John Lunn on what the consulting industry needs in 2022

14 January 2022 Consultancy.uk 7 min. read
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With another year of rapid change on the cards, consultants will need to stay adaptable, compassionate and curious to thrive, according to Re_Set’s CEO. John Lunn explains what’s needed in the world of consultancy to meet the challenges of 2022.

“Consultancies will have to ask themselves some tough questions in 2022,” predicts John Lunn, the recently appointed CEO of Re_Set, as he considers the year ahead. “There is a bubble. Demand for consultancy has never been higher, as businesses totally rethink how they operate. But what will happen when that demand drops off?” 

The problem, as Lunn see it, is an overreliance on tech at the expense of people. “For a lot of consultancies, tech is at the heart of what they do, he says. “As such, I don’t think they have been as focused on their people as much as they should have. The result is proposals from everyone with no differentiating factor. Tech is tech, but it is the people that help you stand out. So, it will be fascinating to see if some of the bigger consultancies are fit for purpose as we move through 2022.” 

John Lunn, CEO, Re_Set

On this point, Lunn is confident about Re_Set’s prospects: “At our heart, we’re about sustainability, sustained disruption and a different approach to people,” he says. “Our culture is at the core of that, and that’s something bigger firms just can’t replicate.”  

The washing machine cycle of change  

So, what are the priorities of Re_Set for the year ahead? I’ve talked before about being in a washing machine cycle of change, and that’s not likely to change.” says Lunn. “It’s still our job to help enlightened leaders to pull out the things that are tumbling around and find solutions for them.” 

Lunn is particularly interested in the idea of technology as a force for good: “Our current technologies are not necessarily always positive,” he says. “The Facebooks and the Amazons have a dark side in terms of how our data is looked after and how their people are managed. But we know from our work with Springwise [the innovation company which Re_Set co-founder James Bidwell still chairs], that there is a tremendous opportunity for businesses to use technology in a way that empowers everyone.” 

Sustainability will be another key consideration for businesses this year. “In my lifetime I’ve seen the destruction of nature to a ridiculous extent,” says Lunn. “And I am not alone. I think a lot of businesses have realised how crucial it is for them to be doing something about it, but many do not know how to turn pledges into action.”  

A third aspect will be the rise of the purpose-driven business. Re_Set itself is a B-Corp and Lunn anticipates more organisations looking at how they make an impact on the world beyond simply delivering profit for shareholders. He points to a Financial Times article by Tom Peters on this topic, which he says sparked a “paradigm shift” in his thinking.  

Lunn read the piece shortly after his exit from Moorhouse as a Partner and it got him thinking: “What sort of business do I want to be involved with next? How can I make a positive difference?” he remembers. “Ultimately, these questions led me to Re_Set.”  

Sustainability for the right reasons

Lunn may be sold on the concept of a purpose-driven business, but are Re_Set’s clients? When it comes to sustainability, does he believe that organisations are genuinely interested, or are they just ticking a box? 

“Some executives are definitely getting it – and those are the ones who are coming to us to help make it happen,” he says. “Our work with Primark, in partnership with Sue Garrard, is a brilliant example of a leadership team that were on board and totally rethought their strategy around sustainability.” 

He is optimistic that an increasing number of leaders will follow suit. “There is so much evidence pointing to sustainability being the answer that businesses can’t ignore it. Customers are demanding it, investors are making it a key part of their strategies and regulations are compelling businesses,” he explains. “I'd like to think in 12 months’ time we’re seeing much more consistent acceptance and action.” 

Agility and action 

Notice how Lunn talks in terms of months, rather than years. In a post-pandemic world, does he think we have seen the end of the 10-year strategy? “There's no point. Even three years is too long,” he says. “There is so much volatility, so much disruption. That is why it is crucial for businesses to have a clarity of purpose, a clear vision around sustainability, a strong culture, and an agile business. When you have those elements in play, you have a fighting chance of dealing with the challenges we are facing.”  

But that’s not all. Lunn is keen to stress that businesses need to be ready to act on the strategy too. “At Re_Set, we’re always going to have a strategy capability,” he reassures. “We want to help organisations solve their most difficult challenges and move forwards. And we are good at it. For example, last year we worked with Ports of Jersey on an incredible sustainability strategy that will help the island meet their net zero goals and remain financially strong.” 

“However, we also offer action,” he adds. “Helping organisations to find exactly what they should do. It is not just about identifying the challenges, but it is about telling businesses exactly what changes they need to make to get them to where they need to be in the future.” 

Bright future 

Lunn is clearly excited about the possibilities for consultancy in 2022. “I love working in this industry,” he says. “I enjoy solving difficult problems and helping leaders to make a difference – not just to their business, but on the wider world. It is an immense privilege to walk into different organisations and see what goes on behind the scenes.” 

The fact that consultancy is a people business is what is important to him. “Whether that’s working in teams and discovering people’s strengths, or helping develop people's careers, it’s endlessly rewarding,” he says.  

So, what does he look for when hiring the next generation of consultants? “Curiosity,” he says immediately. “Of course, consultants need to have a high level of intelligence, knowledge, and EQ, but curiosity is what drives and brings it all together. In today’s world, there is no roadmap. We need people who are happy to figure out the best way to get to a solution.” 

Another quality he deems essential for a consultant is the ability to switch off. “The flip side of problem-solving for a living is that it can be hard to unplug,” he says. “It is easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day, but I have learnt later in life, how important it is to switch off mentally. You will never see me email at the weekends, for example, because I do not want to set that expectation for others.” 

When asked what the pandemic has taught him, Lunn is thoughtful. “It might sound clichéd, but there is something about just trying to be kind,” he says. “It is not just businesses facing stress and pressure – as people, we are experiencing the same. From Covid-19 restrictions to being shouted at by social media, it is easy to get very angry with the world and angry with other people. But I think we would all benefit from adopting a sort of Zen approach to the noise, where we try to rise above it. It is not a bad ambition for the year head – to be kind to ourselves and others, in a world which, right now, is a bit mad.”