The New Normal Part II: There is Nothing “New” or “Normal” About the “New Normal.”

In our series on the “New Normal,”  Beecher Reagan takes a searching look at how the COVID crisis has accelerated and amplified digital transformation in the consulting industry.  We offer the best in perspectives from our partners and clients on the challenges we face and how consulting firms can pivot to prepare for the opportunities ahead.  

I am not missing the irony of my statement; as our three-part series portends to discuss the “New Normal,” I am telling you that there is absolutely nothing “new” or “normal” about it.  Still, the phrase, although quickly becoming cliché, serves as an anchor for the important conversations we need to have about how COVID-19 is changing, and will continue to change the way we work, live, and do business now and in the future.

Today’s challenges are nothing “new.”  

In the first installation of our “New Normal” series, we talked about the accelerated transition to a hybrid model in the consulting industry.  But the only thing really “new” here is the exponential pace at which digital transformation has been ushered in.

From a client service perspective, the traditional model of consulting has long been faced with the challenge of gaps in specific functional or industry expertise. This created opportunities for additional pro services firms to source experts in these scenarios.  Over time, this has evolved to provide swing capacity for consulting firms who did not have the bandwidth or were “sold out” for the year.  Over the past several years, we have seen the traditional model and this new version of the gig economy continue to evolve in harmony.

So, it comes as no surprise that as COVID-19 shakes down, we’ll see a consulting model much heavier in independent versus full time talent, at least below the partner/principal level.  A large part of this will be domain expertise for rent and on demand, with only C-Suite employees engaged in a traditional full-time consulting role.  Firms have already been anticipating this pivot; positioning themselves to take advantage of opportunities to become more agile and nimble by transforming to this model.

“Companies are viewing this time as an opportunity to ‘variablize’ their workforce.”

Catalant Technologies is bearing witness to this shift. Catalant CEO Pat Pettiti tells us that companies are viewing this time as an opportunity to “variablize” their workforce, while at the same time many people are now finding themselves thriving in an environment where they can better control how and when they work.

“Because many of our clients recognized they needed to lose full time headcount, and knew they’d need those people back but didn’t know when, we’ve focused on setting up partnerships where our clients could send those who lost their jobs to Catalant.” Says Pettiti. “Our clients’ talent now has the opportunity to find new project work, while at the same time, clients can re-engage talent the moment they need it.”

Troubles for the talent pipeline?

The traditional model is changing, and if we can take a cue from Catalant, it seems to be a “win-win” in many respects. Companies can more efficiently deploy their capital and consultants can enjoy the benefits of rewarding work without sacrificing their quality of life. But what happens to the talent pipeline in this scenario?

For as long as most of us can remember, consulting firms had impressive campus recruiting teams assembled at the top universities to attract the best talent to their respective firms.  The successful candidates joined as summer associates, gained quite a bit of business acumen and “hopefully” were offered roles as full-time associates.  Then, they were off on their journey to become senior members of the firm. To that equation, we can add a lot of work and time invested in mentoring, challenging, and developing leaders from a place of potential to a seat at the table.

With the move to a hybrid model heavily dependent on independent and on-demand talent, the obvious question is: ‘how do you develop your next cadre of leaders?’. If you are not capturing them off campus or early in their careers, they miss the crucial input of time; time that is essential for becoming ingrained with the firm’s values and understanding the nuances of client-facing interactions only learned from a long tenure of apprenticeship. As the talent pipeline begins to flounder, firms will increasingly look to supplement their leadership ranks from the outside. And with the supply of outside talent already strained, competition in the war for talent will soar.

Moving beyond the “New Normal” to “What Next?”

At its heart, consulting and its people are anything but “normal.” We are about insight, innovation, transformation, and growth. So, our response to today’s challenges should and will be anything but normal.  Already, I am encouraged to see and hear how well our clients and industry are adapting to these times.

We know that a hybrid model is here to stay. And as leaks in the talent pipeline begin to surface, the war for talent will intensify. Those who find the right balance of incorporating hybrid model efficiencies along with ensuring a pipeline of leadership talent for the future will stand in contrast to their less prepared counterparts. If their counterparts are standing at all. So, it is time to move beyond our discussion of the “New Normal” and instead, ask “what next?”

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