Michael Shapiro


722 Sherman Avenue, #1
Evanston, IL 60202
© 2006-2016 Dynamic Management Solutions, Inc.


Is it Management Consulting or Executive Coaching?

Who Should You Look for When Hiring A Management Consultant?
“A company should start by looking at a potential consultant's business and consulting background,” Shapiro explains. “If the business background seems sufficient, then one should look at the experience a consultant has working with a similar type of business either in the business sector and size or structure of the company.”

Although examining business background and experience can be helpful in the selection process, Shapiro also believes hiring a consultant can depend on intangible factors.

“You will probably know in the first five minutes of interviewing a potential consultant whether or not this will be a good fit,” Shapiro explains. “Most consultants have experience, but there are very good consultants who are simply a bad fit for your company. A successful relationship with a consultant will depend on his or her working and communication styles and a gut-level connection with the business leader.”

Beyond the vital personal impressions, Shapiro also recommends that the CEO, owner or business leader of the company should look for a consultant who can provide a unique solution to the problem and not a cookie-cutter approach.

Shapiro's clients are often closely-held or entrepreneurial, family-owned businesses with annual revenues that range from $2 to $15 million.

“Typically, I work with professional services companies–technological or creative companies who employ what I call 'knowledge workers',” he says. “Many of the companies I work with are successful start-up companies that have hit the first crisis in the business evolution life cycle.”

Shapiro explains that the creative phase is when the new company creates a product and finds markets for it.

“The people who start up these companies are entrepreneurs—passionate and driven about their business offerings,” Shapiro adds. “Their relationships with employees tend to be very informal during the start-up phase. However, as a company grows, the “organic” policies and activities that worked well at first can become problems that cause difficulties in the company. These problems could cause such things as reduced sales, loss of employees and increased stress for the business leader.”

Shapiro believes two aspects that set him apart from other consultants are his ability to listen and his ability to be direct and honest with the client regarding the nature of the problem.

“I try to listen without filters,” Shapiro says. “And, I provide honest feedback. I don't have hidden agendas. If I stand out from many other consultants, I believe it is because I am willing to be direct. Everyone knows the story of the 'Emperor's New Clothes.' I will tell the business leader that the 'emperor has no clothes.'”

One of the most challenging, initial parts of the consulting process for Shapiro is to get past the defensiveness a business leader might have regarding the company's situation and find out what is really going on. The leader is aware there's a problem, but will often have a rationale or reason for the situation being what it is.

Shapiro takes a systemized or organizational approach to the consultation process. He will spend time discussing the issues and challenges the business leader perceives as well as learning about the history, background and goals of the company. The next phase involves some form of assessment leading to recommendations on how to resolve the issues.

“There is a model and theory behind this approach to dealing with groups and systems,” Shapiro says. “Tensions will usually surface around issues regarding authority, responsibility and tasks. Often times, simply providing clarification helps to reduce tensions and improve productivity and effectiveness. After all, one of the keys to being a successful company is the ability to execute in a highly-competitive market. A good business leader must be able to communicate to employees what their roles, authority and tasks are.”

Is it Executive Coaching or Management Consulting?
“Executive coaching has exploded into the business consciousness over the past ten years,” Shapiro notes. “Unlike other professional fields such as accounting, law or financial planning, there is no concrete definition for the practice. My approach incorporates executive coaching into the management consulting process and becomes part of the change plan. As a rule of thumb, I consider work done with a company to be management consulting and work done with an individual to be executive coaching.

To illustrate the difference, Shapiro uses an example of a client with whom he is currently working.

“This client is looking at developing a mid-level management group,” he says. “Knowing that, I will be focusing on the team-building process as well as individual coaching.”

Shapiro approaches the management consulting process by spending a lot of time talking to the business leader. Then he starts the assessment phase.

“It's about gathering data to understand what's going on in the organization,” Shapiro explains. “I talk to key employees. I will observe the environment by sitting in on meetings. Sometimes I do a survey assessment with large groups of employees.”

The process is flexible according to Shapiro.

“The assessment phase could take three to four days to as long as three months,” he says. “It depends on size of the company and the issues I am dealing with.”

Shapiro encourages companies to avoid the “quick fix” in the management consulting process.

“Quick fixes are like band-aids,” he notes. “Sometimes band aids are necessary, but at the same time a company should be willing to look deeper to the source of the problems. Sometimes the root causes can be anything from the corporate culture, values, communication skills, personal styles and decision making to who has the authority to make changes.”

Why Do You Need A Management Consultant?
“The reasons for a company to hire a management consultant are unique to each company,” Shapiro says. “But, in general, when a company is starting to feel some discomfort, that's when they may want to consider bringing in a management consultant.”

Shapiro believes the first step is for the company CEO, owner or business leader to realize something is wrong and seek help. However, when a company contacts Shapiro, it's often because of a symptom, not the real problem.

“They have to know the difference between the chicken and the egg,” he says. “That is hard to do because the business leader is often too close to the problem.”

“Many times, I'll get a call from the company owner or business leader saying 'my workplace is crazy. People I've promoted are either being fired or quitting, and morale is bad',” Shapiro says. “But, these are not the problems. They are the symptoms of the problem.”

Shapiro's first step in the discovery process is to find out everything that is affecting the company's success and how these factors play into the overall problem. His background and experience suggest companies can experience significant problems when they promote people to managerial positions–especially if it's a newly created management position.

“Many times, a company's star salesperson, programmer, designer or other 'doer' seems like the logical choice to promote to a manager position,” he explains. “These people are very good doers, but, many times they are ill-prepared for the challenges of management. They can be described as having the 'rookie manager syndrome.' They are put into a situation with an entirely new set of factors relative to their success.”

“Just working hard is not the key to succeeding as a new manager,” Shapiro adds. “A manager has to work through other people. Unsuccessful managing techniques range from micro-managing and nearly doing the work for your employee to giving little or no direction and failing to establish accountability. Good managers get the work done through motivation and inspiration. They have to learn what makes each of their subordinates tick. These skills can be learned, but it's important for business leaders to know good managers are not born–they are taught.”

How Do You Make The Changes Your Company Needs?
One of Shapiro's strengths as a management consultant is his willingness and ability to follow the process through from discovery to solution.

“I call it a corrective course-change for the business,” Shapiro says. “I give the company my recommendations for corrective action. The recommendations are based on my observations and the data collected in the assessment phase.”

Shapiro observes that making the necessary changes is never like flicking a switch.

“It takes time to affect a change,” he says. “Businesses will usually resist change. It is imperative to design the process so that change comes from within the company and not from an external consultant.”

But, Shapiro doesn't stop at making recommendations.

“My consultation goes through the implementation process,” he says. “I work closely with the company on the specific actions they need to take, assess how those actions are working and make adjustments as needed.”

“Part of the consulting process is to develop in-house solutions to the problems based on what I believe are proven, successful approaches,” he says. “I want the business leader to feel that he or she owns the process and is committed to making the needed changes.”

Shapiro believes that he and the business leader can measure his effectiveness by seeing improvements in the symptoms the company was experiencing.

“Sometimes this information can be very specific such as higher sales or lower employee turnover,” Shapiro says. “Sometimes it's a little more intangible. Some solutions are quantifiable. Some may not be, depending on the situation.”

Shapiro says the management consulting process can be exciting as well as challenging for both the company and the business leader. The focus must be on how the process creates a more dynamic and productive business.

“People are part of the process, but the focus should not necessarily be on what makes them feel better, but what makes the business work better,” Shapiro says. “After the consulting process is over, the business should be able to continue growing and delivering its products and services more efficiently because the business has reduced some of the internal strife that was dissipating its efforts. This will make for a more productive business with positive business results that can be measured.”

Shapiro gains satisfaction by helping others to succeed.

“I want to leave a client's business better than when I arrived,” he says. “I want to see the company grow and thrive.”