Chart a Course Out of the Recession

In the current economy, companies and governmental organizations are more scrupulous concerning the costs and use of outside consultants. While this news is hardly shocking, it contains a larger truth worthy of our attention: that business or management consultants have a duty—not just to themselves, but also to their clients—to chart a strategic course out of this global recession. Until such a blueprint emerges, the ongoing series of PowerPoint presentations and internal memos will hardly suffice as an action plan.

As such, business consultants will continue to be less of a proactive and more of reactionary force. And, while this summons to action may not immediately draw the attention of some of the larger consulting brands, those groups are no more immune to economic change than the rest of us. For it is almost an immutable law of economics that financial uncertainty will force clients to reevaluate the contributions of all outside vendors, starting with a review of the services consulting firms provide. This fact also has special importance for mid-market companies—those businesses with 1,500 to 15,000 employees— where discretionary dollars are scarcer than before.

For companies of this size, business consultants can offer valuable insight. But that assistance must transcend the cautious sort of analysis that easily dissolves into corporate jargon and pointless presentations. Translation: as consultants, we need to make an argument—a strong one—that directs clients toward an environment that is free of today’s negative headlines or dependent on conventional or outdated wisdom; we must offer our clients—and they must hold us accountable—for an innovative strategy that identifies current challenges, and defines a path out of this (or their) economic mess.

These points may be difficult for some consulting brands to accept—and I do not write these words to goad others to attack—but these suggestions are a necessary first step to helping our clients. Indeed, with almost double-digit unemployment and the specter of inflation on the near horizon, we need to serve in a trusted advisory role; we must be vital leaders and key influencers who discard diplomatic blather for action, the kind of wisdom that only comes with experience and success. We are—and must continue to be—advisors, who drive business excellence throughout our clients’ organizations.

Achieving these goals for our clients does not require revolutionary change or radical ideology. If anything, our suggestions are practical and obvious. Which raises another point: there is not—and there should never be—some elusive, magical plan that is the exclusive property of consultants. The steps we endorse are the result of common sense, not complex theories, and we embrace these recommendations because they are successful.

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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

To begin with, the ‘one-to-many’ consulting model that many firms currently use must end. Instead, advisory firms need to perform greater due diligence so they can offer recommendations that are customer-centric, affordable, and successful. These plans must also support clients during any phase of a company’s evolution, including growth, stabilization or downsizing.

Additionally, advisory firms must become business partners with their clients, and move away from a purely consultative model, which may be distant and restrictive. The ultimate goal is not to sell a service, but to define and deliver long-term success. This mission can only be accomplished when we work beside our clients to understand their culture and requirements, which allows for the customization of a strategic plan.

By implementing this new model, we not only provide our clients with the necessary support to thrive through any phase of an operational life cycle; we also move away from the perceived role of acting as mere “consultants,” and accept our proper responsibility as partners and trusted advisers. This framework is flexible and effective, something every client deserves.