construct

the study in the same way doesn't mean

we would be testing the same hypotheses

it doesn't mean that we would have the

visioning workshop here and we would

sequence the analysis in the same way so

when someone wants to swap out a partner

he tells me a lot about that firm

because it tells me that they're using a

very regimented process they are very

process driven which is why they can

swap out partners and that's a problem

because the process doesn't give you the

answer it's the process is gonna give

you some output from your analysis but

the output needs to be constantly

evaluated against your judgment to

decide what direction to take and what

steps to take forward so swapping out a

partner is a very very bad idea and I've

never seen that happen on an engagement

the only time a partner has been swapped

out is if the pot has done something so

bad that the client doesn't want them

and well they've done something pretty

much illegal then I've seen a partner

move down but here's the thing and this

is something if remember even in that

situation where the partner is swapped

out the person doing the swapping out is

a senior partner who's not being swapped

out so the very senior partner on that

relationship is not being swapped out he

is swapping out the junior partner so

the person who has the overall thinking

the overall direction the overall

judgment is still there for continuity

purposes and that's the point of making

you can't swap out partners in a study

now if you are working in an

organization where you see that partners

are being swapped out at times I can

understand they may be extenuating

circumstances where this is happening

but if it's common then you probably

work in a firm that is relying heavily

on a process to arrive at an answer

now for some of you who are saying well

I got to leave the firm this is not good

well actually know you're thinking about

it in a very bad way if you are working

in a firm where process is driving

everything that means there is a golden

opportunity for you to start applying

gentlemen to the analysis to come up

with deeper finding so let's assume you

are working in a firm where the process

is driving everything

no one deviates on the process if you're

doing a market entry strategy you have a

methodology you just follow it if you're

doing a strategy study on i.t whatever

you have a methodology you follow it if

you're doing a business case for a new

software system you have a methodology

for it if you let that firm this is the

opportunity you take every time the

analysis is being structured you may not

have an opportunity to change the

analysis because the firm follows an

approach so don't fight that because you

will lose but where you can add value is

whenever the analysis is done you can

ask yourself the following question so

what we've figured out that operating

costs makes up 80% of total costs for

the software system so what so what what

does it mean if a software system has an

80% operating cost structure is this

good is this bad is this normal for the

industry if we are the only one with

such a high variable cost structure also

known as operating cost does it give us

an advantage of disadvantage against

peers we are different is that good or


how do we use that difference and then

you come up with deeper insight so when

a lot of people come to me and say that

Michael my firm uses a set methodology I

have no room to deviate that's not true

you actually have a lot of room to

deviate in the way you interpret the

analysis it would be great if your firm

delivered tailored analysis to a client

but here's the thing it's a very deep

inside even if you worked at a firm like

you know most times McKinsey and BCG

will deliver a tailored analysis not

always there are some partners we're

lazy and some iums are lazy but most

time to deliver a tailored analysis to a

client if you deliver tailored analysis

and you don't really interrogate the

findings on that analysis to come up

with the sowhat's and deep insights it

doesn't matter if the analysis was

tailored tailored analysis with our

tailored interrogation of those and of

that analysis means nothing so if you

work at a firm where the analysis is not

perfectly tailored but good enough but

you ask deep questions of the output of

the analysis you're still adding an

value and I'll tell you why you're

adding an enormous amount of value and I

can prove it to you most times when I go

into a client situation most times in

fact I would say just about every time I

go into a client situation the clients

internal team has already done some

analysis a previous consulting firm has

already done some kind of analysis and

typically a client wants to have a

discussion me about what his internal

team or another consulting team has

found now as a partner my excuse could

be well we didn't do the analysis so I

can't have a discussion about that I

can't add any value but of course I

don't do that I take the analysis the

team is done we have a discussion about

it and my job is to apply my judgment to

come up with deeper insights for example

even mining company has discovered that

their cost of recovering diamonds is 5%

below the average in the market I'm

thinking to myself okay if you are the

lowest cost producer and your cost of

business doing business is lower than

your competitors you'd actually set a

price along with them and win it's only

5% below competitors so you probably

couldn't wipe out everyone in the price

well but you would survive but do you

want to start a price war in the diamond

business well maybe because diamonds

operate in a range you get gem quality

to industrial maybe the bulk of your

diamonds are industrial and maybe you do

want to start a price war so then I'd

say to my selves okay if we went down

the route of focusing on industrial

diamonds and we started a price war

could we sustain it what would we get at

the end of this would it be worthwhile

now those would have done that I've

added a lot of value about thinking

through the implications by applying my

judgment about the industry but I didn't

do the analysis I don't know what the

quality of the analysis is I don't know

who did it I don't know whether they

downloaded off the internet and put

their name on it some people do that

I've seen it I know some people

listening to this podcast are gonna be

smirking in the corner look it happens

and you shouldn't feel bad just you know

move on from it's not a good habit but

certainly don't berate yourself and feel

embarrassed you have to start somewhere

and it's okay to start somewhere just

move on and you know get better but the

inside I'm generating here is that the

point I'm making is that a lot of times

when I go into meetings with clients

have to take analysis I haven't done

that hasn't been tailored to the

discussion that I want to have with the

client because someone else has done it

and I've got to build inside of it so

you can see how much value

can had of analysis that's not tailored

so when you work in a firm where the

analysis is not tailored if you tell me

well Michael my analysis is not tailored

therefore we're not adding a little

insight to the client you were wrong you

can add an enormous amount of insights

because when you do analysis at a client

let's assume you're doing a 10-week

study you do analysis in the first week

you have time to interpret that and

inform the other analysis even if you

cannot change the sequence of analysis

then you can change the way the analysis

is done and what it is focusing on we

value change the big area if your firm

has a value chain analysis for every

single corporate strategy client that's

great but it's a big area what are you

doing in value chain surely you can

influence that but remember this even if

you cannot influence the sequence a type

of analysis and the way it is done no

one is stopping you from the way you

interpret those findings that's the

point on a making this episode is that

the value of a partner is not only our

analysis it's our judgment I've spoken

extensively about judgment in many

different shows so and I don't repeat

everything here because I can't it's

there's many things I could say about

judgment to help you it would do a

disservice to give you the summary here

so remember swapping out a partner is a

bad idea not because the analysis is

necessary changing because the partner

has a different interpretation of things

and you shouldn't do that and if you're

the firm whereby analysis is regimented

you are not in any way straitjacketed in

the amount of value you can add to the

client in fact in some ways you may be

could had an enormous amount of value to

the client because if the analysis in a

manner of speaking if the analysis is

set you know what's coming you know

what's gonna happen there's no surprises

even there's not the perfect analysis

you can ask yourself okay if we're gonna

do a profitability analysis first what

could that tell us and what would it

mean for the value chain analysis that

comes second if we get the following

results in the value chain analysis what

does it mean for the customer needs

analysis that comes third you can

actually build an entire story board

just by asking those questions before

the analysis began which is basically

what we're doing a study right you can

then go to your partner and say okay I

thought about the analysis I thought

about the likely findings and this is

what the likely answer is going to be

this doesn't seem like such an

impressive answer to the cry

it doesn't change the business so maybe

we need to rethink how we do this

analysis we can do it all but maybe we

need to make some adjustments because

when people write to me from extension

saying about Michael and again I'm using

extension only as an example I'm not

saying that they're bad from by any

measure at all you cannot box firms into

these horrible generalizations I'm using

them as an example because they're

well-known if I use some little boutique

firm in Ohio no one's gonna know about

it extensions I'm very powerful brand

everyone knows it so if someone comes to

and say well this partner in extension

he does the same kind of analysis in

every study I have no room to produce

great analysis my feedback to them is

yes but that doesn't mean you can't add

a lot of value because there's still

room to interpret that analysis in a

deeper more fundamental way and that's

what you need to focus on so remember

that as you are going through and doing

things the analysis is important

obviously the more precise the analysis

is you can do amazing things but you can

still have an enormous amount of value I

mean you could literally change the

clients direction you could change the

direction of your company not just by

changing the analysis but by asking very

very careful questions about what does

the analysis output mean before you see

it after you see it how does it change

direction and this way you need to focus

your time because we are obsessed with

analysis but we're less obsessed with

the interpretation of that analysis and

you can see it a lot with the focus on

big data and Amazon data crunching and

Microsoft Azure data crunching and so on

the crunching the data is not the same

as interpreting the data crunching of

data is a commodity it's always been a

commodity even before big data came

along I mean when split sheets hit the

market in the 90s and every MBA started

learning how to pull out spreadsheets it

became a commodity it's always been a

commodity analysis it's what's not a

commodity is the interpretation of said

analysis and never forget that because

you can be pretty bad at analysis but if

you're good at interpreting it you will

add much more value than the person

who's good at analysis actually pretty

average and interpreting it hopefully

enjoy that and I hope you continue

listening to the series and that's it

for today's episode I hope you enjoyed

it as much as I enjoyed doing the

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