At the core of management consulting, is the need to always know more than your client about a changing technology and industry landscape, underpinned by market conditions and workforce shifts. This inherent expectation from clients hasn’t changed, but in the last five years, the client priorities, and market conditions have necessitated the kind of agility that keeps management consultants relevant.
In 2006/2007 if you asked clients what their priorities were, undoubtedly, the words consolidation and outsourcing would have been used, to describe where the business was going.
During the recession of 2008/2009 and early 2010, client priorities were on cost cutting and staff cuts, or at best, a hold on new hires. More conservative spend and prioritising of investment, if any at all.
In 2011, our clients are telling us that they are focused on growth, retention and investment prioritisation. Sustainable, manageable, and a significantly more risk averse growth. Driven by a need to be more conservative than the dot.com boom in preparation for the potential of a double dip, clients are asking their consulting partners to re-think the way in which they work.
Five years ago, projects would have been won, by in large, on the basis of an individual relationship, established over a period of time. Today, project decisions are made at a group level or increasingly as a tender process. This shift, driven out of a need to demonstrate good corporate governance, has lengthened the buying cycle and shortened the delivery cycle.
For the client, it means consistency of process, but for the consulting firms, it becomes a matter of ensuring that the consultants are consistently utilised and where a project decision takes longer than anticipated to come to fruition, it affects the composition of the delivery team.
In the past, projects would have been briefed in to run over a period of three to five years, with significant financial investment. Today, work is scoped on a project-by-project basis, with clients expecting to see a faster return on their investment in the form of tangible business benefits.
Pre-recession contracts would have been run in relative autonomy, with the client handing over a project and checking in periodically to see if progress is being made. Today, clients are hands-on and increasingly insisting on more regular interaction with the project teams. In some instances, being part of the project team resourcing to ensure a cultural fit with the organisation and working style.
For management consultants, the need to remain relevant, agile and flexible is paramount. With a more hands-on client environment, the ability to fill multiple functions within a project team is a highly valued skill.
For consulting firms, the growing need to find balance between vastly experienced consultants and agile; flexible account managers and project implementers, who are able to consult ‘on their feet’ on a day-to-day basis, will be the difference between consistently winning projects with clients, or not.
Jaco Kotze, Ovations Group consultant