1.21 Gigawatts of Consulting Industry Disruption

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One of the best scenes in ‘Back to the Future: Part II’ is where Michael J. Fox’s Marty McFly character is in the ‘Café 80’s’. Marty is helping out two kids trying to figure out how to play an ageing arcade machine, ‘Wild Gunman’, which they have just fixed. Marty, thinking himself quite the expert, then shows them how to play. Having proven his skills, he turns to the two boys expecting some form of glowing admiration. Instead, all he gets is a look of disgust with the response, “You use your hands? That’s like a babies’ toy“. Shaking their heads, they walk away, leaving Marty looking exceptionally confused.

It’s hard not to feel bad for Marty in that instant. He is made to feel foolish and out of touch at something he thought he was supposedly good at. Anyone with children will be familiar with such a feeling, as we rapidly find ourselves increasingly distant from their latest music, technology and pretty much anything culturally relevant.

The closing of the Overton Window (a theory for understanding how ideas and the status quo in society change over time) is something that we all must prepare ourselves for at some point in life. The same is true in business.

Where are we now?

When it comes to modern consulting, many within the world of professional services will resonate with Marty’s sense of feeling outdated and left behind. The fact that the enterprise landscape is under-going a widespread disruption in digital transformations will (hopefully) be news to no one – least of all those within consulting.

However, as our clients’ journey through a host of digital transformations, so is the consulting industry. But what is less clear and not so often talked about is how this digital disruption is disrupting the professional services industry.

The recent Financial Times special report into the U.K.’s leading Management Consultants 2021 revealed some interesting insights into client needs and recommendations regarding their changing preferred ways of working.

The consulting firms that consistently sit at the top of both the sectoral and services rankings increasingly offer a healthy balance between products and tailored consulting services. They are leveraging digital technologies successfully and placing them at the heart of their delivery model – and as a result – are finding themselves consistently in the top rankings.

At the heart of all these transformations is not ‘what’ consulting firms do, but increased efficiencies and innovations from improvements to ‘how’ they do it. Consulting has seen a gradual shift in market demands for delivering service value to client organisations, especially in the people and change space.

What do our clients want?

It is not that the markets for consulting services and products are disappearing. It is simply that the rules are changing, with far greater emphasis on customer satisfaction, metrics and user experience.

When it comes to change management, our clients are increasingly asking consulting firms to deliver:

  • ‘Effects’rather than ‘things’. More attention focusing on enabling the output capabilities rather than the specifics of what will be delivered;
  • Wide engagement with mass and momentum. Time to delivery is often seen as linked to value for money. In the wake of Covid-19, clients are increasingly less likely to pay consultancies for time spent ‘re-inventing the wheel’ every time they land in their organisation;
  • Plug-and-play technology-enabled solutions. Embracing digital technologies and automated systems that integrate seamlessly with a host of other business-enabling technologies within their organisation;
  • Accelerated cultural and employee performance.Accredited and authentic scientific and academic methodologies that underpin recognisable business improvement;
  • Meaning and purpose. Helping employees connect their work to the idea of how they add value to the world and develop a sense of personal growth, community and purpose.

Why is this DISRUPTION happening?

All organisations within the digital age are operating within extraordinarily complex and challenging environments. Technological disruption is at an all-time high, and ongoing geopolitical turmoil affects both the economic and job markets alike.

Such a crisis means that many leaders find traditional workforce and change management approaches increasingly ineffective or difficult to manage. These deficiencies leave leaders under tremendous pressure to effectively deliver change to recognise new business value, e.g., increases in operational efficiencies, reduce employee turnover, innovation or I.T. implementation.

However, in attempting to deal with these change-based challenges, both organisational leaders and consulting firms alike have been struggling for a long time to work within the limitations of outdated systems-only approaches. These struggling approaches are often a patchwork of legacy frameworks stitched together following countless rounds of re-working, re-invention and marketing refinement. The risk of using such redundant methods can constantly keep leaders awake at night, with most bespoke solutions ending up being both expensive and ineffective.

What is the solution?

The idea of a rapid, digital and measurable change delivery approach may sound daunting. However, the benefits of automated systems and technologies supporting scalable change solutions – in terms of speed, effectiveness, cost reduction and improvements to delivery services – make for a compelling case for such endeavours.

Under such circumstances, it is not surprising that new forms of change management approaches are gaining popularity. They are a response to the need to evolve ahead of outdated approaches. To move beyond the problematic reductionistic frame and broaden the scope of change to help discover the meaningful value buried within the organisation.

What could the future look like?

A distinct lack of flying cars and hoverboards aside, the growth forecast of the change management market within consulting might best be described as ‘steady’. Following the pandemic, both people and change items are sitting very much at the top of CEOs’ agendas. Such trends suggest that not only will the market for change management increase, but it will be increasingly looking for modern agile solutions outside of the traditional static system-only approaches.

And, if my calculations are correct, when this baby hits 88 miles per hour, you’re going to see some serious disruption.


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