WHEN times are good, they are very, very good for consultants. But when they are bad, they are horrid. As the economy stalled in 2009, the global consulting industry shrank by 9.1%. It was the worst year since at least 1982, according to Kennedy Information, an industry monitor.
Consulting is a diverse industry. Best known are the elite strategy consultancies such as McKinsey & Co, the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Bain. Firms such as AT Kearney, Booz & Company and Oliver Wyman do the same sort of work but are smaller. A second category comprises the consulting units of the Big Four accounting firms—PwC, Deloitte, KPMG and Ernst & Young.
The consultant's task is to provide advice to the client, rather than make decisions for the client. This involves judgement of what is best for the client. This judgement is exercised under conditions of uncertainty, given that the client would have little cause to engage the consultant under conditions of certainty.
For a number of years many companies have turned to the professional staffs of major management consulting firms when recruiting individuals to fill vacancies at the higher levels of management. The diversified experience of the consultant is viewed as an asset which lower-level managers in the company do no possess. Thus consultants, who may well have worked with the company in a client relationship, are often preferred to managers promoted from within.
The only way to figure out if the problem you have been given is the real problem is to dig deeper. Get facts. Ask questions. Poke Around. It usually does not take very long to figure out if you are heading down the right path, and the time you take up front will more than make up for itself in time you don't waste further down the line.
Consulting has a lot of positive qualities, but it's not for everyone. The people you'll work with in a consulting firm may be some of the smartest and hardest-working people you'll ever meet. You'l naturally compare yourself to them, set their level as your baseline, and push yourself to meet their standards. You may be performing on an extraordinary level for many months but believe that you're just clocking in at an average pace because the bar is so high.
On one engagement at one firm, consultants may work 8AM-8PM Monday to Thursday and 9-5 on Friday with spikes for deliverables. On another, they may travel on Monday and Thursday and work until midnight on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights. For some firms, consultants do most of their work at the client; for others, the team may only visit the client once a week.
Does consulting have a crisis of confidence?
After reviewing the results of our exclusive Best Firms to Work For and Best Small Firms to Work survey, it would appear so. One of the main findings of the survey is confidence levels fell in five of the six facets of employee satisfaction in 2011 as measured by Consulting magazine’s annual rankings
Consulting requires an enormous amount of faith. Faith in your own skills, faith in your team and your company, and ultimately faith in what your clients are trying to do. Fortunately, there are a number of firms that take their core values—their beliefs—seriously, and this can become a great source of faith. Indeed, one of the formative experiences of my first year in consulting was witnessing my firm stand by its commitment to a difficult client, even though it cost the firm a large amount of money.
Consulting begins and ends with clients: without them, you are just someone with an opinion. Clients are important for the obvious reasons, but they are also a wonderful source of feedback on your personal performance and your firm’s strategy.
Selling is a critical skill for those in professional services careers—more so with advancing career levels. Yet, most consultants are uncomfortable in selling situations and few consulting firms provide sales training that helps build this skill. Certain consultants identify themselves as effective salespeople over the course of a career, and they are the ones who seem to go the farthest.
The primary product is the intellectual capital of its consultants: quick and astute minds, proprietary business and organizational strategies, and an aptitude for managing relationships. Thus, the consulting product is actually a service that has an immensely valuable potential to bring about significant change. Because consultants are neither fortune-tellers nor magicians, they cannot guarantee a certain outcome from their work.