The Changing World of Management Consulting

By Lyn McDonell posted 03-30-2017 13:25


Last month, we surveyed CMC-Ontario members on a number of topics, including whether management consulting is evolving. It was a big question, but 25 consultants rose to the occasion. 

Here's what we learned:

  • More people are going into consulting
    • Some are leaving full time employment to pursue lifestyle flexibility
    • Many do not have the professional skills. There is an opportunity to expand the "management consultant" industry -- giving them the tools and methodologies to more effectively and consistently share their knowledge and expertise to help others solve problems
    • There are an Increasing number of management consultants competing for client work in a "red ocean".
    • It's becoming easier to become an "expert".
    • With the evolution towards a gig economy (away from traditional 9-to-5 employment), advisory is an evolving profession, and therefore there will be more "consultants" in the industry sharing valuable skills and experiences with others.
    • A major change is in the proportion of work that must be won through competitive bidding and proposal processes 

  • Differentiation is a challenge
    • Not everyone who hangs out a shingle is a management consultant. Management consultants are trained, experienced and ethically bound professionals. We base our advice in sound methodologies, analytical techniques and deliver with high levels of competency. These are core strengths of our profession.
    • The difference between "consultants" and true management consultants is the rigour and methodologies that management consultants use.
    • No market awareness of difference between a consultant and someone who is a management consultant. Some sense that management consulting is aimed a slightly higher market - services to management - but this is not well understood.
    • Other and new designations are competing in the space. Market is being fragmented into certifications and evolving specializations.

  • Client needs and expectations are changing
    • There's a lot more interest in engaging consultants in the implementation process, whether that be at the strategy end or the operational improvement end.
    • Clients are far more knowledgeable about many aspects of the consulting body of knowledge : frameworks, tools, work processes. So, prospective clients are looking for new approaches (blue ocean) at less cost (consulting as a commodity service).
    • Increasing numbers seek 'DIY' solutions through internal employees.
    • Companies want to manage their fixed costs and are relying on consultants (and contractors) to do project or one-off jobs
    • SMEs want answers to the same questions as large enterprises, at a reasonable cost
    • Demonstrating value-add is increasingly challenging
    • The business is becoming increasingly more specialized.
    • Many firms have moved to specialized niches - e.g. software implementation versus general counsel and support to management
  •  The Profession is evolving
    • There are some things that remain the same: one member looked up this definition: Management consulting is the practice of helping organizations to improve their performance, operating primarily through the analysis of existing organizational problems and the development of plans for improvement. The CMC-Canada site itself lists Finance, HR, Marketing, Operations, Strategic Planning and Operations (with between 16 and 54 topics under each) as the functional areas of management consulting.
    • In the 21st Century, we are moving away from an 'expert' model. Fewer people are looking for someone to come in and tell them what to do (at least in areas I work in - OD, facilitation etc). Organizations in many situations want to develop internal resources.
    • At one end we're generating specialists (like the medical profession did decades ago – expert consultants) and, at the other, producing process consultants focusing on facilitating models.
    • In the same way that information technology is transforming work, it is transforming consulting, again giving rise to challenges for the consultant in keeping up.
    • It may be evolving but needs to be relevant to survive
    • 'What is the world calling, for those of us who are in this field, to do to help them get through this age of acceleration of technology and shift in jobs as Artificial Intelligence begins to rapidly change the workplace?”
    • With disruptions coming from all points around us, management consultants need to be nimble, analytical and active listeners.
    • It is (or should be) evolving. Our understanding of concepts evolves (customer, client, stakeholder, interested party), and the legal/political environment changes rapidly and radically. To keep evolving, there needs to be a way to be recognized as a "general specialist" who can understand and explain actions in a broad setting - not just as a specialist in a small area of expertise
    • Management consulting will be affected by the digitization of information and the Internet of Things.

Just over half of all respondents to our survey self-identified as independent consultants; 32% identified as working for a boutique consulting firm of 10 people or less; and 4% for each identified as being in firms of 11-75 people, Canadian firms of 76 or more people, generally in a Canadian or international firm, and retired.

Thank you to those who participated in this survey. There is more to come from the insights we gleaned, which we'll share next month. 

About the Author

Lyn McDonell CAE, C. Dir. CMC is the President of The Accountability Group, Inc., President of Institute of Certified Management Consultants of Ontario and Chair of CPA Canada's Not-for-Profit Committee of the Risk Oversight and Governance Board. Lyn is a Chartered Director, a Certified Association Executive, and a Certified Management Consultant. Lyn works with boards and senior teams of-not-for-profit organizations across all sectors helping them advance governance and create viable strategies.