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3 minute read

Shawn talks about Spinnaker landing at 160 on the Inc 5000 list

Aug 12, 2020

Written by: Shawn Sweeney

Earlier this year, I was chatting with a prospective client whose professional experience looked much like mine, and many of our consultants, before coming to Spinnaker: a senior VP from a fortune 500 financial institution who’s hired countless consultants to solve complex problems.

He recounted his experience working with the industry’s biggest consulting players and while some engagements had been positive, on the whole, he compared it to a circus elephant. The circus elephant requires lots of training time, and then when they’re gone, you spend almost as much time cleaning up their mess. 

We both laughed at his anecdote, but this all too familiar experience is what drove me to create Spinnaker.  I started with the intent to change the consulting paradigm.  I envisioned an environment where clients were excited to hire a consultant, where they felt confident in getting great results and landing in a better place than where they started.  I saw engagement teams who would relieve client stress and softened pain points, serving as a trusted advisor who could achieve greater success and faster results than the client organization could do on its own.  But beyond the clients, I also saw a place where consultants would be equally excited about the work, where they felt valued and driven to do their best every day. 

I didn’t think we would get there quickly, and granted we have a ways to go to change the paradigm, but 8 years in and sitting at the 160 spot on the Inc5000 list – a result of our 2,420% growth over the last 3 years – helps illustrate the solid traction we’ve made on this new consulting model. 

As you might imagine, growth like this requires great intent.  For our team members reading this piece, they’ll recognize that this intent is built into our DNA – not just as individuals, but also as an organization.  If I had to boil our success to date down to a few key attributes, I’d say it’s a function of our people, the long-term view we take on establishing client relationships and our commitment to clients to take care of the details, even the smallest ones.  It’s not rocket science, it’s just good business. 

The right team in place

I think we all know what it looks like to find star talent – people who are smart and have all the right answers.  But we’ve come to learn that talent can sometimes fall flat when it doesn’t align with an organization’s mission and values.  That alignment can be easy to overlook in the hiring process, especially when filling a niche role in a rapid growth environment. It’s a harder path – to invest the time to know what matters most in your organization and stay true to that knowledge – but if it’s a matter of that, or taking the chance of eroding our culture, I’d choose the former every time. 

Viewing success in years, not days

When we hire a new employee or enter into a new engagement, our leadership always reminds the team to keep the long-view in mind.  For us, that means going into each client interaction with an eye towards the long-term relationship. It means not thinking about today in isolation, with hours billed or worrying about a tense situation.  Instead, we’re focused on taking steps to fortify relationships for the long haul.   We do that by stepping outside the stated scope when a time-sensitive need arises or referring a client to an outside resource when the need is outside our wheelhouse. 

Taking care of the details

I’d argue that the last piece of our puzzle feels a little like table stakes for running a business, but based on the elephant circus, it’s sadly not the case.  While our engagement teams are constantly keeping an eye on the end-goal, we also emphasize the importance of taking care of the little things.  We want to be 100% on-the-money when it comes to following through on deliverables, on time and on budget.  But we also want to take care of little things, like scheduling meetings, to help relieve stress and make the experience as easy as possible.  When you do a lot of little things, consistently over a period of time, it adds up to a material differentiator. 

So, as we continue forward, I’m holding tight to our vision, to provide client organizations with experience-based consultants who like to roll up their sleeves to deliver meaningful results.  And given the ubiquity of the elephant circus, we’ll continue to widen our focus to new organizations and new industries.  We’ll use the elephant circus as our motivation, not for the sake of ourselves, but because most problems are imminently solvable with the right expertise, people and mindset.