Why IDB is Not So Smart…

Business Link is built around a proposition called IDB.  Inform, Diagnose and Broker.

Providing access to information, diagnosing problems, and brokering in people who can provide relevant specialist help.

As well as facing some tricky practical problems (making brokerage effective and impartial being just one) there are more significant problems with this approach.  It focuses on problems and weaknesses and assumes that these can best be managed by introducing the owner manager, or the management team, to an external consultant with specialist knowhow.

In spite of some very practical problems in making this work (has anyone got a brokerage platform that really works yet, or a methodology for diagnosing that is used consistently, objectively and effectively by all brokers?); the main problem is the occasional failure to get to the nub of the issue –  the make up of the entrepreneurial team and the managerial imbalance that, more often than not, is the root cause of the problem.

If a business is struggling with some aspect of its development, this is a clue that there maybe a weakness in the management team in that area.  It maybe a lack of knowledge.  Or a lack of passion for the specific activity.  It maybe that the knowledge and passion was never present in the management team (we don’t do enough to help entrepreneurs build a robust management team before they start up).  Or it may have just been lost over time as one, or more,  of the management team becomes complacent or jaded.   More often than not the underlying problem is in the current competence and passion of the owner manager or management team.  But this gets overlooked in our rush to broker in a solution.

A specialist is brokered in and the problem addressed.  Temporarily.  Often with limited success.


Because of the nature of the underlying problem.  There is no-one in the management team who really cares about this aspect of the business who has the passion and the tenacity to implement the recommendations of the specialists.  Giving marketing advice to someone who is not passionate about marketing is unlikely to lead to a roaring success.

The client often does not need brokering to a supplier of a one-off specialist solution.  They need to be helped to confront the structural weaknesses in their management team that allowed the problem to arise or the opportunity to slip by.


  1. Andy Bagley says:

    Hi Mike, yes I agree. It’s the problem characterised by that old joke:
    – How many management consultants does it take to change a light bulb?
    – Just one, but the light bulb really has to want to change!

  2. Hi Mike,

    In the South West we do have a methodology for diagnosing that is used consistently, objectively and effectively by all the business advisers. I believe it is also use by a number of other Business Links around the country.

    One of the key parts of the diagnostic is to look at the entrepreneurial style of the management team.
    It is very much recognised that the success or failure of a business is often driven by the management team recognising that they are the limiters to success. No amount of consultants and implementation or new software etc will fix the issues with in a company unless there is a recognition of this factor and a willingness to change on the part of the management.

    Holding a mirror up to a company’s management team is no easy task! Getting them to change is even harder.

    So whilst IDB is the mainstay of the Business Link service. Brokerage is not always the the prescribed outcome and when it is we try to broker in at least 3 potential suppliers.

    It is client choice whether or not they take our advice but the advice is given after conducting a proper diagnostic so as to unearth the real underlying issues not necessarily the issues presented by the client.

    Also we are not always dealing with companies that have problems. A lot of the companies I am working with at the moment are growiing and are seeking advice on how to manage the growth or how to tap into new markets especially using the web.


    Vince McConville
    Business Adviser
    Business Link Cornwall,Devon,Somerset.

    • Cheers Vince. Good stuff.

      Glad that you have cracked it in the South West. Consistent, effective and objective diagnosis leading to action plans that get implemented has been a bit of a holy grail for years. Now that it is sorted down there I will look forward to it spreading!

      So in effect it is I, D and sometimes B?

      The medical model of business support is based on false assumptions I would argue:

      1) the client lacks information that we ‘the expert’ can give them – this causes problems in the power dynamic of the ‘helping relationship’ – and in most cases the client has way more information about their context than they will EVER tell us.
      2) we can diagnose (and prescribe/broker) effectively – usually not the case. In this medicalised model the client is usually very guarded about what they tell us – especially if they are in pursuit of funding or investment.

      I am not sure where ‘advice’ fits in the IDB model. Is it that we advise them to accept our diagnosis/prescription?

      If we really want to help clients to make change I would contend that we need to listen much more and inform much less. We should help them to think through their options and how they can meet them – rather than us diagnose and prescribe. Time and again I see ‘prescriptions’ being taken by clients but not implemented.

      How much time do you get to do a ‘proper diagnostic’ on a client? Do you have sufficient time to build an honest and open relationship?

      Take the IDB concept, add it to ‘Solutions for Business’ and we have a medicalised model of business support that provide a potentially dangerous and certainly limited metaphor on which to base out work with clients. Throw in the strapline – ‘funded by government’ and we have whipped up a perfect entrepreneurial storm.

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