The 4 biggest mistakes holding consultants back in their careers

31 May 2018

Why do some people fly up the career ladder, while others stand still for years? What separates the top performers in consulting from the also-rans? And – most importantly – how can consultants make sure they get what they want from your career? These are questions that Nick Synnott has sought answers to in his new podcast, Climb in Consulting – a podcast created by consultants, for consultants.

In Climb in Consulting, Nick interviews leaders from across the industry so that consultants can learn from their stories and experience, and hear what lessons these leaders have learned. After just a few interviews, a number of common themes emerged from these interviews. asked Nick to share the four big mistakes that consultants typically make and how avoiding these can help rapidly accelerate any consulting career.

Mistake #1: Lack of Emotional Intelligence

“Lack of Emotional Intelligence is the most frequently cited factor in what separates the best consultants from the rest. Leaders such as Minesh Jobanputra (Deltra Group), Matt Cheung (Clarasys) and Dom Moorhouse (Moorhouse) all agree that this is a key skill for consultants looking to climb in the industry. It’s impossible to overstate how important emotional intelligence is in almost all aspects of consulting: from evaluating and managing the expectations of your lead client, to managing change in an organisation, to working effectively as part of a delivery team.

Nick Synnott, Host - Climb In Consulting

Thankfully, these leaders also agree that emotional intelligence is a skill that you can learn if you put your mind to it! Check out Climb in Consulting Episode 9 for some great books that will help you do this including ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ by Dale Carnegie and ‘Influence’ by Robert Cialdini.”

Mistake #2: Being short sighted with your career

“Consulting is a long-term career path, and you’re not going to make it to the top overnight. As Simon Dennis (Gate One) and Olly Purnell (Q5) both discussed in their interviews, those consultants that think of their career not as a sprint to an end goal, but as a journey, are the ones who will succeed.

Often career planning for consultants boils down to how quickly you’re going to progress through a series of small promotions. The advice from those who’ve made it is to do the opposite and focus on the end goal, not the short term promotion points. You need to focus on your longer-term career plan and what you need to achieve it: the skills and capabilities you want to develop, the industries you’re interested in, and the people you want to work with. Consultants who do this are the ones who build solid foundations to succeed in the long run. Those who don’t often get burnt out from chasing promotion after promotion.”

Mistake #3: Perfectionism

“This is something we’ve all been guilty of at one point or another. As consultants, most of us have high standards and are willing to work hard to achieve them. But this can go too far: for example, we can spend days perfecting a slide deck only to hand it to the Partner who proceeds to rip it apart. This just results in wasted time and effort on everyone’s part.

Getting the balance right between high standards and perfectionism was a key differentiator highlighted by Matt Cheung of Clarasys.

Cheung advises that you check in early and regularly with your project lead or client to ensure that your deliverable is going in the right direction, and to seek out any input and feedback they may have. This allows you to course-correct quickly if you’re on the wrong track, and will lead to a much better end product in less time – a great way to stand out!”

Quote Nick Synnott, Climb In Consulting

Mistake #4: Focusing on the what, not the why

“With long hours and demanding clients, it’s easy to get stuck in to a project and focus only on what you need to deliver, and not why you’re doing it, or how it’s helping your client or your firm’s wider objectives.

As highlighted by Mohamed Mansour formally of Baringa Partners, this is not a problem when you’re just starting out but will really hold you back as you climb the consulting career ladder. If you’re only focused on what’s in front of you, you’re missing the wider client and industry perspective, and you’ll ultimately be less effective as a consultant because of this.

Mansour advises taking time to ‘think laterally’ and consider the broader client and industry implications of the project you’re working on. Ask yourself: why are we doing this? What is the end goal? And how will that help the client achieve their objectives?

Doing this will give you a greater insight in your client’s motivations and strategy, and how you and your team can best support them. It might even help you identify alternative solutions that you and your team can implement, or new ways to add value to your client to help them achieve their objectives.”

For more advice from leaders in the consulting industry, check out Climb in Consulting on iTunes and Android.


Accenture's push into the creative sector is an identity crisis

18 April 2019

In its latest push into the creative sector, Accenture Interactive acquired New York and London-based ad agency Droga5 earlier this month, adding illustrious clients such as HBO, Amazon and The New York Times to its roster of clients. With the latest in a long line of similar purchases, Accenture Interactive further demonstrated its ambition of becoming the globe’s leading trusted advisor to chief marketing officers. Yet according to Ben Langdon, Chairman of Class35, Accenture’s strategy may be heading in the wrong direction.

A press release on Accenture’s website announcing the acquisition sits next to a quote stating that “brands aren’t built through advertising” – a huge contradiction from a consultancy firm hell-bent on becoming the ‘CMO agency of choice’. It’s not alone of course. The entire consulting industry wants a piece of the creative pie right now. In addition to Accenture Interactive, recent acquisitions by PwC Digital, IBM iX, and Deloitte Digital meant that in 2017, for the first time ever, four of the world’s ten largest creative agencies were consultancies.

So just what it is that Accenture wants to achieve from this? For one thing, it’s clearly trying to be a digital transformation business. A one-stop creative shop rivalling more traditional models, it wants to lure CMOs in with the promise of lower ad spend and a “more impactful customer experience”. At the same time, though, it’s still in thrall to those same slinky, shiny branding and advertising agencies it’s attempting to disrupt. The Droga5 acquisition and that of Karmarama a few years before are both testament to this.

There’s a fundamental problem with this, though. Digital transformation businesses don’t sell to CMOs. These people have enough on their plates trying to transform their own marketing skills in order to keep up with an ever-changing market – they just don’t have the time or the energy to concern themselves with digitally transforming a whole business. If Accenture’s purpose is digital transformation, then going after creative agencies is barking up the wrong tree.Is Accenture's push into the creative sector an identity crisis?

Worlds apart

Perhaps more importantly, these two industries are worlds apart in terms of the way they think. Creative agencies are all about ideas, campaigns and consumers. Digital businesses, on the other hand, are customer-driven – they think in terms such as lifetime value, measurement, and efficiency. Customer-led thinking is an entirely different beast to consumer-led thinking.

The reality is that the arrival of digital and an all-encompassing obsession with technology, measurement and social has led to the death of agencies in a reductive, zero-sum, efficiency-focused battle with brands. Indeed, agencies have become so obsessed with the latest tech fads, they’re beginning to forget how brands work. Worse still, they’re beginning to forget how brands are built. And, by forgetting, they’re destroying their own values.

Killing creativity

All things considered, it really feels to me as though Accenture is a chip leader in a game it doesn’t understand. Expensive acquisitions like these show that they’ve got the big money, but they don’t appear to have any idea what they’re doing with it. Take talent, for example. The best talent in the creative industry right now is out in the market; it’s not tied to any one agency. Both agencies might well be at the top of their game, but why would a consulting firm waste so much money on buying them when they could hire high-quality creative talent on a contingent basis instead?

As their presence in the top 10 creative agencies shows, there is a growing trend in which Accenture, like many of the other big players, are buying up agencies as if they were nothing more than keywords. What they’re really buying, though, is a collection of credentials, clients and IP. Unfortunately, the talent that created those credentials aren’t going to stay at the business, the clients that hired the agency in the first place won’t be interested in buying what is basically just another part of Accenture, and the IP never really existed to begin with.

Droga5, for example, was one of the few agencies that did great brand work the old-fashioned way – undoubtedly something that made it attractive to Accenture in the first place. The irony, though, is that by leading it further away from the way of working that made it so special, the consulting giant will kill its creativity.

“Accenture Interactive has been dazzled by its ambitions to become the CMO agency of record…. But, in flashing its cash, it is spending millions on acquiring nothing of any value.”

If pressed, the recently acquired agency staff at Accenture will tell you just how dysfunctional the new arrangement is. They’re largely unfulfilled. Rarely do they feel their work has any sort of meaning or purpose. What’s more, the different disciplines have found little or no common ground, and find it hard to work together as a cohesive whole. It’s not surprising, then, to see talented people leaving in droves.

Beyond the window dressing 

It’s clear, then, that consulting firms and creative agencies are no easy bedfellows. But in his company’s defence, Accenture Interactive’s Senior Managing Director for North America, Glen Hartman, described its culture as being “far, far away from what a stereotypical consulting firm would look like. Our office and studios look a lot like Droga5’s.”

In demonstrating a belief that office design equates to workplace culture, this statement serves as an illustration of how confused Accenture is right now. It wants to justify its new strategy so badly, it’s started dressing like a creative agency. But if you look beyond the window dressing and see that you and your partners are speaking a different language with a different purpose, selling to different people in a different market, there’s no getting away from the fact that you’re different.

Accenture Interactive has been dazzled by its ambitions to become the CMO agency of record, and it wants to dazzle others with its new direction. But, in flashing its cash, it is spending millions on acquiring nothing of any value.

Related: Space between consulting firms and creative agencies is converging.