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Trying to win sustainability consulting work? Referrals, referrals, referrals

The SSC Team December 24, 2015 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Earlier this year we wrote about how to broaden your professional network in the small world of sustainability consulting. As you build your peer relationships, you might be thinking you’re ready to start approaching clients.

Maybe not.

A recent article in Harvard Business Review pushes back on the idea of a direct approach.

“Persuasion researchers know that decision-makers will often place their faith less in what is being said, and more in who is saying it,” said Steve Martin, an consultant and expert in persuasion research.

Essentially, having someone else toot your horn is the ideal way to win over someone who doesn’t know or is skeptical of your expertise and value.

It truly pays to ask for client testimonials on LinkedIn, use case study examples, provide references, and in some extreme cases, have someone else approach a decision maker on your behalf before you make a direct pitch.

When you finally do make the direct pitch, list references and high-value contacts and clients up front in your proposals.

“Avoid making the mistake of squirreling away you and your team’s credentials towards the end of an already full document. Instead, make sure they are prominently positioned up front,” said Martin.

What if you don’t have any real on-the-job experience yet? Martin says all hope is not lost. Craft your referral statements in terms of your potential – ask a trusted mentor to write about your bright future, sharp mind, and potential for being one of the best sustainability consultants in the field.

Ready to hone your consulting skills and build your sustainability network? Check out our junior consultant training programs.

Growing Your Sustainability Consulting Business: Making the Business Case for Hiring YOU

The SSC Team December 22, 2015 Tags: , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Check out this blog from the SSC archives. 

This just in: Nearly 80 percent of global CEOs affirmed in a recent survey  that sustainability has become a part of corporate operations (survey conducted by Accenture and the United Nations Global Compact of 800 global CEOs).

This is great news! As sustainability continues to move mainstream, there should be plenty of new clients crawling out of the FSC-certified woodwork in the coming years.

But that doesn’t mean that getting work is going to be easy. According to a different survey done in partnership with the MIT Sloan School of Management and the Boston Consulting Group just last year, many companies had “not developed a business case for sustainability” and are investing many of their sustainability dollars in maintaining regulatory compliance.

What? That doesn’t make sense, does it?

It sort of does from a business-logic perspective. First, basic environmental protection laws help ensure regulators are pushing companies to clean up or be fined. Second, PR and marketing teams are spending sustainability dollars, as “going green” can help increase sales and reputational value. Then, as some efficiency cost-savings become apparent, the operations team moves in. These elements separately can all be counted toward “sustainability investment,” but that doesn’t mean the company is strategically tackling its move into sustainability by developing a true “business case.”

Why not? According to Gil Friend, founder and CEO of Natural Logic, most people are still “seeing ‘sustainability’ only as a cost, not an investment.” So, naturally they are only doing the obvious low-cost, high return on investment (ROI) sustainability things. This can be especially true for small- to medium-sized enterprises without any real knowledge of sustainability or the resources to tackle the issue strategically (i.e. your potential clients. Hint, hint.).

So the path is clear. Now that you know everything there is to know (See Part 1) about your prospective client, it’s time to develop a tailored “business case for sustainability” that will help you win business by opening client’s eyes to the opportunity that a real sustainability strategy provides. 

In Part 3 of this series, we discuss how to communicate the business case to your prospective client in terms that they will understand (read: shareholder value), but for now let’s just find the business case.

Don’t even think about hugging trees or saving rainforests. According to David Bent, head of business strategies at Forum for the Future, a nonprofit sustainable development organization based in the UK, “the ‘societal case’ does not automatically make a business case.” Yes, there is a lot of societal pressure to address social and environmental problems, but that doesn’t mean that the societal case is going to sell sustainability to a client. Generally, you should focus on what will help the client be a better, more profitable business, and present the societal and environmental benefits as icing on the sustainability cake (unless you’re really lucky and land a socially conscious client!).

Use what you know about the prospective client and pick what you think the strongest business case or cases are. The best news here is that the Forum for the Future has done the hard work for us. In early January, the organization created a table combining key elements of the most commonly used business cases for sustainability. The table, called Pathways to Value, will help you identify how to make direct links between the business strategy of the prospective client and sustainability initiative that will tie in with the client’s strategic goals. To access the chart, click here or type in http://www.forumforthefuture.org/projects/pathways-to-value.

For example, if your prospective client is in a highly regulated industry, like mining, and you learned from research that they’ve just won a contract to open a mine in an area with a large Native American population, they would have a high risk of damaging their reputation, high regulatory costs, and concerns about the license to operate. Hence, you should focus your sustainability pitch heavily on “risk reduction” elements. Yes, the company may also benefit from staff motivation and retention programs, but the biggest payoff in investing in sustainability is probably the area with the strongest business case. And the strongest business case is going to be most interesting to the client; therefore, you should concentrate your pitch on that business case.

By pitching the right product to the client, you will probably have a better chance of earning their business (and, hopefully, when your programs maximize ROI, you’ll look like a genius).

Once you have identified the key business case or cases, it is time to prepare your presentation. In order to make sure you get the most out of every minute of face time, make sure you are speaking to your client in a language that he or she understands. For more about being on the same page, check out Growing your sustainability consultancy business, Part 3: Speak your client’s language.

Enjoyed this blog post? You might want to consider the Strategic Sustainability Masterclass Series. For more information, visit our online training section.

Sustainability Consulting Round Up: Best of our Blog for November

The SSC Team November 26, 2015 Tags: , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Each month, we highlight some of our more popular content on the SSC blog!

In case you missed them, here's a round-up of our most popular blog posts from this past month. These are the articles that received the most attention from our online audience. Check them out!

  1. Puma, Adidas, Under Armour - Who Has the Best Sustainability 
  2. What you know AND who you know are important for aspiring sustainability consultants
  3. Companies with GREAT Sustainability Websites
  4. Eco-Friendly De-Icing Alternatives to Salt
  5. More Evidence That You Should Wait to Act on Sustainability

If you like an article, please consider sharing it online via your favorite social media platform. Helping us grow our audience is the #1 way you can show your support for the work that we do.

Use the “8 Habits” of creative genius to shape your sustainability activities

The SSC Team November 24, 2015 Tags: , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Approaching sustainability shouldn't be 100 percent data, data, data driven.

Use these 8 Habits of the creative geniuses in our midst to help your organization build a sustainability team and sustainability programs that can help lead your company on the path to greener operations.

Creative minds:

1. Look for inspiration in unexpected places

If you’re looking to figure out how to take the first steps in sustainability, know that someone has likely gone before you. Most sustainability planners know about looking at industry best practices, but we focus more on peer benchmarking inside and outside of a client’s industry. Just because you work in the mining sector, doesn’t mean you can learn lessons from consumer products.

2. Make slow decisions

There are a million different options for addressing both environmental and social sustainability efforts. For each set of stakeholder groups, there are programs, policies, supply-chain choices, upstream/downstream evaluations, risks, rewards, and more. As a team, and as a company, it’s probably a good idea to take it slow to come up with a really, truly effective program.

3. Find internal motivation

Sustainability professionals often come with buckets of “passion” for doing our kind of work, so this one should be easy. Passion is a motivator, but make sure your sustainability professionals also have the skill set to get the job done.

4. Start from scratch

Ok, so doesn’t this contradict looking for inspiration in unexpected places? Not really. Starting from scratch is more of an exercise. For example, instead of saying, “Let’s use energy efficient lighting and LEED practices in our new headquarters building,” the team should spend time considering, “What is a headquarters?”

A free-flow exercise might generate discussion about work-from-home policies, investing in teleconferencing, and eventually result in a much smaller, more efficient “energy efficient, LEED certified” HQ.

5. Be willing to take risks

 “Training employees to be comfortable disagreeing with others and receptive to disagreement will create an atmosphere of innovation.” Creating a corporate value system that includes sustainability as an ingrained part of the culture will give employees the confidence they need to address disagreement or bring new ideas to the table. Lunchroom compost bin, anyone?

6. Always try new things

Because of the constantly changing nature of sustainability, this one isn’t hard. New regulations, scientific findings, and processes are always being published. However, if you’ve been stuck in a rut generating the same old sustainability report and waste audit these past few years, maybe it’s time to step it up. Take that risk and try something to really push your sustainability efforts to new gains.

7. Find connections between experiences

Sustainability is not a stand-alone effort focused on just reporting carbon reduction efforts or mitigating supply-chain risks. Sustainability can be found in all areas of your organization, and the world you operate in. From your built environment to your supply chain to your HR policies and everything in between, it is all connected, and the sustainability team should be seeking ways to become the system, not stand outside and report on it.

8. Be open to magic

But magic is about being open to new ideas. At SSC, this generally translates to “reading, a lot.” Wehave a suite of tools help our clients, but if we’re stuck thinking that our products and services “are what they are” then we won’t grow.

Your sustainability efforts should be the same. Read our blog, read business blogs, sustainability articles, research papers, case studies. You’ll start to see the connections and maybe The Great Idea Fairy will visit you!

Has your organization come up with an insanely creative way to be more sustainable? Let us know in the comments! 

What you know AND who you know are important for aspiring sustainability consultants

The SSC Team October 27, 2015 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

If you’ve been on our website and really want to become part of our consultant network, you know that there is one thing you should never, ever say. Ever.

Don’t know what it is?

Then you haven’t done your homework.

Sustainability consulting is a small world

If you’re trying to break into the world of sustainability consulting, then you need to truly strategize about how to engage with industry leaders, consultants, and firms who are hiring.

A recent article in Entrepreneur gives a round-up of the 10 strategies for making friends with important people in your networking plan.

The first five steps are all about research, reading, and making an effort to truly understand your potential contact’s business strategy and hot buttons. Next, activate your network, stay in touch, and add value to your potential contact’s day-to-day through meaningful communication.

Have the skills (or grow them)

While you’re “working the room” to build your professional network, make sure you fully understand what it takes to be a sustainability consultant. Know your own skill set and be able to describe how those skills will apply in a sustainability consulting roles.

Know your strengths, and your shortcomings

Don’t oversell yourself to a high-profile potential contact, or you might ruin your reputation before you gain a foothold. Be honest about where you are in your career, what your areas of interest are, and make efforts to improve your skills through practice and education.

Learn more about specific sustainability consulting training courses we offer, and opportunities to work with us

Grow Your Sustainability Consultancy Business by Speaking Your Client’s Language

The SSC Team July 7, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
Enjoy this blog from the SSC archives: So, you know all about your prospective client and you’ve decided on the strongest business case for sustainability for their situation. Now it’s time to win them over and solidify the relationship with a smashing proposal or pitch.

1) Don’t think of a pitch as a sell, think of it as an educational opportunity

Don’t worry so much about whether or not the client is going to hire you at the time you are meeting with them. Instead, treat it like a customized webinar or mini-conference where you are showcasing your knowledge about sustainability, the realities of where the economy is heading, their specific opportunities in relation to sustainability, and what they will need to do to get ahead and effectively adopt sustainability in their corporate strategic framework. You are just showing them the raw ingredients, while keeping a hold of the recipe. 

2) Start at the very beginning, a very good place to start

So, you know all about sustainability. And you know all about your prospective client. Unfortunately, your audience, be it the CEO or a mid-level executive, may not know much more about sustainability than “I think it costs a lot, but everybody seems to be doing it.” Clear that up right away with a brief definition of strategic sustainability – use the definition you use for your own consultancy. Make sure the client know that sustainability is a business framework, not a philanthropic or public relations gesture. Drop a few names, too – Wal-Mart, GE, Nike, Rio Tinto, Toyota. It doesn’t hurt for your client to know that they are joining the ranks of commerce’s elite.

3) Stress the long term and a future of change

“Fundamentally, corporate sustainability is about exploring the next way your company will be successful, because almost all the things you currently rely on -- energy, supply chain, consumers, investors, regulation -- are going to change,” said David Bent from the non-profit sustainability organization Forum for the Future in a blog series for Greenbiz.com. Changing times demand that companies factor in future risks, such as rising energy prices, increased regulation, and pressure from consumers, into their strategic plans. Since many of these future risks and market changes are going to stem from environmental and social concerns, integrating sustainability principles into the corporate framework now, to address these issues now, isn’t just a “cost” to the business, it’s an investment in the future risk management. “You can’t predict ‘the’ future, but you had better be prepared for possible futures with a portfolio of strategies – and a business case – that ‘future-proof the company’ by diversifying your risk going forward,” advises Gil Friend, founder and CEO of Natural Logic. You must stress this fact to prospective clients – they will probably have to become sustainable eventually, but they might as well make some money doing it proactively instead of reactively. Just be sure to avoid scare tactics or pressure. The fact is: the world is changing, and change can be good.

4) Look to frame sustainability as a driver for innovation and opportunity

Find examples of “play-to-win” organizations that have used sustainability to tap into new opportunities (destroying the competition in the process) to help sell the concept. Companies are inherently competitive, but often are mired in a “compliance mentality.” Remind your audience that business is a battlefield; you might be able to tap into that competitive spirit. Use what you know about the company’s competitors or industry to highlight how the sustainability program may get them ahead of the game.

5) Present the client’s customized business case in a language that everyone can understand – shareholder value

It’s meat and potatoes time. You’ve briefly discussed sustainability, the risk of not acting, and the opportunity gained by taking action. Next is what they’ve all been waiting for – the business case. At this point, be fairly specific about what you feel the key “value drivers” of a sustainability program will be for this specific organization. First, present the business case. For example, an engineering firm with a zillion vacancies on its “careers” page and a reputation of an ‘old boys club’ may benefit from a sustainability program stressing competitive advantage – a program that will help its recruitment program, shape its industry, and help it become an early mover on new and emerging areas for growth (like green design, perhaps). Second, present the projected investment (in time and money) and the estimated return on investment (ROI). According to Friend, the business case has to provide a clear ROI in the financial, operational, and strategic dimensions. But be clear that ROI in sustainability isn’t only about short-term dollars and cents. When you are talking about elements like “recruitment” and “industry shaping,” be sure to clarify that these, albeit not short-term financial returns, are “indirect” returns. While direct returns include costs (lighting retrofits or waste-reduction), indirect returns ( impacts on brand reputational value, employee productivity and retention, product quality, community goodwill, etc.) can open companies to new business as much as any marketing plan while helping reduce risk. For an in-depth discussion on costing for sustainability, check out the book Making Sustainability Work by Marc Epstein. Third, use statistics, examples, graphics, and best practices, briefly but effectively, to back up your claims on how your proposed programs can directly affect shareholder value through direct and indirect returns. Finally, give the client a path on how a sustainability program for this value driver might be incorporated into their organizational framework.

6) Don’t frighten them off

Although you may have made an amazing pitch with ROI analysis that just can’t be denied, a client may still balk. “But we don’t have $150,000 for a lighting retrofit, even if we know it will save us $300,000 over the next six years…” Yes, it may be ideal if you could tackle each value driver head on, re-write the strategic plan, and reorganize the company, but, more likely, the financial minds at your prospect’s firm are going to be reluctant to loosen the purse strings. To help ease them into the process (and help you begin to form a long, trusting relationship), break it down into steps. Begin with saying, “Now that I’ve presented the strategic sustainability framework that will eventually deliver the most value to your organization, let’s talk about where we begin. Every journey starts with a series of small steps…” At this point, have one or two programs that will work as small but effective pilot programs for this broader sustainability plan. Try to find the one or two manageable programs with the lowest-hanging, least expensive fruit, and suggest that the client give them a try first. The pilots will help you build credibility with the CFO’s office, as well as awareness throughout the rest of the organization. Hopefully by achieving documented success with the first few pilot programs, the company will continue to draw on your services to expand into the more complex strategic development of their sustainability program (that you were the architect of).

7) Be straightforward about the business relationship

Once you’ve delivered the presentation (no more than an hour of their time) and have some concrete offerings available for them (green audits, waste audits, pilot ‘Green Team’ programs, stakeholder engagement initiatives, or whatever your other pilot programs were) be ready for questions. Know how long each program will take and what it may cost if they suddenly want to go whole hog. Be prepared to answer detailed questions about customer service, your ‘next steps’ in project development, your experience, your resources, costs of your service, as well as costs directly to them (retrofits, training investments, life-cycle-analyses, etc.) and the overall estimated ROI for each suggested program. Instead of spending your time trying to convince the client through testimonials of how great you are, just do what you do best: consult them. Show them what you know and use examples from research or from your past experience to illustrate how they, too, can meet their goals, transform their business, reduce their risk, and increase shareholder value through sustainability. You are simply the person with the tools to help them get the process started. Find out how you can become a better sustainability leader in one of our latest blogs.

Growing Your Sustainability Consultancy Business

The SSC Team June 18, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
Enjoy this blog from the SSC archives: “Put yourself in your client’s shoes.” It’s not just another cliché. Ok, yes it is. In this case, however, it is going to make you money. According to Martin Lines, the marketing director for Nestle Professional, the most important element a consultant can have in their CSR- or sustainability-focused consultancy pitch is customization to the client’s existing business and sustainability strategy. "Agencies need to demonstrate that their solution is aligned to the client's corporate strategy,” Lines said in a presentation last year. Sounds so basic, but often consultants get it wrong – pitching ethical reasons for sustainability when a company is operating on thin margins and would be better served by efficiency and cost-saving initiatives, or pitching cost-saving initiatives when a client is more interested in building brand value and brand awareness. There is no one-size-fits-all sustainability strategy, so why would there be a one-size-fits-all sustainability pitch? Of course this means you’ll need to do your homework before meeting with prospective clients, but the extra work can pay off if the client is impressed by how much you already know about their business. Here are three steps for helping turn your presentation into profit:

1. Go online and read

Read the press releases (Is the prospect always giving money to local charity groups? They might respond to reputation-building pitches.). Google the company looking for news stories or legal troubles (Fined for improper handling of chemicals in 2009? They might benefit from an EMS plan.). Poke around in industry news, scour the website, and look at the employment opportunities. You never know where you might find a hook.

2. Know who their stakeholders are and what they want

Is the company selling primarily to one large organization (like Wal-Mart) that has sustainability at its core? If so, you’re going to need to know where the client’s client is headed. Is the company working in controversial areas, such as mining, where stakeholder engagement is going to take precedence over things like waste auditing or employee engagement? Knowing who is pushing and pulling on a client can help you find key indicators in developing a sustainability pitch.

3. Drop in to say hello

So, you’ve done a bit of homework and made a few calls, and the client seems interested. If you think this could be a big fish, take your time. Phone up your contact person and tell him or her that you’re interested in visiting the manufacturing facility, taking a tour of the HQ, or meeting virtually with a few key people to get a better idea of how to make more relevant and customized suggestions. Ask questions. Lots of questions. But don’t get in the way and don’t try to sell them anything. “Learning how to make the case for sustainability needs to be situational. I customize my ‘making a case for sustainability’ style by asking a lot of questions,” said Pauline S. Chandler, director of the MBA in sustainability at the Antioch University of New Hampshire, Keene, in a recent article on Triple Pundit. Chandler recently took 16 MBA students on facility tours at three New England businesses to illustrate how different organizations will spark different lines of questioning, which then lead to different approaches to sustainability planning. So, take a lesson from academia, and go pay your client a visit. Your pitch might benefit from the day trip. Once you’ve gathered all the information you think you need, it’s time to develop your presentation. A central tenet in getting an organization to adopt sustainability planning is making the business case for sustainability. Looking for ways to become a better sustainability consultant? Check out our blog post that talks about 8 steps to improving as a sustainability consultant!

8 Steps to Becoming a Better Sustainability Consultant

The SSC Team June 9, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
By: Alexandra Kueller As I approach my one year anniversary at SSC, I’m amazed at not only how quickly the past year has flown by, but also with how much I learned the first 12 months on the job. I’ve come to learn how to craft a sustainability narrative for a company and what data to collect for carbon footprinting analysis. I’ve slowly (but surely) gotten better at client and project management. I’ve even gotten over my fear of attending conferences by myself! But none of what I’ve learned will be useful, unless I can take this new information and apply it to my long-term goals as a sustainability consultant. I recently came across an article by Jonathan Long featured on Entrepreneur called “8 Steps to Crushing Ridiculous Goals” that discussed how to achieve the goals you set for yourself, and it made me think about how I could apply these 8 steps to being a better sustainability consultant.

1. Master easy goals first

Any project can seem daunting when you join a new company in a field you’re just starting to understand. The first few months on the job I set small goals for myself, such as “get acquainted with the waste audit spreadsheets” or “understand how to use the sustainability reporting platform”. This helped me feel more at ease in my new role and help me gain confidence going forward.

2. Break ridiculous goals down into several smaller goals

One of the first big projects I had a chance to work on from the beginning was collecting data for a client’s annual sustainability report. It was very unnerving in the beginning, but once I broke everything down into a timeline, I was able to set smaller goals, which made the overall goal much more attainable.

3. Be prepared to push hard through the finish line

As much as it would be nice to leave your work at the office, it simply isn’t practical, and I very quickly learned that sustainability consulting is no different. There are certain times during a project that will require time outside of the office to complete or quick turnarounds late at night, and by anticipating when these busy periods are, I can then better manage my time both in and out of the office.

4. Build a team of specialists around you

I’m lucky enough to work with some of the smartest and brightest people in the field. By surrounding myself with people who specialize in certain areas of sustainability consulting, I am able to learn so from them just by watching how they attack different projects.

5. Don’t stall or make excuses

Learning to juggle multiple client projects at once was an initial challenge, but I knew that I couldn’t make excuses for my shortcomings. I began to set weekly and daily deadlines for myself, and I eventually was able to better manage all my simultaneous projects.

6. Accept that failure is a possibility

When I was helping to write and edit one of my first sustainability reports, I was too nervous to write or change anything, because I didn’t want to fail. How would I ever be able to grow and learn from my experiences if I don’t take any chances? No one is perfect, and missing the mark on a project is inevitable for everyone.

7. Be prepared and willing to sacrifice

Projects pop last minute. It’s going to happen whether you can control it or not. And sometimes when this happened over the course of the past year, I’ve had to make some sacrifices. Yes, I was bummed I couldn’t go to dinner with my friends that one time, but a project had to be completed by the end of the day. Sacrifices will have to happen.

8. Don’t ever quit

Being a sustainability consultant isn’t always smooth sailing, but you can never give up. Simple enough. Find out how you can become a better sustainability leader in one of our latest blogs.

Choosing Sustainability Management Software for Your Business

The SSC Team April 23, 2015 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

This article was written as an expansion of our white paper “Choosing Sustainability Management Software for your Business” published in July 2011.  If you’re looking for information on how to make your software selection, check out the full article.  If you just want to make sense of this particular topic, keep reading. Enjoy:

Now that you’ve decided to purchase sustainability software, an important related decision is whether or not you want to do the implementation work in-house or if you want to bring on a consultant to help out.  Making the right decision will be critical to your overall project success as well as impact the total cost of ownership for your solution.  And depending on your specific situation, either answer can be the right answer.  This article covers four key considerations:  Culture, Cost, Capabilities and Confidence.

Culture

Your business culture is an important first consideration.  Either you are consultant friendly or you prefer to do projects internally.  Making a decision that fits your culture and is consistent with your values will be important throughout the project.  That’s not to say that you might not go in the other direction for a specific project, or even choose a hybrid approach to delivery; just be true to yourself, as that will contribute to project morale for the entire team regardless of who signs their paycheck.  

A hybrid approach may provide the best of both cultures for you without offending the purists on either side.  Bring in specific subject matter expertise that you don’t already have in-house and then match it up with the right internal members of your Green Team to deliver the project.  On a high performing team, your consultants should be looking to train the internal employees on all the ins and outs of the system so that eventually your people can take over and run with the operational system. A good consultant instills confidence that they provide specialized expertise and trust that you will feel comfortable to call on them for further assistance in the future, instead of keeping them on the project unnecessarily for extended or prolonged periods of time.

Cost

After culture, cost is a major factor in the DIY vs. consultant decision.  For many firms – large or small – the preliminary inclination is to try and do the work internally.  The general premise is that it will be cheaper to use people that you already are paying because there is no additional cash out of pocket like there would be with an external consultant.  Consultants seemingly come with a high, upfront, fixed cost as your employee costs are already embedded in your budget.  Don’t forget to account for the “opportunity cost” of your internal employees – after all, they would be working on something else valuable for your firm if they weren’t picked for this project.

Beyond the opportunity cost consideration, looking only at the incremental expense doesn’t address an important aspect of choosing your own internal people to do the work: Do they actually have time?  Presumably, all of your existing employees have a “day job” that brings them to work every day.  Some of them are probably even doing two or three different jobs during a regular workday.  Determining if you actually have the available slack time within your existing team members is an important determination.  After all, if you’re on a deadline and your employees just can’t carve out enough time to meet that target, it may end up costing you more money to bring consultants in later than it would have if you had engaged them at the start of your project.  If you engage them in the beginning, the consultants are competing for your business; if you wait to bring them in until later in the project, they know you are hiring them to help bail you out so the leverage has shifted into their favor.

A final cost consideration when hiring a consultant (or going the “cheaper” internal route) is that “you get what you pay for.”  This can be taken as advice that the lowest cost doesn’t always provide you with the best result – nor for that matter does the highest cost.  Just make sure that the cost is right for the work being performed and for your situation.  That brings me to the second aspect of “you get what you pay for” – which is to MAKE SURE you get what you paid for.  Pay your consultant based on their delivery of the results you are looking for on the project, not just because they send you an invoice.  If possible, get a consultant to sign up for a risk-reward component to their payment so that they will be incentivized to do a better job since some of their compensation is on the line.

Capabilities

One of the primary reasons to hire a consultant is that they have the necessary skills and/or expertise to perform the software implementation that you may not already have in-house.  Beyond the skills that they bring to the table, a consultant should also bring some other benefits to make a strong business case for hiring them.  Your consultant should bring the necessary tools, techniques, and methodologies to the table that their consultancy uses and which you don’t have.  This may be as simple as them showing up with their own laptops and software licenses that you don’t need to pay for, or them having the necessary data gathering systems to pull in all the info you need for your new sustainability software platform. 

As consultants, you are also expecting them to bring prior experience to the table.  Whether or not they’ve worked on a project exactly like what you are asking them to perform, you should be able to get veteran individual consultants and/or teams of consultants to come help you out.  And by teams, we don’t mean the kind where the senior partner sells the deal and then you don’t see him again except when he stops by infrequently to check on the team of freshly minted MBA’s that he’s actually assigned to your project.  We mean the kind of team where your senior (and junior) consultants are actively engaged on a daily basis to help you get the project done quickly and effectively – i.e. on time and on budget.

In addition to experience, your consultant may be able to offer a cost advantage, especially if their firm is already doing business with you and you can get any sort of bulk discount.  The discount opportunity may extend to software and/or hardware purchases as well since they may be able to aggregate purchases across multiple clients.  This discount opportunity may also arise if you are able to hire your software vendor as the implementation consultant.  While this may raise some concerns about “the fox guarding the hen house”, it may help keep your costs down. 

Confidence

There’s an old adage in the software industry: “No one ever got fired for hiring IBM.”  While this is generally an explanation of why you should hire a bigger firm over a smaller firm, it also illustrates the importance of having confidence in your choice.  Regardless of whether you feel the need for a big firm with vast resources, or if you prefer a smaller firm that provides a more personalized experience, the most important factor for you is that you find a good consultant that you can trust.  They should have a proven track record, have a solid network of resources they can draw on (regardless of whether they are internal or external to the consulting firm), and be able to instill the necessary confidence in you that they will deliver.  If they can’t do that, then you shouldn’t hire them.  If they’re the best solution to your need however, then by all means, hire away!

Now that you’ve read this article, tell us what you think!  And be sure to check out the full white paper.

Sustainability Consulting: One Size Does Not Fit All

The SSC Team March 31, 2015 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Here is a blog entry from the early days of the SSC blog. Enjoy!

To remain competitive in an increasingly global marketplace, companies of all shapes and sizes and from different industries and sectors are introducing sustainability programs to gain a competitive advantage. Companies are expected to react to these changing dynamics and to address the changing consumer preferences for environmentally and socially sustainable products and services. The ideas of corporate social responsibility and sustainability are no longer fringe issues or passing trends, but are topping the list of strategic issues of executive management at Fortune 500 companies. Most multinational firms have incorporated some sort of sustainability initiative within operations, such as ethical sourcing, measuring and reducing carbon usage and recycling initiatives. 

However, small- and medium-size companies are in a unique situation when it comes to sustainability. These firms don’t necessarily have the time, money or other resources to lead a full-blown, comprehensive sustainability program. Because of these differences, it is important to realize that sustainability consulting cannot be a “one size fits all” approach. What works for a Fortune 100 company most likely will not be a good fit for a small business. This is why it’s so important to hire consultants that really understand the process of developing and implementing sustainability programs, the resources available and constraints to expect, as well as the stakeholder “buy-in” necessary to execute a successful sustainability strategy for a small- or medium-size company. With these pieces in place, professional sustainability consultants can successfully navigate companies through the sustainability arena. 

Sustainability consultants must remain flexible and adaptable, and should be competent in assessing the feasibility of programs and identify long-term opportunities and constraints. Consultants should recognize that a company typically cannot make one isolated change without addressing the impact of that change on other issues in the business. This “results-oriented” thinking ignores the complexity of execution and implementation of programs and does not provide opportunities for the necessary reflection and evaluation of the sustainability initiatives.

One of the key factors contributing to success of a sustainability plan is the level of collaboration and engagement among employees and other stakeholders during the planning process. This balance of top-down and bottom-up planning increases the likelihood of the plan gaining support and advocacy from stakeholders during the implementation phase. Finally, consultants should work with companies to plan long-term sustainability programs that are tied into business objectives, which will deliver a more integrated approach to sustainability. This is critical, as most “knee-jerk” programs that are not well-thought out, planned or executed have not proven to be very successful or sustainable.

Feeling like your sustainability plan isn't getting as much attention as it deserves? Read about how to fix that here!