Why management consulting needs to be reinvented
As Nicolas Pinglot sees it, the management consulting sector needs to take a fresh look at its old habits and change three key things: resources, attitude and corporate culture. Read his article to learn more!
“Above all, don’t tell them you’re a consultant.” I’ll never forget this advice that I received from one of my clients a few years ago, as I was working a renowned firm on a difficult project. Those words ran through me like an electric shock. Had things really come to this? Had the discontent become so great that consulting itself was now being questioned? Had the very notion of a consultant become so problematic, so cast with suspicion? Clearly, something was wrong.
And this was nothing but rather a confirmation of what I’d been feeling for years – a vague sense that the traditional consulting model was failing and a major shift in perspective was necessary.
My opinion hasn’t changed. After 25 years in consulting, I’m certain that the old way of doing things no longer works and that the future belongs to firms that can change their approach on at least three levels: resources, attitude and corporate culture.
An effective model is first and foremost one that chooses the right people for the job.
This may seem obvious, but I’ve noticed that many problems arise from mismatches between a company’s needs and the profiles of the consultants assigned to them. What’s the right profile for a job?
First and foremost, someone whose seniority level fits the complexity and goals of the assignment. Too often, senior consultants at a firm involve themselves in a project only at the beginning and then pass it on to younger, less experienced staff. This leads to two unfortunate results: first, there can be a glaring difference between the level of expertise promised and the actual service delivered, and second, standard solutions are selected without regard for the context, and therefore often unsuitable, are mechanically applied.
The right consultant is someone whose skills match the need expressed by the client as closely as possible and uses an approach customized to the problems at hand. In their rush to minimise non-billable time , larger firms often try to mobilize 100% of their permanent staff… even when this means assigning unsuitable people to a job! Why not look for the right person outside the firm instead, for example in a community of freelancers? Offering the right skills at the right time requires a high degree of flexibility, responsiveness, and openness to external ecosystems!
Another crucial aspect is a consultant’s attitude.
We’re all familiar with the cliché of the super self-confident consultant in a suit who knows it all, showing their slides one by one without paying any attention to the reality of the company or the people around them. The bad news is many consultants still act like this.
I believe in another model – one where consultants listen and work closely with people, not just the top executives but also middle managers and their teams, and whose goal is to create meaning, add value and co-construct without trying to impose their own vision, yet also to challenge and question habits. I believe[AL3] in a more human-focused consultant who can reconcile the management’s strategic goals with the interests of the individuals in the firm.
In my view, the key is to adopt an attitude of humility and attentiveness. This doesn’t mean uniformly applying the same standards and templates everywhere, but instead offering customized solutions that fit the situation, context and strengths you’re dealing with.
Finally, management consulting firms must take a closer look at their corporate culture.
Traditionally, a career in management consulting practically guarantees you a number of promotions. You rise through the ranks, taking on more and more responsibility, receiving higher pay and becoming increasingly disconnected from operations. The operations at many firms are based on a rigidly hierarchical corporate culture, profit-seeking and power struggles. These things often undermine the work accomplished and stand in the way of a salary strategy that rewards the real value people create.
I think in the future the sector needs to develop a culture that is much more transparent and focused on the quality of the work performed, where bonuses will be distributed equally to the staff who generate new business among clients. As I see it, it’s important to reduce hierarchies and move toward more horizontal models to give staff the feeling that they belong, and not just to a company in the traditional sense but to a community. Times are changing – the new, and not so new, generations no longer believe in stuffy company rhetoric. They want to work at flexible firms that share their visions and values and don’t take away their freedom. A paradigm shift such as this will require consulting firms to take a good look at themselves and adopt new values from the top down.
The management consulting sector is a diverse and complex world made up of many different realities. I’ve worked in this environment for years and have developed my own vision. I don’t claim to know everything. I just want to open up new possibilities and help offer new models so we can reinvent what we do… and hopefully more often hear our clients say: “Above all, tell them you’re a consultant!”