Five myths about working in management consulting

20 January 2014 Consultancy.uk

Working in management consultancy has for decades been eye marked as one of the favourite work-destinations for students and professionals. The sector is commonly associated with prestigious and high-impact assignments, high salaries, international travel and luxury treatment. But whether you heard these stories from friends, alumni or even consider the TV-serie House of Lies a source of truth, there’s a good chance you’ve been mislead. Sure, some myths hold an ounce of truth, but others are just plain fiction. Consultancy.uk presents an overview of the common myths consultants get asked about, and the truth about what it’s really like living the consultant life.

1. My Client, the CEO

Many people believe that management consultants exclusively work with the executive team and are buddy buddy with the CEOs of major organizations—meaning they’ve pretty much struck gold when it comes to industry contacts. While this can be true for select projects, or as you get more senior within the organization, this isn’t generally the reality for most of us. 

More often, you will be working with VP or manager-level clients on a day-to-day basis. Of course, this is not something to turn your nose up at! Even though they’re not in the C-suite, these contacts can still be incredible additions to your network. Plus, you can expect your clients today to become the executives of the future, so getting close to them now could really pay off down the road.

Business professionals having drinks on a private jet

2. Rock Star Living

Everyone has a picture of consultants who travel the world, take first-class flights, eat at five-star restaurants, and general live a pretty glamorous lifestyle, all on the firm’s expense. While this is in part true—you rack up a good deal of frequent flyer miles and do get nice steak dinners on occasion—there are some realities to add to this picture.

While you might imagine being whisked off to the W in New York or seeing major metropolises around the globe, you’ll more likely be sitting in a two-star hotel in a small town you’ve never heard of with a Big Mac being the closest thing you’ll get to steak in a 100-mile radius. Add the countless hours of Excel spreadsheet creation while squished into a middle seat on the plane and absurdly early morning flights—and you might not exactly feel like you spent the last week lounging by the pool. 

3. Burning the Midnight Oil

There’s a common belief that consultants work crazy hours—and might even get to see the sun rise twice before getting some shut-eye. Again, there is some truth to this: There are definitely projects that require a lot of extra hours in the office, but in my experience, you’ll usually get home before midnight, even on the most intense of projects.

One of the great things about consulting is that you change projects often, so even if you are working late hours, it will likely be short term and not the norm throughout your consulting career. Yes, consulting is a work-hard play-hard environment, but definitely not as bad as the myths allude to. 

4. Survival of the Fittest

Another common myth is that consulting firms are cutthroat and uber-competitive. While it is true that most firms adopt an “up or out” policy—meaning you either get promoted or you need to leave the company—and you will be surrounded by people who are just as ambitious and talented as you are, there is more to the story.

The truth is, “up or out” is not designed to get rid of good people; it is primarily a mechanism to ensure people don’t stay in the career if they are not a fit. If you produce high-quality work, work well in a team, and love consulting, then you don’t have much to fear. And, because your peers are as ambitious and talented as you are, you will find some really great friends who are eerily similar to you and who provide you with a support network to succeed. While each firm (and even each office location) has a unique culture, and some may have more tendencies to live up to this legend than others, it is more fiction than fact. 

5. Tell You the Time

A myth that you may face throughout your career is that consultants “Steal your watch and tell you the time”—meaning that consultants provide advice that some believe clients already know. This myth is the farthest from the truth. 

Consultants solve some of the toughest questions for the biggest companies globally, questions that often clients cannot solve. (Why else would they hire us?) These are often questions for which no “watch” exists, so we have to put in countless hours to find the right data, analyze that data, and then turn it into something that can directly help the client. The amount of thinking, passion, and pure work effort can yield some pretty amazing results, and I am constantly amazed at the value my peers provide to their clients.

This article was originally published by Alex Nut, a Management Consultant at Accenture, on the American business platform Forbes.com. Nut has worked across a number of industries and functional areas helping clients solve some of their largest and most important challenges. 

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

18 April 2019 Consultancy.uk

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.