Getting value from consulting, an insider’s view

Over the course of a 30 year career, with time spent in industry (ten years at British Steel) and professional services (Deloitte and KPMG), Andy Williams has learned what makes businesses tick. A specialist in business transformation, primarily in operations but also in finance, Andy became a partner with KPMG in 2008. He then spent four years leading the firm’s consulting operations in the Asia-Pacific region.

It’s fair to say that Andy has seen the consultancy industry reinvent itself several times during his career. With those experiences in mind, he now gives his top advice points for any organisation looking to bring in some consultancy support.

#1: Partner with multiple consultancies

We always hear that businesses are more complex beasts nowadays so why assume that one consultancy has all the answers and can provide all the support you need? Ask yourself whether one consultancy, no matter how large, can really provide you with genuine expertise in everything from, say, accrual accounting right through to lean manufacturing?

I just don’t think that’s possible. The huge variety now present within most organisations’ consultancy requirements has diminished the feasibility of the one-stop-shop approach. Plus, the rise of the gig economy means there are loads more independents out there, allowing you to contract in expertise at a really competitive price. Make the most of this; employ a portfolio approach to your consultancy support, partner with the best ones available and get them to work together.

#2: Expect – and demand – insight

Senior consultants work with a lot of different companies – so ask them what they’re seeing. Test them out. Are they really observing these companies, listening to what their senior people are saying and gleaning knowledge from that? Or are they trotting out the same lines to everyone?

Think about it; what is a consultant supposed to do for you? On the most important core activities, I don’t think he or she should be leading on the delivery side. That needs to be done internally or it just won’t stick. The consultant’s role should be more on the support side – yet if they’re not bringing heavyweight senior insight to the table and helping you stay ahead of the game, then you’re not getting best value for money.

#3: Don’t under-estimate the value of chemistry

Chemistry matters. We can talk about technology and methodologies as being differentiators but are they really? Consultants move around from firm to firm so much nowadays that none of these supposed differentiators remain unique for too long. Rather, I think that the most successful consultancies – those whom none of us would be averse to partnering with – stand out because of their organisational culture and values and how easy they are to work with.

I know it sounds horribly non-corporate and unscientific but it comes down to basic likeability and personal chemistry. I think that we all want to work with people or companies who we can rely on to perform and behave in a way which goes above and beyond what is merely prescribed within a contract. In a procurement situation though, how do you even begin to assess likeability? That’s quite a challenge…

#4: Increase your graduate intake

Don’t simply use your consultants’ grads, who are sent your way with a hefty cost mark-up. Get your own. Build up your capability in certain critical areas, such as analysts or coders for example. But do this in a way which leaves you with a resource pool which is flexible enough to meet future requirements.

Having more smart graduates – with a whole range of critical skills – available to you all the time is a sensible way of facing up to changing business conditions. There’s a similarity to the earlier partnering point in that here’s a way of creating flexibility within your organisational model at an acceptable cost.

#5: Know what you want

Be 100% sure about what you want from any professional services firm you decide to work with. I believe that the best value will come from combined insight (yours and theirs) and by enabling a robust partnering model, within which all parties are committed to achieving the desired outcome. This also means ensuring that any transformation team includes people from your own company, not just a bunch of consultants.

However – more importantly than anything else here – you have to have a crystal clear picture of what it is you hope to achieve before entering into any consultancy agreement.