Evolving consultancy for a purpose-driven era

21 December 2021 Consultancy.uk 4 min. read
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The passing of another year is often a time for reflection and after another particularly tumultuous 12 months, David Royle believes there is a lot to learn from this time. The Chief Operating Officer and MD Financial Services Consulting at professional services firm SRM explains what lessons consultants can take from 2021, into the New Year and beyond.

For me, the passing of this year marks my first 12 months at SRM Europe and whilst my career in consultancy spans more than a quarter of a century and you might assume, therefore, it would have followed a certain consistency, albeit with differing employer names on the payslip, the past year has taught me that’s not the case.

On lists of the least-trusted professions in the world, management consultants may not fare as negatively as advertising executives, journalists and, of course, politicians, but we’re not far off. High cost/low value, lack of transparency, arrogance; these critiques have all been levelled at the consultancy sector and justifiably so in many instances.

Evolving consultancy for a purpose-driven era

More than once, I’ve heard the saying ‘give me your watch and I’ll show you the time’ used to describe our profession. I don’t doubt we can all recall witnessing examples of these instances, whether in other consultancies or, more embarrassingly, in our own. Things have changed. Gone are the days when a small niche of well-known management consultancies ruled the roost – and charged accordingly!

While a core focus continues to be on reducing cost, driving efficiencies, and realising greater value for our clients, it’s not often delivered in the context of a shared risk/reward model. Here at SRM, however, it absolutely is. Among our core values is integrity. Indeed, this sits at the heart of everything we do. Ethics. Honesty. Transparency. Impartiality. Accountability. These things matter. Why? Because we care about the people we work with and the transformation they seek.

To demonstrate this in action, we need to do things differently and that is why we typically adopt a contingent-fees model. Taking on an element of risk may appear perilous to the old guard of the consultancy world, but for us it’s grounded in the certainty that we’ve built an unrivalled arsenal of data, insight, and experience that allows us to deliver genuine value for our clients.

Good consultancy

To cite good consultancy and performance management terminology, it is about developing ‘goal congruence’ with our clients. Their success is our success and vice versa – this embodies what consultancy is all about. It is a partnership, working together to achieve the best possible outcomes.

It also avoids the ‘master and servant’ arrangement, whereby the consultancy is task-managed on a tight leash, constraining its potential and creativity. However, often it is hard for clients to embrace risk/reward models for fear of uncertainty and lack of specificity. It must make sense and we make sure it does. If we aren’t successful, it doesn’t cost anything; if we are, we share the rewards. This is the making of a long-term relationship and a key reason why our clients are clients for the long term. On average we have completed eight projects per client; our relationships endure, and our clients come back for more year after year.

Take, for example, our approach to vendor contract negotiations. This isn’t simply a case of reducing costs but delivering better value in respect of terms and enhanced offerings, thereby improving the overall experience for the customer and, in turn, their customers too. Anyone can haggle, but it takes deep-seated knowledge, proprietary data, and insight built over many years to affect worthwhile, meaningful change.

Then there’s our internal culture. All too often, a consultancy can be a breeding ground for a ‘dog eat dog’ culture. If you don’t have the sharp elbows that are necessary to compete, then you’re not going to survive and rise to the top. We’ve all witnessed the pyramid structures of some larger consultancies whereby the senior partner takes the credit for everyone else’s hard work. It can be quite brutal. Importantly though, it’s not what clients need or want.

Internal politics doesn’t work for clients, and I’m pleased to say that at SRM the team you see is the team you get. We are equally invested in achieving the best outcomes for our clients. Competing internally against our colleagues is unlikely to achieve that.   

In a world where we increasingly base our purchasing decisions on purpose-driven values, whether in our personal or professional lives, I believe this collaborative, ‘all in it together’ ethos is something special. And while I’m not sure my elbows have ever been particularly sharp in the quest to get ahead; if they have been, then the past year has certainly softened them. That’s got to be a good way to end the year in my eyes!