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Recommending Problems December 14th, 2011

The opinions/views expressed by the author is theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or position of Endeavour.

Author: Dr. Zayna Khayat, Associate Partner, SECOR Group and Endeavour Advisor

A colleague described to me an epiphany she had about what it means to be a management consultant, reflecting on her more than ten year career in advisory services in the public sector: “We recommend problems”. What an insight! Most of us call this “framing the problem”. But Recommend Problems resonates more, especially in the context of providing advice to small non-profit organizations. If I reflect on the Endeavour engagements that I have been involved with, a lot of un-necessary, low value-add work was avoided because we invested time up-front to understand the issues, and recommend what problem we should really be solving. Here are two examples to illustrate my point:

Client One:  This client requested help to “develop a corporate sector fundraising kit”. This is a deliverable, not a problem, so we had to determine the real issue the client was trying to solve. Turns out, what the client really needed was a segmentation of who they should be approaching for money, time, and gifts-in-kind, and tailoring a value exchange proposition for each segment. The corporate sector ended up being one potential segment, but not the most strategically important one.

Client Two: This client requested help to “develop shared services across all their support functions supporting multiple programs at multiple sites”. This is a solution, not a problem. Turns out, what the client really needed was clarity about their operating model, and a change in their organization structure and talent composition in order to operate better. A shared services structure ended up not being the first place the client needed to start in order to improve performance.

Therefore, one of the core value propositions management consultants bring to their clients – whether they are multi-billion dollar corporations or community centers with a $60K budget – is in applying all their experience and wisdom in recommending what problem the client should really be solving, and having the courage to challenge the “problem” that is initially put on the table.

Dr. Zayna Khayat is an Associate Partner with the Toronto office of SECOR management consulting, a Canadian-based consultancy. She leads the Toronto Health and Life Sciences sector where she serves clients in the life sciences and in public health care, advising them on issues of strategy and management.

Prior to joining SECOR, Zayna was a Principal with the Toronto office of The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), a global management consulting firm, from 2001 to 2010.

Dr. Khayat is an adjunct professor at the Rotman School of Management where she instructs the health care consulting field course to second year MBA students in the health care stream.

Prior to joining BCG, Zayna earned her Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Toronto / Hospital for Sick Children where she was a scholar of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, studying how insulin and exercise regulate blood glucose in the muscle, and why/where this process breaks down during disease states such as diabetes.

Zayna speaks fluently in English, French and Arabic, and resides in Toronto with her husband and 3 children.

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