Looking from the Outside In

March 5, 2016By Industry Intuition, Views

by Dave Wendland, as seen in HealthCare Distributor magazine, Out of the Box column

January/February 2016

You have to go back to the 16th century to uncover the expression, "You can’t see the forest for the trees." It was first coined in 1546 by an Englishman named John Heywood. Little did he know that the expression would live on for centuries after his death and become more relevant than ever in this fast-changing healthcare landscape. The intent of this proverb was to describe those too close to a situation without the ability to step back to gain a little perspective. When you finally do step back, you’ll notice there is a whole forest that couldn’t be seen before because you were simply too close to the situation — focusing only on the trees.

Painting on an Open Canvas

To step back and gain a new point of view, I suggest looking at an operation "outside in." Prior to joining Hamacher Resource Group in 1992, I spent four years in San Diego doing just that. I primarily worked with companies busily trying to grow "inside-out" and nearly always beginning with the problem. They contracted with me to avoid simply fixing their pain to make the company better in the short-term and focus instead on the future.

An "outside-in" process begins and ends with the customer in mind and with an open canvas to imagine the possibilities (guess that’s why my favorite word is imagine). The decision to try a different perspective is most often initiated in response to strategic needs that exist outside the company or market conditions and/or trends that are leading to dramatic change.

When looking for this outside viewpoint, firms often pay large sums of money to big name consulting enterprises which may not have deep-rooted experience in an industry or, worse, may know nothing about it at all. Part of the decision to use such a consultancy comes from the panache associated with large consulting practices and the belief that such engagements will surely produce immeasurable results — while satisfying shareholders.

On the other hand, some firms elect to work with more laser-focused consultants who have a deep understanding of a particular industry or a specific area of expertise. Such was the case with my San Diego firm where I was recognized for my expertise in brand development and retail marketing.

Establishing Success Factors

In either case, the "outside-in" philosophy follows a very similar path with carefully-established ground rules. They include: 1) establishing specific goals/expectations; 2) confirming management’s permission to break old habits and approaches; 3) a commitment to courage and open-mindedness throughout the process; 4) transparency to all information and facts; and 5) inclusion of consultants in the implementation process.

Once the decision is made to look at an operation from a different vantage point, it is vitally important to allow critical examination of current practices and identification of potential future paths. It can be a frightening endeavor — I recall numerous engagements where clients were ready to throw in the towel and admit defeat because revelations about their business were difficult to accept. However, for those that trusted the process and allowed it to come to fruition, the results were illuminating.

There are countless success stories recounting the benefits of outsourcing: increased profitability, improved flexibility, better resource alignment, business expansion, and the ability to add additional customer value. Whether enlisting the help of a large firm or working with a smaller, more-focused team, I believe current market conditions in the healthcare supply chain make it an ideal time for an "outside-in" approach.