The Emergence of a Fresh Approach to Consultancy

The Emergence of a Fresh Approach to Consultancy

Maybe it was because one morning recently I looked in the mirror and realised my beard was as white as Santa Clause’. Or maybe it was because the business I founded had reached the point of launching its own technology platform. Whatever the reason, I found myself engaging in a little retrospection. I delved back into the mists of time to consider my career.

Finding myself in 1984, I reflected that it was back then I trained in HR and L&D consultancy, along with some OD.  After being stunned by thought of the impossibly long number of years between now and then, I reflected on the conversation I had with the young Oxford academic I met recently.  He’s the director of a project asking questions about leadership development.  The subject of our conversation was ‘evaluation systems’.  He was seeking to answer the very same questions I’d been asking back in 1984.  

The conversation with the young academic reminded me of a book on my bookshelves by John R Mattox, Mark von Buren and Jean Martin.  They tell the reader they wrote their first book on evaluation systems a year earlier, in 1983 and that up to its publication in 2016, around 80 books had been published in the USA alone.  Yet the strange thing is (I muse on this often), that the main model for Learning and Development delivery and evaluation developed by Donald Kirkpatrick and publish in 1956.  I do wonder if we are in fact, learning?  

Continuing my reflections, I connect my thinking to experiences in consulting and my own research.  I think of the member of the university vice-chancellor’s team, who has lightweight and poorly researched books on organisational development on their bookshelves. I think of the countless students from GCSE level Business Studies to MBA programmes being ‘taught’ theories as if they are fact. I think about the conventions in practise being presented as immutable truths and I think about the woman recently who led a training session on the DISC personality profiling without a grain of insight as to its origins, but instead presented it as dogmatic belief.

It is the uncritical acceptance of consulting practise that has been my particular concern in the latest season of my career, I suppose characterised by the circling round to address the same old questions.  I guess none of this is helped by a consulting sector populated by a business stock made up of 85% single-handed businesses, 13% smallish businesses and 2% large consultancies.  Of course, I know how useful an associate model can be to build capacity and to draw upon specialist skills.  So also, many successful consultancies in the sector deploy a brokerage model, fielding work to single-handed businesses.  It’s just that the sector continues to be predominantly populated and influenced by the 85% single-handed businesses. At least it is dominated in this way on the supply side.  On the demand side – clients and potential clients – there are increasing calls to evidence outcomes from consultancy and return on investment and to provide digital forms of engagement that are often not accessible to the single-handed consultancy.  I’ve been arguing these increasing demand side requirements for the thick end of a decade.  In fact, as early as 2013 I first spoke and wrote about what I predicted would be a tsunami of change that would radically affect the consulting sector.  Little did I know I was using the wrong metaphor but describing the correct effect. We all know the Covid pandemic has radically changed the market, in terms of expectations of delivery.

If there is any good news, then it is that the consulting sector overall has only seen on dip in demand since the post-war years with a general upward trend of between 4 and 10% annually.  It seems reasonable to suppose this trend might continue.  However, it is also reasonable to suppose that the method of delivery will need to change with evidencing return on investment through evaluation and impact assessment being high on the list of market requirements, together with increased digital delivery.

In my own business, we’ve responded to emerging market demand with a product that has been developed to address five principles within what many describe as the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ (4iR).  I realise some are cynical about that term.  Whether or not people are right to be cynical, I think it is critical the five principles are taken seriously.  Since, taking market demands and the impact of the Covid pandemic into account, it is nigh-on certain that these five principles will drive the development of consultancy service delivery through 2021 and beyond.  In fact, I argue that we will see the emergence of fresh approaches to consultancy that will have, what I describe as ‘productised services’ at their heart.  We will see a permanent reduction in face-to-face (and virtual) consulting and an increase in off-the-shelf packages of support bought on-line and perhaps blended with face-to-face/virtual support.  This will be supported by evidence-based reporting that, in turn informs data-driven AI.

I have been responsible for conceiving of and developing first the SPICE Framework itself and latterly the SPICE Tools as a precise and targeted response to the changing market we all operate within.  The SPICE Tools have been gathered together in scalable and affordable bundles allowing consultants to access and use a digital platform to support their business and their clients.  Click this link to find out more about the bundles of SPICE Tools and how you can access them. – As an additional benefit to consultants, we are more than delighted to give 20% commission on sales of bundles of SPICE Tools to your clients.

Written by Michael Croft

April 20, 2021