We try to keep up with and stay aware of our weaknesses. Knowing them helps ECAS stick to its mantra of ‘under-promising and over-delivering’ – while also seeking solutions to compensate for them. Communicating them helps our clients know whether we are right for them or not (as does 'what others say'). Hence this confessional page on our website. So here's the scoop on our weaknesses.
Candour We’re ‘straight shooters’. We’ll call ‘a spade a spade’ and don’t beat around the bush (we may also like metaphors too much, it's true). Sometimes our clients require us to articulate things in sensitive ways to their internal and external audiences. We do this, but most of the time in the second draft.
We are practitioners first; analysts, evaluators and trainers, second. There are probably three types of consultants; those who think, those who talk/write, and those who do. We would situate ourselves among those who ‘do’. We will, however, think about doing and talk/write about doing. But our (unapologetic) vantage point is the doing. What that means is that we’ll sometimes be as puzzled by some of the jargon in this field as our clients – although we’re quick at deciphering it. It also means that our language is fairly plain – and at times blunt or insufficiently nuanced. The upside of it, we think, is that we 'do doing' really well. Also, that a client gets a “practitioner-analyst” or a “practitioner-evaluator”, which can be very different from a pure analyst and evaluator; and that the client gets a seasoned practitioner with training skills, rather than a good trainer with some practical experience.
The consequences of an anti-growth agenda Our focus is on doing interesting and impactful work, and we have consequently adopted an anti-growth corporate agenda. What this means in practice is that we try not to grow to the point of having to drastically increase our overheads, which in turn would decrease our ability to take on work and work with clients that we like. We find that the annual threshold for us in terms of turnover is around GBP1 million (USD1.5 million) and we do not to go much beyond that. This has implications for the size and number of projects we take on each year. With current management capabilities, we can swing projects of around GBP500,000 – if we do them one at the time, but doing more than two of those a year absorbs most of that management capacity. Our way around it is by working with our sister companies and beyond that, through our extended family of companies. However, if we feel we’re too stretched to take on an assignment, we’ll say so and help the client find another provider.
Limited marketing With 80% or more of our work coming by word of mouth, we’ve not had to market ourselves. Over the last three years or so, there have been several new entrants in this line of consulting – and some of the larger consultancy companies have actively entered the sector. We welcome this competition and hope it will lead to an even better service offering for clients. Several of our associates have asked us to step into the marketing game – and we’ll do so. However, our approach to marketing will not be just to ‘tell’, but rather (and where possible) to ‘show and tell’. We believe that results speak louder than words – and this will be the driving theme of our marketing in the years to come.
Opaqueness We know that the conflict and security consultancy field is pretty opaque. How do companies such as ours deliver results to clients? What are our methods? Do we use good practice in our assignments? There are several reasons for this opacity. First, consultancy companies are often bound by client confidentiality. This is and will remain a cardinal rule for most consultancies, including ours. Second, methods used are often literally ‘trade secrets’. Many companies will closely guard methodology – no matter how sophisticated (or not) it is. And third, there are advantages in being opaque. You can look good, attract business, but still be mediocre – if you operate in an opaque space. If company methods are known, then clients can better choose who to use – and some companies will lose out. We will never breach confidentiality agreements. However, we can make our methods for different types of work explicit. And that’s what we’re doing, along with our sister companies – through the INCAS in Practice Series. These are mostly methodology documents related to specific areas of work – and are either free or sold as e-books for a nominal fee.
So there. Those are our weaknesses in a nutshell. We’ll keep on updating and revising these as time passes. And of course, if you have any questions – or better still, see other weaknesses of ours, please drop us a line. To adjust the saying a bit, ‘if we don’t know it’s broke, we can’t fix it’.
David Nyheim, Chief Executive, ECAS Consulting Ltd.