A follow-up to a previous post on the evolution of management consulting.
By Maureen McKenna CMC and Lyn McDonell CMC
Thomas Friedman calls this “an age of dizzying acceleration” in his recent book Thanks for Being Late - An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Acceleration. To adapt, management consulting must and will evolve -- how we work, what we offer, and how we relate to each other across disciplines for a holistic perspective and to access resources. If other industries are any guide, we will be retooling, learning new skills, and networking to collaborate and transform our value propositions. Our mission is to help our clients thrive in the new emerging world. A 2015 a Deloitte report, Age of Disruption - Are Canadian Firms Prepared, stated “A massive impact is unavoidable. The way Canadians live and work is about to change profoundly. Rapid advances in technology are poised to disrupt many of the sectors that anchor Canada’s economy, and our businesses aren’t prepared for it.”
CMC-Ontario conducted a member survey in February 2017. 25 consultants gave us input on a number of topics and we’re still mining their great insights. In the survey, we had asked about the classical phases of consulting: entry/learning, diagnosis, action planning, implementation and termination. Does our methodology need update in this Age of Disruption?
Here is some of what these consultants told us:
A holistic understanding of the client in an uncertain complex environment requires broader knowledge, tools and processes
- Issues don’t exist in isolation – within the organization or even externally. The initial learning and diagnosis pieces need this approach, and a systemic view with analysis of complex forces.
- We should be promoting not just an action plan to develop solutions, but also the anti-thesis, or worst case scenario.
- The model is essentially solid but the tools under them have significantly changed and are evolving. People need to have broader skills to be more successful.
- Greater recognition that our client organizations are part of wider ecosystems and thus greater opportunities for leveraging relationships external to the organization. A consultant must do more to map the stakeholders’ environment so the frame is right.
The pressure is on: an accelerated process and more iterative
- Flexibility and the ability to adapt to a given problem or situation are what makes us successful.
- It has always been difficult to do these phases sequentially as people are impatient and budgets are tight. However, try to follow the sequence and avoid early solutions.
- The answer may be different than originally planned and with room for optimization, i.e. fail fast. Work to understand the issue as always -- then propose a way to fix it. Implement the proposal in a trial group and refine the plan. Rinse and repeat until the desired level of perfection is achieved. Then roll the plan out across the organization / target audience.
- The process is largely the same but it all has to be done more quickly.
- Each step incorporates new questions and demands greater innovation and creativity.
- Sometimes the initial direction is not sufficient; the initial diagnosis may not hit the mark. You may have to perform more learning, and provide further or refined action plans.
- Need to work faster, iterative cycles, show value-based results through initial quick wins.
Clients expect results (and help with implementation)
- Clients expect consultants to take responsibility for the success of their solutions, be accountable for results.
- Clients in the private sector don't pay for diagnosis. They pay for a solution.
- Helping clients implement effectively is a greater requirement compared with previous years.
Greater client engagement and co-creation
- Things have changed. There is a co-creating aspect to a client engagement. The classical framework feels to me about “what we do for or to clients” vs what I am. We build clients’ knowledge and competence (and in certain aspects work our way out of our jobs).
- The entry and initial learning is often the most difficult phase.
- The client is the only expert of their system.
- It’s not about knowing more than the client – they have answers. It’s about having the skills to organize, articulate and apply the answer in a digestible way.
Speed. Flexibility. Learning by doing. Optimization. Emphasis on implementation (and demonstrating results early). Heightened client engagement and ownership. Multi-disciplinary knowledge.
In the 2013 HBR article titled Consulting on the Cusp of Disruption, Clayton Christensen, Dina Wang, Derek van Bever challenged the consulting status quo. Reflecting upon what has happened in the legal industry, they predicted that disruption is inevitable in our industry: “If our long study of disruption has led us to any universal conclusion, it is that every industry will eventually face it. The leaders of the legal services industry would once have held that the franchise of the top firms was virtually unassailable, enshrined in practice and tradition—and, in many countries, in law. And yet disruption of these firms is undeniably under way.”
This survey made us stop to pause and reflect. Thomas Friedman in the same book above states this. “When there is a shift in the pace of change in so many realms at once, as we're now experiencing, it is easy to get overwhelmed by it all. In such a time, opting to pause and reflect, rather than panic or withdraw, is a necessity. It is not a luxury or a distraction - it is a way to increase the odds that you'll better understand, and engage productively with, the world around you.”
What is the world is calling us to be and do as management consultants? Let us know what you think here.
Just over half of all respondents to our previous 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.