The New Normal Part III: Consulting, This is Your Wake-Up Call 

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.  

For the last five months, we as a firm have been reflecting on the ways we can add the most value to help better understand not what our clients WANT to hear but what they NEED to hear.

I wholeheartedly believe that what sets us apart to our clients is that we are hyper personal.  We care about our clients. We take their successes and their failures personally.  So, I’m going to get personal with the advice I have to offer here.

I know we are all still trying to figure out this new way of working, and there is a lot of noise around all of us.  This noise presents as chaos if you don’t manage it properly. When chaos abounds, it is easy and even a little comforting to stay stuck in paralysis. However the consulting landscape is evolving at light speed. And the actions you take right now will define you as a leader or alternatively, cause you to lose that lead spot. So, it’s time to go one step further than the “New Normal” talk and start doing something about it.

What concrete action steps can we take right now to pivot and adapt to the certain changes facing the talent landscape?

Take an interest in and be transparent with your people. 

If you don’t already have a pulse on your people, then it’s time to triage. We are experiencing a fundamental shift in the talent profile. Those who may have considered halting their time in consulting because of the drains of travel are finding new incentive in the work-from-home hybrid model. This means less turnover…and more difficulty in recruiting top talent.  On the flip side, the lack of boundaries inherent to working from home will undoubtedly lead to burnout and may push others to cut ties with employers. These tugs and pulls will ultimately give way to a widening divide between the talent that is needed and that which is available.

In the second quarter of 2019 we were already seeing roughly four opportunities to one unit of supply. Firms that were already struggling to keep pace with the demand for top talent are now feeding fire to the flame.

It’s far easier to retain your star people than find new star talent. You need to be doing everything you can to hold on to your key talent right now. That’s why you must know what your people require the most and do everything you can to get it to them. Get in the trenches, open new lines of communication, talk to them and make sure they are getting what they need and more. And most importantly be transparent; what used to be called an open-door policy should now be an open video chat policy.  When your team needs advice or is stuck on a problem, make them feel 100% comfortable in picking up the phone and facetiming or Zooming you.

Start rethinking the apprenticeship model.

In our Part II article of this series, my colleague, John Wittorf, talked about the oncoming challenges to the talent pipeline. Developing a cadre of leadership requires time, apprenticeship, and experience; time learning the nuances of building relationship and rapport with clients. But what does apprenticeship look like in a hybrid model heavily dependent on virtual interaction versus on site collaboration?

There is a tremendous amount of art to manufacturing a world class consultancy. It’s a painstaking process, piecing the parts together one by one over time. Talent at some firms may look traditional and at others may look different. Every conversation between client meetings, before a call is made, the debrief after the deal is closed, is an important part of the process, ensuring that your team becomes not just ordinary, but extraordinary.

Now we’ve got to start thinking anew about what those moves will look like, when they will occur, and even if the vision of what your team should look like needs to change.  Art, science, manufacturing…whatever you want to call it, the model of apprenticeship is going to change, and we need to start thinking about what that looks like.

Prepare your lineup.

After every cyclical downturn, consulting has grown at a macro level; companies hesitant to hire back middle management look to consultants to fill the gap. Partnerships with existing clients are at a premium. Most clients reevaluate who they use on the upswing. But not every consultancy will come out a winner. The rebound will be like a hockey stick; you’ll need to have the right people positioned in the right place to accelerate hard out of the curve. Having the right leaders against the right accounts and the right capabilities in place to take advantage of that acceleration moment, will set the winners apart. Those who are prepared to lean in, do the work, and be radically transparent usually find an immense return on investment. Don’t waste any more time getting your lineup in place.

Your bottom line is on the line.

Investing in talent, when done right, always pays good dividends. Devoting effort into your talent will play a pivotal role in the days ahead. Everything is going to change and those who stay stuck in the talk of the “New Normal” will soon be left behind.

It’s time to stop talking and start taking action.

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