Betsy Jordyn is the founder of Accelera Consulting Group. She is an organizational development and strategy consultant who previously worked with Walt Disney World. Her clients also include JCPenney, United Airlines, Hilton Vacations, and many others. In this episode, Betsy shares the benefits of identifying and narrowing in on a specialized area of expertise, her advice on how to efficiently take control of client requests in order to deliver a more valuable assessment, and how to determine if organizational development consulting is the right fit for you.
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Consultants can increase their value by identifying and focusing on natural strengths and limiting their specialized area of expertise.
From Zero to $300,000 in 18 Months — An Interview with Organizational Development Consultant Betsy Jordyn
I’m happy to welcome Betsy Jordyn. She is the Founder of Accelera Consulting Group. She is an organizational development and strategy consultant that previously worked with Walt Disney World. Her clients also include JCPenney, United Airlines, Hilton Vacations and many others. Betsy, welcome.
Thank you, Michael. Nice to be here.
Betsy, you’ve worked with several high-profile companies that I mentioned. What exactly were you doing for them?
I do with companies the same thing across the board. As an organization development consultant, I help solve complex organizational problems while increasing leadership and organizational capacity. Basically, I help leaders and organizations get better.
What kinds of challenges? Let’s get a little bit more detailed for a second here. Can you give us some examples of issues that you’ve helped companies confront and overcome?
They all come with different presenting problems, but then it always seems to go through a similar process. For example, when you’re dealing with resorts and hospitality type of organizations, they might come either with an issue with guest service that the guest service scores are declining. They suspect something might be going on with the leaders. You might have smaller companies that are growing, and for them there they’re not as sophisticated with some of the internal systems, so they might be thinking they need to create the leadership team of the future, but they have absolutely no idea how. There are all kinds of issues that they might come to me with that are the starting point of some challenge and they don’t know exactly what was causing the challenge or how to get to the other end.
That’s interesting because we’re talking with 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. What you’re saying is that they might have some challenges confronting them, some people might think, “Why does a company like Walt Disney World or Hilton Vacations or any of these other large established companies, 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?
The healthier organizations are the ones that I enjoy the most that I can do my best work with. It is that they have that foundation of support. Their organization is healthy and they are very passionate about continuous improvement. Walt Disney World is a great example. It was a healthy organization, had a solid brand and 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 wanted to get better. 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 the time were aware that this wireless technology was coming in and completely could revolutionize the guest experience. I facilitated a series of sessions with the high-level executives and we called it the Wireless Technology where we were envisioning the future. What would it be like one day when people can make a reservation for a particular ride from home or they can check into their hotel from home. What’s so amazing to me in being a consultant at Disney is I see in the backend a lot of those ideas where the technology has finally caught up and they’re offering that. You can do a FastPass reservation from home and you could check into your hotel from home, and that started in 1999. Those companies envision great things and they’re the ones I like to work with, which is why I called my business Accelera. It is I like to take an existing fire and make them 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 leveraging somebody with my expertise to take them to the next level.
That makes a lot of 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 spawned your business. It was a project that was part of your master’s program. You were proposing something and someone in your program or it was within your own company, gave you the reins to move forward and that spawned a part of your business.
One of the things that I loved about my start in OD, which I got lucky, is I started off in this field when I was getting my masters and I had that opportunity to have a class and then apply it, class and apply it. How I got into OD is my first class in school was I had to submit a functional marketing presentation where I had to say what kind of HR Department would I like to start, and I wanted to start an OD Department. I sent it to the VP of HR at my company and they said, “Go ahead and start it,” and that’s how I got my start in OD. I’ve been blessed with having a lot of mentoring and that’s given me a vision. Now that I’m on the backend of being in this career for a long time. I see that a lot of people don’t have that opportunity to have the exposure to the what’s, the why’s, and the how’s you do this work. I’m in the process now of trying to replicate in some ways the things that allowed me to get mastery quickly by putting together Consultant’s Institute. I’m putting together some online tools and training and trying to mirror what was given to me at the important part of my career so I can 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.
The other piece to that is at that time you were working in some ways as a consultant within an organization, but when you started or decided to go out on your own, how was that transition for you?
The good thing for me is I had wide toolbox, but what I didn’t have was business development. What I’ve found is that there’re a lot of people who 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 where I didn’t have to find a lot of clients. Because I had a wide toolbox, I could take one client and expand the value. From launching my business, I literally went from zero to $300,000 a year within eighteen 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. I love the business development side though so that’s been a kick for me to learn. That’s probably been the fun part for me. 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 as you go out there and a lot of companies aren’t as sophisticated as Walt Disney World. 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 twenty years ago. 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 get work that can enable me to keep growing.
We talked about that in those early days as an independent consultant, you made one mistake or a challenge that 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? Do you feel that it’s important that consultants narrow in on an area of specialization?
The first challenge I was mentioning was trying to find love of the type of work that I thought was complex enough. It’s absolutely essential that we figure out what we’re best at versus what we’re second tier at. Especially when you go out on your own, we all struggle with the 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, “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 then this is the type of work I like to do,” it becomes so much easier. I’m starting to work with a new client that I got a couple of weeks ago and the sales process literally went two weeks long. It was in for a six-figure deal, which is amazing from initial contact to closure. 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, and I’m not shameless in my promotion. I’m authentically genuine because I know what I’m best at and I can say, “This is what I do.” 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’s not my favorite. I’d rather be right in my sweet spot.
Did you always feel that way or did you have a fear or a concern earlier on that when business came your way that 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 it’ll help you to get better at something, but inside you were feeling that wasn’t the right fit and that that wasn’t the area that you should be specializing in or taking work on?
I struggle with the same thing that everybody else does. It’s easier for us to feel comfortable in our second tier gifts rather than our first tier gifts. Because our first tier gifts come so naturally to us that we almost feel apologetic about asking money for that because it’s so natural. 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. The way that it plays out for me in terms of consulting is in my assessment and in my strategic facilitation and 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 excel but it comes so naturally to me that it was hard for me to recognize that my framing is worth something and in fact it’s worth quite a bit and it’s more valuable. The last deal that I closed, I shared a whole project cycle. This was 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 going to do a solution here and then we’re going to evaluate and measure it. I put a box around the first couple of things, the stakeholder management and assessment. I said, “I’m going to contract with you for here and then we’ll talk about the rest later.” Because I can do the rest that it feels like, “Why would I walk away from all that money? Of course, I’m already involved there.”
They always look at me and say, “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 front end.” “I’m staying here and then we’ll talk about what’s next” and this is where my vision of this Consultant’s Institute is. I’m hoping that I’m going to get to know a lot of consultants and what they’re great at. Then when I get to the end of the part that I love, I can hand it off and say, “I’ve got these five people who are much better. Here’s your executive coach and this person is absolutely world class. Here’s the trainer that needs to deliver the training. Here’s the project manager that needs to oversee all the work streams. 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 end.
Betsy, the point you’re making here about finding what you’re good and you’re calling it the first tier and second tier, but a lot of people are going to be thinking, “That makes a lot of sense and I understand that and I can appreciate it,” but how do people find what they’re good at? How do they find that first tier gift, as you call it? Do you have any thoughts around how people can discover that within themselves?
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. Pay attention to compliments. Every single time you get a compliment, stop and listen to it and digest it and think “What was it?” If you’re tempted to shrug it off, that’s your clue that you’re hitting on something significant. That would be more in your daily life, pay very close attention to take your self awareness up to another level. When you’re doing something that makes you happy, that you would do for free, that’s the stuff that you’re in your first tier, so it’s some of the Marcus Buckingham stuff, to become self-aware. One thing that was great about Disney is it was so large that all of the staff groups were all very specialized. All the departments were very specialized. When I got to Disney, I had done career development, organization development and training and development. All three were as part of my purview, that department that I started in my former job. At Disney, it was so big and so I had to pick. When I was interviewing, “Do I want to go the performance consultant route or do I want to go the organization development route?” and I had to pick. I was forced into “I want to go this path or that path?” I chose the organization development path because it was always my closest fit. It’s like if you have to take all your services and if you only 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 it would look like to specialize. When you specialize, what happens is that people can quickly pick out who you are with a particular problem and can see you as part of a team. When I’m putting a team together on the backend, I do bring in a lot of subcontractors and it’s because I take my Disney background because I’m thinking, “Who’s my world-class trainer?” I don’t want necessarily my trainer/consultant/this/that. I want to know who’s the best at that and then I want to know who is my best coach and who’s my best person in all these different areas. If you have your services and if you have twelve different things that you say, “I offer all these different things in every single part of a project,” I would say “If you had to pick one that you are going to make money of, which would it be?”
I wanted to get into the 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 where you’re able to go and work with clients and expand. I’m hoping that you can give us some ideas of what they need do so that they can extract more value from their client projects.
The one action bite I would give is do not say yes to the very first thing that they’re asking you. Sell an assessment. If you’re going to switch something at a critical part, client is going to ask you, “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 positioned in the mind of that client as a leadership trainer. 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 are the business performance gaps that are needed to be resolved?” and you get positioned as the partner to help solve the business performance gaps, that’s where you need to do it. 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 flip that conversation. It’s like when you’re playing air hockey. Your client is the one and they have got 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 mallet and you put it on top of the puck. You stop the conversation and you start leading it. You can transition the conversation where they say, “We really want you to deliver this great speech for us,” or whatever they might ask. If you could stop the conversation and say “That sounds like a 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 to 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 and quantify the gap, then from there, you now are the partner against resolving the gap. It is 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 can remember that role and remember that the client’s suggested solution in my experience, they’re never right, not once.
This is gold what you’re sharing. Thank you. I’ve seen this time and again where clients often talk in deliverables and products. They say, “I want this,” but they haven’t given thought to why they want it. What you’re suggesting, if I’m correct here, is 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, “Let’s take a minute here. Tell me more about why do you want that,” and connecting it to the goals of the business and the overall objectives and the metrics to dig in so you can see what’s going on. Then potentially propose other projects or other roles that you can take. That’s where 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 be one workshop to several workshops or several assessments or surveys or other things that you might do for that client.
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 the solution. I’m there to solve the problem. I’m not there to implement a solution that the client has identified. Give the client the benefit of the doubt. They’re very close to the business so they probably skipped the understanding of the why. It’s like when my kids were little, they got sick all the time, and I took them to the doctor. I got to a point where it’s like, “You got an ear infection.” I’d go in and say “Doctor, I want a Z-Pak,” and the doctor will look at me funny and say, “What do you know about ear infections and how the body works? We don’t know because it can be bacterial, it can be viral, and I’m not going to give you a Z-Pak because you asked for it.” The doctor wasn’t there to sell me twelve Z-Paks instead of one Z-Pak. 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 of “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. I know how all these pieces come together. This may or may not be the solution, so I’m going to suspend any attachment to their recommended solution. I’m going to find out what’s going on in the organization because I want to make sure that my expertise is relevant, it’s timely and has fit with this particular client system.” I didn’t make this up; I learned those three from a training I did at Disney a long, long time ago. If I can’t ensure that my expertise is relevant to the situation at hand, which is why I always sell an assessment first, it’s that I want to make sure that the solution that I might recommend is timely and that there’s readiness of the client to do something and then there’s fit. Meaning, my philosophical belief matches theirs, and they’ll procreate the conditions for me to do my great work. I have to have all three of those conditions set in order for me to guarantee my results and guarantee any outcome.
Let’s say I am a trainer and I want to do a workshop, let’s say it’s not a training issue. We all know training is often necessary, rarely sufficient, but it’s a go-to strategy for most leaders to say, “I want to fix an organizational problem. I’ll do training.” It’s unethical to me in my mind to go in and deliver 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 is a misalignment with compensation; if there’s no time to do whatever is required; if there’re conflicting performance measures or all those other things that go into performance, I need to know that. Training only solves a knowledge and skill gap. It doesn’t do anything else.
You’re saying that you sell the assessment at the beginning because a lot of these questions would be answered as a result of that assessment. Then based on what you see in the assessment, then you can decide what’s the best way to move forward.
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 out there. By helping them think this through and attach that this is the problem they want to solve and articulate it and frame it for them, you are adding humongous value from the get-go. 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 would say during the proposal process that I’ve added more value than any consultant has ever done. It’s not because of what I say, it’s because of the questions I ask and what I draw out of them that they get from the get-go.
You said sell an assessment, so to clarify, this is not a free assessment that you’re doing. This is something that the client pays for.
Yes, because that’s my expertise. I’m starting to realize, as I’ve gone through my own personal branding, this is my highest value. The feedback from clients is helping them frame up the problem is half the battle. I went through one assessment with AAA not too long ago and we hit the assessment part out of the ballpark. They got to the end and the president looked at me and said, “This is the best HR OD thing I’ve ever been a part of, the best consulting thing I’ve ever been a part of.” It’s because I did the due diligence on how I framed up my information. That is where the value is, it’s somehow 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. 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 will 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 and sort it in a way that makes sense. 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. I do my proposal a little different. I use PowerPoint a lot and they love it because it’s a deliverable in addition to a proposal, so the closing part becomes super easy at that point.
The assessment that you provide comes afterwards. Are you selling the assessment in the proposal?
Yeah, but I’m selling a lot of variety. There’re a lot of things that I’m offering that is still customized. I don’t sell anything off the shelf. I will look and see what the client needs. It might be a stakeholder assessment. It might be stakeholder assessment plus a qualitative research project. It might be stakeholder plus qualitative plus quantitative. I have a preference for qualitative research, so I always have that part in there, but that’s my first contract. Even in itself, it doubles whatever revenue you would have had because that’s two contracts. I always get two contracts at least, but I don’t always get a third.
If someone also wants 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 they should take that they can start right away?
From my perspective, the most important thing is that the wiring. People who excel in an organization development have a certain wiring that they can simplify the complex, they can pinpoint where it causes the organizational challenges or any other challenges. They can encourage and advise and they’re wired in a certain way. You take the X factor and then you add in 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. At my Consultant’s Institute, I’m trying to bring them both together. You have OD consulting, which I love but it’s very theoretical and very focused on the higher purpose of what we’re all about. It’s hard for us to translate it to make sense at the client’s point of departure, so you have like that end. 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 whys. They don’t have systems thinking and they don’t have some of that and you bring them 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 the first steps first is one, make sure you’re wired. I have some assessments I can give you that would help on that one. 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 that are probably lessons learned from not doing it the right way. With me and my entire OD team, at some point, we would drive our executives crazy when we’re new at Disney because we were so theoretical and they will just glaze 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.
Betsy, thank you so much for sharing that. I do appreciate all of the insights that you shared with our community here.
Thank you for including me. I look forward to spending more time with you all.
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