Consulting Leadership Tips: The Dangers of Misalignment

March 18, 2024
Consulting Leadership Tips

Guest Author: Luk Smeyers, Consulting Expert & the Founder of The Visible Authority

Throughout the year, we feature tips from guest authors and consulting experts designed to help consulting firms grow, improve profitability, and become more efficient. This month, Luk Smeyers from The Visible Authority discusses what happens when consulting leaders are not aligned in their goals and priorities.

Proper Alignment Breeds Success

Throughout my years advising consultancy owners, I've observed a recurring theme that threatens the long-term sustainability of boutique consultancy businesses: 'the illusion of internal alignment.' It happens frequently. When sitting down in the meeting room, the leadership of a consultancy would nod in agreement as they talk about their expertise focus, goals and growth priorities for the consulting business.

However, once the meeting ends and these partners sit before a new prospect, many owners/partners seem to revert to their individual paths, driven by their own interests or personalities. It is not always a conscious decision. Instead, it's driven by the ego of consultancy owners – the inability to say no to incoming requests, thinking they can "crush" everything, and the high associated with being perceived as a 'rainmaker' who can sell anything.

According to Boston Consulting Group, transformations in which leaders are unified on the rationale and goals are 77% more likely to be successful. Conversely, a lack of alignment in a consultancy partnership team is a dangerous practice, and here's why.


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The 5 Biggest Risks of Internal Misalignment in a Consultancy

1. A lack of alignment stifles progress.

When senior leadership team members spend too much time and effort working in a disjointed way, they end up pulling the cart in different directions. In the best-case scenario, the cart moves forward very slowly. In many instances – it just remains stationary or gets pulled backward.

On the other hand, when senior leaders align their daily activities and processes around a single unified goal and have the discipline to stick to it under all circumstances, they exponentially increase the speed of making progress.

2. Internal misalignment damages internal morale and cohesion.

In my client work, upon completing my initial discussions with leaders and owners of consultancies, I also make it a point to chat with other team members – consultants, marketers, and support/admin staff. I aim to understand how the company's vision and priorities are communicated to the entire team and whether the daily tasks and activities align with these priorities.

Unfortunately, I often discover that there is poor cohesion between different team members and different teams in their daily efforts.

In an environment where the leadership isn't synchronized, consulting teams and support staff get mixed messages, fragmented objectives, and a lack of clear direction. This leads to confusion, dissatisfaction and eventually, increased team retention risks. And in this era of labor shortage, that's a big problem.

3. Internal fragmentation leads to inconsistent client experience and erosion of trust.

When internal alignment is missing, there is a good chance that various teams and team members communicate different messages to prospects and clients. This lack of cohesion can result in varying levels of service quality, conflicting recommendations and a disjointed overall client and prospect experience.

That's when consultancy owners and leaders need to keep their egos in check and stop acting like they have limitless abilities to deliver on each project equally well. Instead, the focus should be on delivering exceptional value with a minimal number of services to a niche group of clients.

4. Improper alignment is the enemy of efficiency and productivity.

Internal fragmentation also means that the consulting business most likely is not taking advantage of the incredible benefits of standardization and process documentation/automation. I'm a huge advocate of both.

In my experience, the more consultancies narrow their focus (both in terms of the services they offer and to whom they offer the services), the deeper their knowledge becomes. As a result, the value they provide to clients increases.

At the same time, repetition in the types of projects a consultancy offers enables the consultancy to standardize its processes. This, in turn, leads to increased efficiency and higher profit margins, smoother client onboarding and easier induction and training of new consultants.

5. Lack of alignment undermines expertise positioning and marketing efforts.

In a consultancy where the leadership is not aligned, the impact on marketing is direct and detrimental. This misalignment often results in conflicting messages about the consultancy's core expertise areas, creating confusion about how the firm is perceived externally.

This lack of clarity in expertise positioning makes attracting clients seeking specialized knowledge and services challenging.

Furthermore, this discordance leads to inconsistencies in how the consultancy communicates across various marketing channels, e.g., social media. Different partners champion different services or approaches, leading to a patchwork of messages that fail to represent the consultancy's strengths cohesively.

Such discrepancies can be particularly harmful in a competitive market, where clear and consistent expertise positioning is critical to attracting the right clients.


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How to Address Improper Alignment Within Your Consulting Firm

The absence of internal owner or partner alignment in a consulting business can have far-reaching negative consequences. The ability to unify the efforts of the entire consultancy hinders the ability to communicate the same message and oversee the teams' commitment to the shared goals. For those struggling with an imbalance, here are a few tips to help address improper alignment.

Tips to Encourage Better Alignment

  1. Add a Public Announcement: I always urge consulting leadership teams to announce (e.g. on the website) their focus and ideal customer profile (ICP). That helps in staying aligned.
  2. Employee Engagement Survey: When there’s a regular employee satisfaction or engagement survey, I would add the leader's alignment score to the questions for the employees. Leaders might say they are well aligned, but employees sometimes have different perceptions or experiences.
  3. Stay Open to Feedback: At the end of the day, strong, aligned leadership guides a consultancy's strategic direction and sets the foundation for a motivated, engaged and high-performing consulting team. I urge consulting firms to be acutely aware of the dangers of letting egos and personal agendas drive the consultancy business.
  4. Practice Clear Communication: Regularly communicate organizational goals at all levels of the company and make those goals a routine part of leadership meetings, team gatherings, and performance reviews. I always advise having the internal alignment as a separate agenda point on the leadership meeting once a quarter (no need to do it more often, unless in critical situations). In a few cases, we implemented an internal ‘alignment score’ that leaders give and openly discuss in that quarterly meeting.
  5. Use Anonymous Polling: In team meetings, people often publicly agree with the company's direction, even if they privately harbor reservations. Consider using anonymous polling. This allows team members to vote candidly, revealing differences of opinion.

Remember, alignment is not a one-time task; it requires ongoing effort and communication. When consulting leaders share a common understanding of goals, they can work together more effectively and drive positive outcomes for the organization.

About the Author

Luk Smeyers is a revered consulting thought leader, blogger, author, and speaker. He is the Founder of The Visible Authority, where he helps mid-sized consultancy firms transition from a reactive approach to a more proactive and organized one that supports long-term growth and profitability. You can see more of Luk in our new webinar: The Triad of Consulting Leadership: 3 Focus Area’s to Improve Efficiency & Profitability for Your Firm.