Courtesy of Geek and Poke
In the field of strategy and planning, there are two age-old dilemmas which one commonly encounters in the process of doing one’s work, namely:
1) How much research should we conduct?
2) Should we engage a consultant or do this inhouse?
Obviously, there are no simple answers to either of the above questions. There are pros and cons to having too much or too little information and data, just like there are benefits and drawbacks to relying on external experts.
Here’s what I think are important considerations before we arrive at the answers.
First, consider the nature of your company’s business. Are you working in a highly information sensitive business like investment banking, insurance, or FMCG? In certain industries, up to date knowledge is key and it almost becomes mandatory to subscribe to information sources from research firms like Bloomberg, Gallup, or AC Nielsen.
Next, think about your current pool of talents. Do you have the right mix of competent and qualified people who are able to make the right judgement calls without the need for external data or consultants? Embracing a DIY, lets-just-cobble-something-together ethic may sometimes bring forth the best in people. However, trying to stretch people way beyond their means (eg forcing an accountant to write blazing headlines) isn’t the wisest thing to do.
Thirdly, look around to see if you have trusted friends/mentors/advisors who can fill in required knowledge gaps. Sometimes, a lunch, coffee or breakfast with an experienced captain of industry may yield far more valuable insights than a 200 page consultancy report written by a number crunching analyst.
Do also think about the time-energy-money continuum and how best your current resources can be invested in. Does it make sense to deploy a highly paid manager to conduct street surveys? At the same time, reflect upon how much you are paying for a piece of information/expertise, and whether that can be more cost effectively conducted inhouse.
Finally, do also consider the cultural context against which the information or expertise is needed. What is the preferred management style of your organisation like? Gun blazing cowboys at the helm or scholarly academics? Culture plays an incredibly important card in this game, and determines how much engagement with external experts are required.
Working blind at the bottom of a well isn’t advised in an increasingly dynamic and ever changing world. At the same time, relying too much on a coterie of expensive paid advisors will also not get you far.
The trick I suppose is to balance the need for information and consultation with an organisation’s individual need. Research and consultation will only work when an organisation is crystal clear on its strategic goals and intents. They should only be deployed to augment the business case, and not to be the business case themselves.