A look at what we’re building at WGP, with 2023 under the microscope.
WGP hasn’t done a thing in 2023. And that’s totally what our model is built on.
Allow me to explain later in this note.
As you’ve probably seen, this blog tends to be more about this blog than it is about me or our WGP team taking a long, listless, duck-lipped selfie. I’ve tried over nearly 10 years to put it all out there philosophically and practically without reference to our practice (much).
But it’s the end of the year and I’m catching it suddenly from all angles.
Angle 1: I have our team members wondering why we don’t make more noise about our practice, given how much ground we’ve covered.
Angle 2: I’m running into promotional selfies from consulting organizations big and small that are, in my parlance, “cute” because I know from the inside that things simply aren’t that good for them. Yes, I’m a curmudgeon when it comes to only promoting the facts.
Angle 3: I’m realizing that–after a really long run–my own ego has gotten in the way of sharing the good news (see my curmudgeon comment above). I get my nose in a twist when it comes to promotional pieces because, well, our work speaks for itself. And I’m realizing as I mature that I need to break out of that a little bit.
So, I’m gonna let ‘er rip on this one. I’m sure some of what follows is a rant, a philosophy statement, and perhaps a call to arms for the dedicated executives I know we work best with. But, that’s ok because this is on some level an explanation of why you haven’t seen us marketing ourselves much. And, it’s a good one, if I do say so myself.
What’s the big picture selfie?
Over the past 2 years, we have completed roughly 36 engagements for 10 different organizations. Yeah, we’ve got our “loved ones” that we work with steadily; and yes, we do occasionally take on a new client (in fact, 2 new clients signed up in 2022, and 1 in 2023).
But, and this is a big but: More than 90 percent of our professional fee revenue came from existing clients in 2022 and 2023. Our clients know and we don’t talk about this, but we’ve been on a tear for years, with no consulting capacity unassigned since at least 2019. Yes, we have had no “beach time” here at WGP, and we think that makes for great value for our clients and our team members.
Is that healthy? I don’t know. What I do know is that the people who work here and the people we work with tend to be happy.
I make no bones about it: Our employment value proposition is variety and professional development. If you are engaged with WGP, everybody you work with is a-growin’ or a-goin’.
Our client value propositions (the ones they can see) revolve around our Team (talent and structure), our client Experience, and the Depth we bring regardless of topic. The values they can’t see revolve around Honor, Agility, and Leadership in any circumstance.
As we’ve articulated these values, it has become clear that they are why our clients keep coming back. And they do come back. In almost 10 years we’ve done roughly 150 engagements with only 5 being “one and done” where we engaged with an organization and moved on.
So, we have to be doing something right.
What if we zoom in…what are the topics we have covered in 2023?
The only way we can have such a solid client partnership profile is to be truly great at running to fire. Okay, so not merely great, but absolutely the best, most trusted option in the market. And what does that mean?
It means we have a multi-faceted practice that has produced referenceable results in every, single engagement instance. To demonstrate the multiplicity of our facets, here are examples of topics we engaged on in 2023:
- Tackling a change management challenge with a large distribution company working to insert a middle distribution tier. This work, led by Paul Currey as a deeply embedded team member, has showcased our ability to work on day-to-day change challenges as a “member of the team” while remaining independent.
- Rebuilding workforce strategy with a distributed and technically skilled trucking and delivery operation in the building materials space. This work, led by Brittany Timmons and John Adducci, re-set expectations across the employee lifecycle for a key and very challenging employee type in the 2021 – 2023 timeframe. The work has not only been a “let me tell you a story” strategy but also day-to-day, in-the-dirt work to get recruiting pipelines right-sized and training and retention approaches designed and deployed.
- Leading integration strategy for a contracting organization in the government services space. Carrie Elliott led this work that involved establishing post-merger integration principles and processes in an environment of mild culture clash.
- Building a go-to-market strategy for a manufacturer in the foam fabrication space, where we focused on ensuring a fact- and action-based strategic plan that brought many different points of view together, including external ones. Alex Cauble led this effort.
- Standing up and executing a transformation management structure that re-set and re-aligned plans, expectations, resourcing, and pace in a large organization. This has been a Team effort with Dani Zielenski (emeritus…at the moment), Carrie Elliott, and several others in the management seat.
- Executing on a product management strategy for a large industrial services organization that has had just a few too many SKUs enter its portfolio over time. This piece of work has seen WGP go from the “strategy recommender” (read that: We wrote a deck of slides a couple of years ago) to the “strategy execution partner” (read that: We do real work to help clean up the portfolio as a first step). John Adducci has led this work with Ejona Korcari as the key analyst.
- Supporting, cajoling, and running to fire on a complex global sourcing effort that involved substantial risk management, operational, research, analytical, and product management components for a business in the automotive aftermarket. Alex Cauble was the leader here.
Those are some examples, and not even absolutely the best ones since, like fine wines, some engagements have to stay on the shelf a bit before we can bring a glass of them into the selfie. I can’t write too much about all the stuff that we’ve been involved with in the immediate past. Other places we have been in the past year? How about:
- Hazardous materials compliance
- Top-team effectiveness
- Talent management
- Market research
- Fleet maintenance strategy
- Financial model building
- Growth project due diligence
- Management best practices playbook and training
- and, yes, corporate strategy and risk management…our old standby.
We’ve had moments of creativity to break up the drudgery. Despite what most would say is my, ahem, intensity, I’m a big fan of cheering success and sometimes have to be the cheerleader, hooting and hollering. We even played Jeopardy with the management team of a billion-dollar company, just to liven things up.
A meta-analysis of our engagement mix.
What do you see when you peer into our mix of engagements? Well, you see diverse topics that stem from being a trusted problem-solving partner. That’s our calling card.
You see engagements that are led by people who care about our clients and who bring a team spirit to any problem at hand. You also see continuity of people and topic–in some examples above the engagement has run 2+ years and we’ve kept the same people on it from start to end. This is enabled not only by our talent model but also by our approach to professional fees that allow for us to engage as a partner and “for the duration.”
If you press me in my most sour of sour grapes moments, I will also say that you also see a few times we’ve picked up the pieces from bigger, branded, expert, and “safe” consultancies that couldn’t crack the code of people, problem, and pace in the way we have.
We’ve “destroyed value” for some of these “esteemed competitors” because we’ve gone faster to results, better in terms of experience, with more skill transfer…and all for a fraction of their fees. I suspect at this point we could point to avoided [insert fashion-name-brand consultant] fees as a massive value driver for at least a couple of our clients…before even getting to results.
Still, what you don’t see in our repertoire is a bunch of transactional stuff. You don’t see 2-week due diligence sprints or “build me a strategy in 3 weeks” engagements where the result is a deck and some derrière coverage for a weak executive team. We aren’t built for that, and I don’t believe in it.
Why? Well, if you believe an outside consultant can come in and write the strategy for your business in 2 to 3 weeks, then you aren’t an executive we are likely to work with because frankly, you don’t respect the business you lead. Strategy requires understanding texture, context, facts, opinions, and ultimately choices. That takes some time.
We are built for partnership at pace–staying politely ahead of but never outrunning our clients and always leaving their people better than they were before.
I’m extremely proud of that.
Who “we” are.
I keep using the word “we” as if I have a mouse in my pocket. Everyone knows that I founded this thing years ago just by stepping out on my own. It has to revolve around me, right? Well, no. Not exactly. Our strategy has been to grow a consulting system (and people indoctrinated in it) that provides outstanding problem-solving and client experience.
So, how are “we” doing that?
This is where it gets interesting. I’ve already mentioned our talent value proposition, but what I haven’t mentioned is our dedication to “How We Work.” This is our focus on the delivery of the same client experience no matter the leader and no matter the topic. This is part of our special sauce and something I grew to appreciate while enduring far too many consulting partner inconsistencies early in my career.
This means we focus on a common problem-solving approach, a common approach to planning and executing engagements, and a common approach to getting the best of our own and our clients’ perspectives into the arena. I believe this is truly special in the market space we occupy between high-power independent consultants and large consulting houses.
A WGP engagement is a WGP engagement, not a contract given to a smart person with a pedigree. Unfortunately in the post-pandemic world, even the biggest and blue-est chip firms are producing work that looks more like the latter because they broke their talent and team interaction models during the lockdowns.
To wit, when you are McKinsey or Bain or BCG or pretty much any large consultancy built on an up or out pyramid, with average consultant tenure in the 2-plus year range, a massive uptick in hiring and a massive downtick in face-to-face coaching and culture building because of gee-whiz technology and oh noes risk management leads to culture change and loss in a matter of months. Culture at those firms (and ours) is an all-the-time thing, and when a culture of deep in-the-room coaching and “osmosis” for young consultants becomes one of scheduled interactions via videoconference, things get lost.
But I digress.
The people side of “who we are” hasn’t been said yet: Sure, we are Ivy League and Michigan and Vanderbilt and U of Chicago and Georgetown and Stanford and MBA and Master of Accounting and Master of Finance and even a CFA candidate. But I’ll say this: We get a lot more at many moments of our engagement with clients by being Appalachian State and Clemson and Robertsdale, Alabama and Aiken, South Carolina and Tar Heel and Roll Tide and Eagle Scouts (3 and counting) and Wofford Terriers. We get a lot more out of backgrounds that go from railroads to the Peace Corps, from big automotive to startups, and from sales to operations.
Why? Because having people who have had to flex their career and educational backgrounds comes with something that few Ivy-elite backgrounds come with: The knowledge of the possibility that we might be wrong.
The glue that binds together a fantastic client experience and result is in us. It’s in How We Work, and it’s in our values, and it’s in the forthright diligence we espouse. It’s probably also in some sort of productive paranoia that I, personally, bring to the table in sometimes fanatical, sometimes tyrannical, and sometimes undefinable Ted Lasso or maybe Mr. Miyagi sorts of ways (paint the fence because I said so, Daniel!).
One of the big reasons you don’t see much marketing and promotion from us is we can’t really grow fast and stay “us.” The rate-limiting factor isn’t how many clients we can cultivate or engagements we can ink, it’s the (no kidding) indoctrinated capacity that we have. We are growing, but only at the pace of our Associate’s willingness and ability to “get it” and “deliver it.”
In short, “we” are presently 10 consulting professionals equipped with a system and looking to make a difference.
What “they” say…
And, what is that difference? I could quantify, but won’t out of abiding fear of “spilling” something I shouldn’t. I can tell you that we have beaten our clients’ “next best alternative” by a multiple of fees in any event we’ve scrutinized. And scrutinize we do.
But more than that, our clients’ results are the most basic measure of our success. I say it nearly every day. If our clients are not doing well against the objectives we work on, then we aren’t even close.
There are no moral victories here.
A dirty little secret at WGP is that I survey our clients every single year (for at least the last 7 years). The survey respondents are the folks that we work with directly and heavily from the Board and C-office level to the manager, director and VP-level. Here’s a smattering of what they said in 2023…written by them (if it isn’t clear yet, there’s no marketing agency here, folks):
- “WGP has brought an external, objective guidance to our company during a massive transitional time in our business. They have helped us navigate through ambiguity and the natural stages of internal change management. I truthfully don’t think we would’ve been able to get this far without their help“
- “Whether it is a recommendation for an easier tool, a dashboard, or a 10-year vision, WGP has been a true partner. They have also helped our leaders become better problem solvers…”
- “Always one step ahead of us and a blast [to work with]”
- “The consultants that aren’t consultants. They own results and act like they are part of the team.”
- “It’s a strength to be able to attract that talent as a small firm. Didn’t feel like a cookie-cutter approach. Instead, project approach felt customized to our needs.”
- “Clarity and focus on meaningful solution design without the presentation/show “fluff” that ends up slowing progress. WGP associates are highly engaged and pleasant to work with.“
- “[WGP is] Very professional yet relatable. Produces high-quality work, not afraid to challenge perspectives…”
So why haven’t we done a thing?
Behind any successful consulting engagement is a hidden consultant. In front of it should be a client team that is having fantastic success. Meaning that when it comes to impact, our clients have done it… all of it. We actually wouldn’t have it any other way.
We at WGP haven’t done a thing because we accomplish nothing without great clients.
Not a thing.
But what kind of clients are we great with?
We fit best with clients who care. The profile is coming into good focus after nearly 10 years. It includes managers that:
- Lead large, complex organizations or organizations that aspire to be larger,
- Have organizational or executional ambiguity like a culture or communications gap between home office and field ops,
- Have business complexity like when customers are hard to segment and understand, or when operations are diverse and divergent, and
- Have demanding markets or stakeholders that reward, desire, or thrive on clarity.
- New teams with a commitment to excel, like when a new CEO comes on board, or
- Big change efforts, like when you have to coordinate all limbs at once. Sometimes it’s a transformation even if you don’t call it that, or
- Small pieces with high leverage in growth or turnaround, like business units that are problem children or that should be contributing more, or
- Large initiative teams in need of “glue” to hold together, or
- Areas where there are immediate talent gaps but a commitment to move forward while addressing them.
The profile would include executives who:
- Face strategic ambiguity but with a dedication to execute. They want a plan, but not just a deck (and boy can we can make some fancy decks), and / or
- Hope to build a legacy, like when the team is in transition and wants to leave a mark or a firm platform for the next generation, and that
- Have a willingness to engage in a contact sport where management, the team, and the consultant might be challenged and even (gulp!) wrong on the way to getting it right.
And, it includes companies and organizations that:
- Are mission-oriented toward doing great things, better,
- Are in service to others, and
- Depend on extending and improving the good things in the world, not extracting rents from poverty, despair, servitude or struggle.
Here’s the call to action that I hope resonates:
If you as an executive, board member or manager might see your, your organization’s, or your team’s reflection in the profile above. If you have challenging problems that need specific pressure. If you have organizational challenges that stem from ambiguity, transient talent gaps, or merely huge jobs that need more pressure, then I hope you’ll drop us a line. Yes, it can be “strategy” in the traditional vein, but it can also just be…in the words of one of our consultants…”helping get shit done.”
In large organizations, some problems can seem intractable and permanent. I will tell you that while they sometimes are, we bring a focus on chemistry and pace that can help break out of the doldrums.
I hope you’ll consider reaching out.
Closing reflections… 2023 in perspective
2023 has been a good year, and one that is probably best outlined as “on trend” for our practice. Looking into 2024 it’s hard to say where we go because, well, we’ve gone a lot of places. We owe everything to the trust our clients place in us to earnestly attack almost any problem. And, we expect to continue that as long as we are in the mix.
So there it is. That’s the selfie.
If I were more promotional I would tell you that our growth profile probably rivals any “Inc. 5000” debutante, and if I were really promotional I would tell you that I’d put our team up against almost any other consulting team in the country based on our values and commitment to client experience alone.
At the end of writing this, I think I’m realizing that this isn’t a promotional blog post, it’s a weigh station on a journey of loving service and people development–our own and our clients’.
If we can help your team nail its priorities in the coming year, please do reach out.
And with that: May 2024 be great for all of us!
So how about it? What can WGP do for you? Call or email Geoff or any other team member and let’s continue this journey.