Consulting: the changers need to change

TALK TO CONSULTANTS at the moment and they’ll give you a list of reasons as long as your arm to explain why the European consulting market isn’t growing: it’s the sovereign debt crisis, it’s political instability, it’s clients having no money, it’s clients having no idea, it’s the influence of procurement, it’s pressure on prices, it’s fear and uncertainty.

Talk to clients and one thing shines through above all else: it’s consultants.

Or rather it’s consulting firms. The surprising impression you get from speaking to clients is that – while these are self-evidently not the boom times of the recent past – the consulting market ought to be in pretty good shape. And even that it could be about to find itself in considerably better shape.

The potential for growth comes from a number of factors but chief among them is a client base which is redrawing the line between internal and external, between make and buy.

Many have a shortfall: they laid off staff during the last recession and, feeling as lean as they care to be, they’re now looking for growth. But the market makes them nervous and they’re reluctant to recruit more full-time staff for fear that it could all go wrong again, so they’re looking for people on a temporary basis.

If that can be the sort of highly-skilled people on offer from consulting firms, so much the better. But they need consulting firms to adapt, and most clients are fairly scathing about the ability of most firms to do so.

This isn’t just about staff augmentation though, and therein lies the rub. There are times when clients do, indeed, simply need extra capacity, but there are others when they want consultants to take control of their own teams, or even to train and motivate them – at which point cultural fit becomes a priority.

And, of course, there are times when they want them to come in and play the advisory role with which they’ve always been associated.

Many consulting firms are just about getting to grips with the idea that they need to be able to do two of those (advice and capacity) but most are failing to grasp the more complex reality of a world in which they need to be different things, at different times, to different people.

The changers, it would seem, need to change.

Edward Haigh is a director of Sourceforconsulting.com


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