If you have been a senior executive in the corporate circles for just a few years, you already know the truth about this great fight endemic in consulting circles.
Professional Consultants Are Trained In Logic
In one corner you have professional strategy consultants - people who join large consulting firms straight out of university. They are generally the highest scorers in some of the best universities on the earth and meet a psychographic profile of "insecure overachievers."
No amount of work is too much for them. Having little other corporate experience outside of their consulting jobs they take the senior partners' dictum as papal gospel and build the strong bulwark of most of the professional consulting firms.
They are trained rigorously in the crafts of consulting, and consultative selling. Drilled into the art of report writing, horizontal and vertical logics, industry research, company research, tearing apart the annual reports ten different ways and put them back together in twenty ways.
I still remember my consulting training and mentorship for the first two years was almost as difficult as my cadetship in the merchant marine - though the environment was not as hostile. That is why I remain grateful to my mentors and go out of my way to help them whenever they ask for it.
Professional consultants also learn how to build relationships and convert client problems into consulting projects. They learn how to spin a small consulting loss leader project into a mega profitable giant program which pays their firm almost as much as it benefits the client corporation.
In this environment, the consulting report is the end product, even through the promise to the client might be a business transformation. The expectation is that the process of preparing and presenting the final presentation would trigger or catalyse business transformation. Subsequent implementation projects frequently run off track because the implementation firms do not buy into the strategy.
Seasoned Executives Working As Consultants Rely Mainly On Intuition
In the other corner you have seasoned executives with decades of experience in corporate world. At some point in their careers they find the corporate politics too much, or decide to take a sabbatical in the consulting world and jump in to give the benefit of their experience and wisdom to the rest of their colleagues in their industry, or wider business world.
They know how to get the biggest bang for their buck - how to get the maximum results from minimum inputs. They know all the points of high leverage - places where effort yields the maximum results. They have seen it all before. They shoot from the hip, and either hit the target spot on and fall flat on their face.
Either way, they fail to build a large professional firm because they lack the sales training, and focus too much on delivery. Moreover, their wins only come when the situation in the client company is more or less similar to something they have encountered before. They lack the systematic problem solving ethos that professional strategy consultants drill into their consultants from day one.
Their reports come across a amateurish, and frequently horizontal and vertical logic is missing. Without that inbuild logic, their recommendations are mainly based in the intuition, and that is the reason why 50% of their business transformation projects are spectacular successes and the other 50% of their projects are spectacular failures.
Skills Sets Are Widely Different
Professional consultants lack industry knowledge and hands-on experience - that is why they can take an abstract view and think logically. On top of it they have extraordinary amount of extremely rigorous training in using logic to prepare their reports. They are slow to come up with the solutions, and will never uncover the best, or the complete solution to any problem - simply because they lack the knowledge of the black swan in the situation (the one thing that will change everything).
Seasoned executives generally lack the rigorous consulting training mentioned above - that is why they are likely to jump to conclusions based on scanty information. Depending on how good their intuition is, and how similar the situation is to something they have encountered in their past work experience, their win to loss ration is generally just past 50/50. They will either spot the black swan immediately, or mistake something else for one. In either case they will be very sure of their recommendations - because in corporates circles speed and confidence are overvalued.
Why Is This Information Useful?
Though primarily I write to clarify my thoughts on a topic, it has to be of some use for you to pay attention to it. Otherwise, what is the point of reading it, even if it based on 35 years of work experience.
IF you are employing a strategy consultant as an executive, use this information to equip them when a complementary team adept at implementation. Expect slow, methodical and deliberate thinking leading to surer results. Provide industry knowledge and training at regular intervals, while valuing their core strategic thinking skills.
If you are employing a seasoned executive at a consultant, test independently to make sure that the situation in your company has a close parallel to what the executive has handled before in their working lives. Even then, be prepared for quick, spectacular results - success or failure. Or, equip them with a team of trained logical thinkers who are adept at the craft of strategising, and were trained at one of the top-tier strategy firms.
Finally, whether you employ them as consultants, or executives, try and find individuals who combine the best of these two worlds. That combination may be rare, but it is extremely valuable.
When I embarked on writing this blogs, I thought I would get into several anecdotes and personalities that I have dealt with over the past 25 years of my consulting careers. I also thought that I would get into my consulting and supply chain skills frameworks delineating the skills for business transformation teams and business as usual teams. Those things will have to wait for other blogs - because this one already sounds like it is complete and ready for reading. Do write your thoughts in the comments below so I can take them into consideration in my next blogs on the topic.