The management dilemma of choosing a consulting partner

Charting out a new strategy is a challenging time for a leader and his (her) management team. Most of the times, the leader has a vision and he (she) needs more work to be done to develop a strategy to execute on that vision. Sometimes, the leader has an idea about where they want to go to but they still need a good amount of work to be done to develop their vision. Choosing a consulting partner in both the cases is a matter of leadership choice. If the leadership wants to use a standard framework and believes that a big management consulting brand provides the safe heaven, they go for the big brands hoping that they will be in safe hands. If the leadership believes that they want specialised consultancy support with highly experienced external team providing an outside in view to their business, they go for the specialised or boutique consultancy outfits.

We believe that when people go for a big management consultancy brand, more often than not they are not buying in the brand but they are buying in the risk mitigation. If the leadership wants the new strategy to be sold to their team and the entire organisation on the branding of its management consulting partner, rather than its own merit and the leadership credentials of the leader (and its management team), then perhaps it is better to go for the big consultancy band. These engagements get delivered through a team, which may not have the real experience commensurate with their task in hand. A lot of work may be template based and will leverages direct outputs from the previous works, which may not be fully applicable to the current customer engagement. However, the packaging of the outputs and their volume could overwhelm the client organisation and hopefully get the nod of approval.

On the other hand, specialised consulting outfit(s) provides a very personalised approach to the assignment, which is specific to the individual client’s business, its operating environment and the organisation culture. The team working with the client is highly experienced, have hands on practical experience of dealing with similar or more complex problems in real life and above all does the real genuine first hand work on the job. It is not uncommon for the managing partner or partners working on the assignment on a daily basis, mingling with the client team to provide them the confidence of problem solving and delivering outputs handcrafted to the individual client assignment needs. The outputs are simple, clear, and easy to understand and come to the point directly, as against creating a complex web of general information loosely held together. The client team can empathise with the solution; challenge its elements without being afraid of looking unknowledgeable and above all can be confident of executing the solution rather than seeking continuous hand holding by its consultancy partner. Such solution does get implemented and is seen by the people within the organisation as their own solution co-created with their genuine participation. Needless to say, people take pride in the solution quality and depth, as against taking a brand shelter and throwing the name of their consultancy partner for recognition in formal and informal social meetings.

As a leader you have to decide what do you want to achieve – a safe heaven option for endorsement of your leadership vision or a strategy that your organisation will own and deliver to in the long term?