From Zero to $300,000 In 18 Months: Interview with Organizational Development Consultant Betsy Jordyn

Interview Transcript:

Mike Zipursky: Hi, everyone. This is Michael Zipursky from Consulting Success. Today, I’m happy to welcome Betsy Jordyn to the show. Betsy is the founder of Accelera Consulting Group. She is an organizational development and strategy consultant but previously worked with Walt Disney World. Her clients also include JC Penny, United Airlines, Hilton Vacations and many others. I’m excited for this interview so let’s get started. Betsy, welcome.

Betsy Jordyn: Thank you, Michael. It’s nice to be here.

Mike Zipursky: Betsy, you worked with several high-profile companies that I just mentioned. What exactly were you doing for them?

Betsy Jordyn: Well, I do with companies the same thing across the board. As an organizational development consultant I help solve complex organizational problems while increasing leadership and organizational capacity, so basically as a lot of words to say is, I help leaders and organizations get better.

Mike Zipursky: Okay. What kinds of challenges? I mean, let’s get a little bit more detailed for a second here. Can you give us maybe some examples of issues that you’ve helped companies confront and overcome?

Betsy Jordyn: Well, they all come with different presenting problems but then it always seems to go through a similar process. You might have a situation, like for example when you’re dealing with resorts and hospitality-type of organizations. They might come either with an issue with guest service. The guest service scores are declining, they suspect something might be going on with the leaders, or you might have smaller companies that are growing and for them they’re not as sophisticated with some of the internal systems that they might be thinking. They need to create the leadership team of the future but they have absolutely no idea how. Basically, there’s all kinds of issues that they might come to me with that are their starting point. They have some sort of challenge and they don’t know exactly what’s causing the challenge or how to get to the other end.

Mike Zipursky: That’s interesting because we’re talking about some pretty sophisticated companies here that are very successful in their own right and in many cases they’ve been around for a long time yet what you’re saying is that here they might just have some challenges confronting them. You might think or some people listening might think, “Well, why does a company like Walt Disney World or Hilton Vacations or any of these other large established companies, why would they need to bring in someone from outside to help them to hire better people or to prepare for leadership transitions?” What exactly is it that you’re bringing to the table that they don’t have internally?

Betsy Jordyn: I love that question and I love how you’re making me think about this. It’s really the healthier organizations are the ones that I enjoy the most that I can do my best work with. They have that foundation of support in that foundation of, their organization is basically they’re healthy and then they just are very passionate about continuous improvement. Disney World is such a great example. It was a really healthy organization. It had a solid brand. It had a solid set of people that it employed. It had the world-class executives. What was so great about working in a company like that is that we always just wanted to get better, so some of the projects I worked on even from the beginning when I was at Disney that I thought was fascinating is the executives at that time were aware that this wireless technology was coming in and completely could revolutionize the guest experience and so I facilitated a series of sessions with the high-level executives and we called for the wireless technology charrettes where we were just envisioning the future and what would it be like one day when people can make a reservation for a particular ride from home or they can actually check in to their hotel from home.

What’s so amazing to me in being a consultant at Disney is I see in the back end right now a lot of those ideas where the technology is finally caught up and they’re offering that. You can actually do a fast reservation from home and you could actually check in your hotel from home and that started in 1999 and now we are in 2013. Those companies, they envision great things and they’re the ones I really want to work with, which is why I called my business Accelera. I like to take an existing fire and make it even burn brighter and stronger. In contrast, the organizations that don’t have that good foundation, they do not have that vision of continuous improvement and the idea of really leveraging somebody with my expertise to take them to the next level.

Mike Zipursky: Okay, that makes a lot sense. Before I move forward, I want to go back a little bit. When we talked last time you told me the story of how your master’s project in some way spawn your business. Do you know what I’m referring to?

Betsy Jordyn: Are you talking about getting my master’s degree or are you talking about the last project that I did when I was at Disney?

Mike Zipursky: I think it was a project that, I think it was part of your master’s program. I think you were proposing something and someone, maybe it was the professor or someone in your program or maybe it was within your own company, pretty much gave you the [reigns 0:05:26], handed you the reigns to move forward and that kind of, I think, what you said spawned part of your business. Is that correct or did I miss something?

Betsy Jordyn: Well, I can’t connect the dots on one level. You could tell if I answered the question properly. One of the things that I loved about my starting OD which I think I got really lucky is I started off in this field when I was getting my master’s and I had this opportunity to have a class and then apply it, class then apply it. How I got into OD is my first class in school was to introduce, I had to submit a functional marketing presentation where I had to say what kind of HR department what I like to start and I wanted to start in the OD Department. I sent it to the VP of HR of my company and they said, “Go ahead and start it.” That’s how I got my start in OD.

I’ve really been blessed with having a lot of mentoring and so that’s really given me a vision of it. I’m on a back end of being in this career for a long time. I see that a lot of people don’t have that opportunity to have the kind of exposure to the whats, the whys and the hows you do this work and so I’m in the process now of trying to replicate in some ways the things that allowed me to get mastery really quickly by putting together a consultants’ institute where I’m putting together some online tools in training and trying to mirror what was given to me at the important part of my career so I can go forward – actually pay it forward – to others so that I can open up my toolbox to help others achieve some of the things that I’ve achieved and the fun that I’ve been able to have with consulting because I didn’t have to go it alone.

Mike Zipursky: Right. That was actually what I was referring so you did answer that the way I was hoping that you would. The other piece I guess to that is, at that time you were working in some ways as a consultant within the organization but when you actually started or decided to go out on your own, how was that transition for you?

Betsy Jordyn: The good thing for me is I have a wide toolbox but what I didn’t have was the business development, and what I found is that there are a lot of people who really excel in the business development but they don’t have quite as much of the wide toolbox, if you will, in terms of consulting experiences. I grew my business. I didn’t have to find a lot of clients. It’s because I have a wide toolbox I could take one client and just expand the value, so basically from launching my business I literally went from zero to $300,000 a year within 18 months not because I became the best at marketing and business development but I have an ability to pitch the right work, because I know how to do that as an internal consultant.

What I envision is that I love the business development side, though, so that’s been a kick for me to learn. Actually, that’s probably been the fun part for me but I’ve been learning how to get better at business development so I can get the right clients. It’s been a challenge in some ways going out on my own. You go out there and a lot of companies aren’t as sophisticated as Walt Disney World and in some ways the type of work I was getting in the beginning was with companies where I was doing work almost like I did 20 years ago and so I had to learn how to get more precise to say, “I want companies like this, that are bigger, like that with executives like this,” so that I can enable me to keep growing.

Mike Zipursky: Right, yeah. You mentioned, we talked about those early days as an independent consultant. That was kind of maybe one mistake or a challenge. You were offering everything under the sun that you didn’t narrow enough and didn’t focus on your expertise. Can you talk a little bit more about how that process evolved and why you feel that it’s important that consultants – or do you feel that it’s important that consultants really narrow in on an area of specialization?

Betsy Jordyn: That’s a great point. Actually, the first challenge I was mentioning was trying to find the type of work that I thought was complex enough, but I forgot about that part. That is really true. I think it’s absolutely essential that we figure out what we’re best at versus what we’re sort of second tier at and I think that a lot of consultants, especially when you go out on your own, you know, we all struggle with that scarcity fear, that there’s not enough, “How am I going to provide?” You want to offer everything in the kitchen sink and then you get everything in the kitchen sink and you’re coming to a point where, like, “This work isn’t fun for me. It wasn’t fun for me then, it’s not fun for me now but I need it in order to pay the bills.”

When I started narrowing in more on, “This is the type of person I like to work with, this is the place and the organization and this is the type of work I like to do,” it just becomes so much easier. I’m starting to work with a new client that I just got a couple of weeks ago and the sales process literally went two weeks long. It was in for a six-figure deal which I think is amazing from initial contact to closure, and I think it’s because I’ve been able to get much more articulate about the value that I can create, where I see my boundaries of what I want to do. I’m not shameless of my promotion. I’m authentically genuine because I really know what I’m best at and I could say, “This is what I really do,” and then when I’ve been presented other work that I’m okay at but not the best at, I’m learning to turn that away because I don’t want to be spending my time doing delivery work that that’s not my favorite. I’d rather be right in my sweet spot.

Mike Zipursky: Did you always feel that way or did you have maybe a fear or concern earlier on that when business came your way that maybe wasn’t the right fit, did you ever feel that you should take it on because it’s money and it’s a client project and maybe it’ll help you to get better at something but maybe inside you were feeling that wasn’t the right fit and that wasn’t really the area you should be specializing in or taking work on? Did you have any experience like that?

Betsy Jordyn: I think that I struggle with the same thing that everybody else does. I think it’s easier for us to feel comfortable in our second tier gifts rather than our first tier gifts, because I think our first tier gifts come so naturally to us that we almost feel apologetic about asking money for that because it’s so natural. I think a lot of people build businesses off of their second tier gifts because these are the ones that we’re decent at but we have to work a little harder at.

My first tier gifts become so natural and I always get feedback on it. I always get feedback about my ability to frame information and the way that it plays out for me in terms of consulting is in my assessment and in my strategic facilitation of my stakeholder management. Those are the three areas that are so natural to me that I love doing it. Not a lot of people do it and not a lot of people do it my way. I really excel but it comes so naturally to me but it was hard for me to recognize that my framing is worth something. In fact, it’s worth quite a bit and it’s more valuable. In the last deal that I just closed I showed a whole project cycle. This was really cool for me to do because I’ve already set the expectation. I went through the whole process of, “Here’s what’s going to need to happen in order to resolve the issues that you have. It starts off with assessment here and then we’re do a solution here and then we’re going to evaluate and measure.”

I put a box around the first couple of things as the stakeholder management and the assessment and said, “I’m going to contract with you for here and then we’ll talk about the rest later,” and I think because of, “I can do the rest,” that it feels like, “Well, why would I walk away from all that money? Why would I walk away from that? Of course, I’m already involved there,” they always look at me and say, “Oh, Betsy, you’re going to stay with us for the rest of the project.” But now with this new client I’m setting up expectations on the [inaudible 0:13:25]. I’m saying, “Let’s be here and then we’ll talk about what’s next.” This is where my vision of this consultants’ institute is, is I’m hoping that I’m going to get to know a lot of consultants and what they’re really great at and that when I get to the end of the part that I really love, I can hand it off and say, “You know what, I’ve got these five people who are much better, so here’s your executive coach. This person is absolutely world-class. Here’s the trainer that needs to deliver the training and here’s the project manager that needs to oversee all the work strains. Here’s my communications expert and that person’s going to oversee that.” To me, it would be putting the team together later that will implement not necessarily me having to do it on the front.

Mike Zipursky: Right. You know, Betsy, I think the point you’re making right here about finding what you’re really good at in, you know, you’re calling it the first tier and second tiers, but a lot of people who are listening to this are going to be thinking, “Okay, that makes a lot of sense. I understand that and I can appreciate it,” but how do people find what they’re really good at? How do they find that first tier gift that you call? Do you have any thoughts around how people can discover that within themselves?

Betsy Jordyn: Yeah. It’s what people give you feedback on. They say, “Michael, you were so great at that,” and you’re tempted to shrug it off, like, “That was nothing.” That’s the one to pay attention to.

Mike Zipursky: Okay. Any other advice around that?

Betsy Jordyn: Just pay attention to compliments. Every single time you get a compliment, stop and listen to it, digest it and think, “What was it?” If you’re tempted to shrug it off, it probably is, that’s your clue that you’re hitting on something really significant. I think the other thing – that would be just more on your daily like, pay very close attention to have on, you know, take your self-awareness up to another level. When you’re doing something that makes you happy that you would do it for free, that’s the stuff that you’re – you’re probably in your first tier. It’s some of the Marcus Buckingham stuff. Let’s just become really self-aware.

The other side is think about, if you’re in an organization – one thing that was great about Disney is it was so large that all of the staff groups, we were always very, very specialized. Actually, all the departments were very specialized. When I got to Disney I had done crew development, organizational development and training and development. All three were as part of my prevue, that department that I started in my former job, but at Disney it was so big and so I had to pick. When I was interviewing, do I want to go to the performance consultant route or do I want to go the organizational development route? I had to pick. I was forced into “I want to go this path or that path” and I chose the organizational development path because it was always my closest fit. It’s like if you have to take all your services and if you have only to make money off of one or two, which would it be and how would you tie the theme around those two things and figure out what would it look like to specialize.

When you specialize, what happens is that people can quickly take out who you are with a particular problem and can see you as part of the team. Now when I’m putting a team together on a backend I do bring in a lot of subcontractors and it’s because I think my Disney background, because I’m thinking, “Well, who’s my world-class trainer?” I don’t want necessarily my trainer/consultant/this/that/this. I just want to know who’s the best at that and then I want to know who’s my best coach and who’s my best person in all these different areas.

If you have your services and if you have 12 different things that you say, “Well, I offer all these different things,” in every single part of a project, I would just say, “If you had to pick one that you’re that you’re going to make money off of, which would it be?”

Mike Zipursky: Right. I think that’s a great way to explain it. That should really bring it home for a lot of people. I want to get into today’s action bite. When we talked last time, you were telling me about how you have a lot of experience in increasing the value of projects and you just kind of talked about it a little bit earlier in this interview right here, where you were able to go and work with clients and really expand, you know, whether it’s the scope but at the end of the day the dollar value that you’re able to extract from those projects and working with those clients.

I hope I’m not putting you on the spot here because I know there’s a little bit of a scheduling issue that we came up upon, but for today’s action bite I’m hoping that you can give all our listeners here some ideas on what they need to do so that they can extract more value from their client projects.

Betsy Jordyn: The one action bite I would give is do not say yes to the very first thing that they’re asking you. It’s all an assessment. If you’re going to switch something at a critical part, the client’s going to ask you, “Hey, Michael, can you design and deliver a three-day leadership training?” If you start examining options around the leadership training, you’re only going to be able to extract value as it relates to leadership training and you’re going to get position in the mind of that client as a leadership trainer, and you will be positioned as a pair of hands. If you, in the partnership setup process, can transition the conversation away from the methodology that the client is asking you to deliver to the business objectives at hand – what is the business performance gaps that need to be resolved and you get position as the partner to help solve the business performance gaps – that’s where you need to do it.

It’s at your partnership setup. I have ten steps that go along with my partnership setup but if there’s one thing that you can do to extract more value it’s to flip that conversation. It’s kind of like when you’re playing air hockey. Your client is the one and they have the puck and they’re going back and forth and back and forth. What you can do in that partnership setup conversation is where you take your little – what do they call the little mallet – you take it and you put it on top of the puck and you stop the conversation and you start leading it, so you can transition the conversation where they say, “Oh, we really want you to deliver this great speech for us,” or whatever they might ask you. If you could stop the conversation, so, “That sounds like a really great idea. I’d love to hear more about it but before we get there what I’d love to find out from you is why do you want to have something like this? What are the business performance gaps that you’re trying solve?”

If you can get them to articulate what’s the desired state, what’s the current state, what’s the gap and to qualify that gap and quantify the gap, and then from there you now are the partner against resolving the gap. It’s going to be what allows you to do everything else. You’re not a pair of hands and you’re not a surrogate leader. You’re a consultant who’s there to increase leadership and organizational capacity. If you could remember that rule and remember that the client suggested solution, in my experience, they’re never right, not once.

Mike Zipursky: It’s interesting. I mean, this is great stuff. This is gold right now what you’re sharing so thank you. I think you’re talking about how clients – and I’ve seen this time and again – where clients often talk in kind of deliverables and products. They just say, “I want this,” but they haven’t really given thought to why they want it. What you’re suggesting, if I’m correct here, is that consultants should really, when a client says, “I want you to create a website for me,” or, “I want you to give a talk,” or, “I want an ad in this publication,” or whatever it might be, you’re suggesting that the consultants say, “Okay, let’s just take a minute here. Tell me more about why do you want that,” and connecting it really to the goals of the business and the overall objectives and the metrics to really dig in so you can see what’s going on and then potentially propose other projects or other routes you can take and that’s where obviously you’re saying as well that you can quantify and qualify in there to better understand what the value of each of those additional services or projects might be to the client.

That’s one way to extract more value or to charge more because then you’re charging for additional projects and building out going from what might just be one workshop to several workshops or several assessments or surveys or other things you might do for that client.

Betsy Jordyn: Kind of yes and a little bit no. I don’t want to sell a bunch of workshops because I don’t know if the workshop is actually the solution. I’m there to solve the problem. I’m not there to implement a solution that the client has identified, so giving the client the benefit of the doubt is that they’re very close to the business and they probably skipped the understanding of the why. It’s kind of like when my kids were little they got sick all the time and I took them to the doctor and I got to a point where it’s like, “Okay, you got an ear infection.” I’d go in and say, “Doctor, I want a Z-pack,” and the doctor will look at me kind of funny and say, “Well, what do you know about ear infections and how the body works? We don’t know because it could be bacterial, it could be viral and I’m not going to give you a Z-pack just because you asked for it.”

The doctor wasn’t there to sell me 12 Z-packs instead of one Z-pack. What the doctor wants to do is get the earache not to feel better but the infection – or whatever was causing the earache – to go away. As a consultant, you have to get into a mindset is, “I know more about how organizations function than my client does. They know more about their business and their industry but I have process expertise around. I know how all these pieces come together and this may or may not be the solution so I’m going to suspend any attachment to their recommended solution and I’m going to find out what’s going on in the organization because I want to make sure that my consulting expertise is relevant, is timely and has fit with this particular client system, because if I can’t satisfy those three conditions – and I didn’t make this up. I learned those three from a training I did at Disney a long, long time ago – but if I can’t ensure that my expertise is relevant to the situation at hand, which is why I always sell an assessment first, is I want to make sure it’s that.

I want to make sure that the solution that I might recommend is timely and that there’s a readiness of the client to do something and then there’s fit, meaning, my philosophical beliefs match theirs and they’ll procreate the conditions for me to do my great work. If I have to have all three of those conditions set in order for me to guarantee my results and guarantee any outcome, and if I can feel confident that this workshop – let’s say I am a trainer and I want to do a workshop about, let’s say it’s not really a training issue. We all know training is often necessary, rarely sufficient but it’s a go-to strategy for most leaders to say, “Okay, I want to fix an organizational problem. I want to do training.” It’s unethical to me in my mind to go in and just deliver a training until I know that the reason why these people are performing is there’s a knowledge and skill gap.

If there’s not a knowledge and skill gap, if it’s a performance management system misalignment, if there’s a lack of performance expectations or there’s a misalignment with compensation, if there’s no time to do whatever is required, if there’s conflicting performance measures or all those other things that go into performance, I need to know that. Training always solves a knowledge and skill gap. It doesn’t do anything else.

Mike Zipursky: So this is really where the assessment, you’re saying, you sell the assessment in the beginning because a lot of these questions would be answered as a result of that assessment and then based on what you see in the assessment, then you can decide what’s the best way to move forward.

Betsy Jordyn: Absolutely, and you think about the assessment, that’s high value. But I’ll take the other that’s high value when you said that – I forgot how you phrased it, the one nugget or the …

Mike Zipursky: The action bite.

Betsy Jordyn: The action bite. The action bite is by helping the client articulate the business performance gaps you have added more value than 99% of the consultants that are there. By helping them think this through and attached that this is the problem they want to solve and articulate it, frame it for them, you are adding humongous value from the get-go, and so you’re already being seen as a valuable strategic partner, not an implementer. I’ve had clients who have come back to me over and over again that they would say during the proposal process I’ve added more value than any consultant has ever done and it’s not because of what I say. It’s because of the questions I ask and what I draw out of them from the get-go.

Mike Zipursky: You said sell an assessment, so to clarify for people listening, this is not a free assessment that you’re doing. This is something that the client actually pays for.

Betsy Jordyn: Yeah, because that’s my expertise. To me, now I’m starting to realize that this is – as I’ve gone through my own personal branding, this is my highest value that I’m going to provide. I’ve gotten enough feedback from clients. Helping them frame up the problem is half the battle. I just went through one assessment, which [inaudible 0:26:27] not too long ago. We just hit the assessment part out of the ballpark and they got to the end and the president looked at me and said, “This is the best HROD thing I’ve ever been a part of, the best consulting thing we’ve ever been a part of.” It’s because I really do diligence on how I framed up my information and I think that that, again, when I say where I think the value is is that somehow it’s in framing the understanding of the issues and the solutions in a way that the client can understand and take action on it. That’s what they get the most value.

To me, if you’re going to do anything, it’s to stop that puck in your hockey game and start leading the conversation in a way that’s going to extract value out of the client for their sake. They are confused. My clients would tell me all the time what they love about me is I pull all the hundreds of pieces of thoughts out of their head and organize it, store it in a way that makes sense and so usually by the time I get to a proposal, the proposal feels like such a relief to them because I’ve already framed all those thousands of things that they’ve been carrying around in their head and they see it. The way that I do a proposal, I do my proposal a little different. I use Power Point on it now and they love it, love it, because it’s a deliverable in addition to a proposal so the closing part becomes super easy at that point.

Mike Zipursky: Right. The assessment that you provide, is that before you’ve delivered the proposal?

Betsy Jordyn: No.

Mike Zipursky: Okay, so that comes afterwards. You’re selling the assessment in the proposal.

Betsy Jordyn: Yeah, but I’m selling a lot of variety. There’s just a lot of things that I’m offering that’s still customized. I don’t sell anything off the shelf. I will look and see, “Well, what does the client need?” It might be a stakeholder assessment. It might be a stakeholder assessment plus the qualitative research project. It might be a stakeholder plus qualitative plus quantitative. It might be a little bit more like that. I have a preference for qualitative research so I’ll always have that part in there. That’s my contract so that even in itself that doubles whatever revenue you would have had because that’s two contracts. I always get two contracts at least.

I don’t always get the third and I can explain that in a different interview, and some of it is in, there’s a good reason why.

Mike Zipursky: Okay. Well, this is great stuff, Betsy. If there’s someone listening to us right now and they’re thinking they also want to get into organizational development consulting, what piece of advice would you offer them? Is there one or two big ones around skills that they should have or steps that they should take that they can start right away?

Betsy Jordyn: From my perspective, the most important thing is at the wiring. If you have the right wiring, I think the people who excel in organizational development have a certain wiring around, they can simplify the complex, they can pinpoint root causes to organizational challenges or any other challenges, they can encourage and advise and they’re just wired in a certain way. You kind of take the X factor and then you add in just training. I would rather go with a mentor and somebody who’s been there before who can help translate the theoretical. A lot of OD consultants and a lot of OD training out there are very theoretical, and where my consultants institute, I’m trying to bring them both together.

You have OD consulting which I love. It’s very theoretical and very focused on the higher purpose of what we’re all about but it’s really hard for us to translate it to make sense at that client’s point of departure, so you have like that end and then you have the opposite end with the business development side where there’s a lot of consultants who are much more business-focused on creating the business and they don’t have the good theory, the good grounding, they don’t have the wise, they don’t have systems thinking, and they don’t have some of that and you kind of bring it both together so it depends.

If you want to be an internal consultant as an OD consultant, I would probably give you a different set but I think the first steps first is one, make sure you’re wired – and I have some assessments I can give you that would help on that one – but then the second is get a mentor who can help you translate the theory into practical techniques that you can use with your clients. That’s one of the things I would say is probably lessons learned from not doing it the right way, with me and my entire OD team. I mean, at some point we would drive our executives crazy when we were new at Disney because we were so theoretical and, you know, they would just laze over. One of my more rambunctious client systems literally tied up one of my colleagues in a work session because he was driving him so crazy because he was so focused on process.

Mike Zipursky: Right. Well, Betsy, thank you so much for sharing that. I really do appreciate all of the insights that you shared with our community here. Again, thank you so much.

Betsy Jordyn: Thank you for including me and I look forward to spending more time with you all.

  • Artem Management Associates

    great interview – insightful comments – thanks for sharing.

  • Joanne Dolezal

    Betsy and Michael, thank you so much for this interview. Your perspective on consulting really resonated with me, particularly the points about first tier and second tier gifts, and focusing/charging for the situation analysis.

    You are SO right about the 1st tier/2nd tier gifts ‘thing’ and thinking that what comes easily to you, comes easily to everyone and therefore has less value. It does require a lot of self-knowledge, though, and working with a business coach or mentor to draw those skills out is really sound.

    I was also struck by your decision to charge for ‘analysis’ as this is something I haven’t charged for, preferring to charge for the ‘solution’. You have pitched it beautifully, though, and giving the proposal as a presentation is a great way to give the client a deliverable.

    A really inciteful and helpful interview and I’m off to completely review my current practives. Joanne Dolezal http://www.dolezalconsulting.com

    • Joanne – welcome to the community and thanks for your thoughtful comment!

  • TEGrant Consulting

    Awesome interview with great advice and guidance! I have listened to it three times.