Are the traditional consulting and training models dead?

dead trees

I have been consulting and leading training initiatives for 24 years and have seen changes in tools and techniques, but basically, the delivery methods haven’t changed a lot. When I read an article in the Wall Street Journal this week by Lora Koldony, I thought a lot about the traditional models used in the past and the way I have changed my consulting delivery model in the past year. The WSJ article focuses on micro-learning as the way forward for training. The author quotes a study by Microsoft citing “the average attention span – the amount of time person can stay focused on a single task, filtering out distractions – in North America dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2015 thanks in large part to smartphones, on-demand entertainment and social media infiltrating people’s lives.”

Companies like Pernod Ricard, Gap and Uber have adopted a form of education called micro-learning: breaking down concepts and tools in smaller bite-sized chunks, which work with packed schedules, travel and meeting times. The smaller programs enable people to focus in short intervals, which have proven to embed learning if followed by a coaching program.

As I look at the consulting industry, I see a massive change in how companies and their employees work on key priorities like cost and value improvement and change initiatives. The days where armies of MBAs invade a business, charge high fees for analysis, strategies and programs that companies try to implement are coming to an end. These projects may provide value in the short-term, but are rarely embedded and sustainable in the longer term. Employees generally resist outsiders (consultants) in the business when they take over key categories of expenditure and conduct massive bidding events, usually generating price savings, but often leaving behind damaged supplier relationships. Sometimes the consultants are paid on a percentage of savings, which is usually presented as a means for their services to be self-funded. While management may gain some short-term results, generally the business experiences long-term pain because the consultants have a price focus (since their compensation is savings based) rather than a value-based approach (which is difficult to measure).

One of the reasons I believe there’s a massive change in the consulting industry can be found in article 3 Trends for the Next 50 Years, the Rise of the Idea Economy by James Altucher. One of the notions in this article is that we are moving from corporatism to an employee-free society. There are two reasons for this trend. The first is Pareto principle where 80% of the work is being done by 20% of people, so corporations are downsizing. The second is that regulations are too difficult to follow. The result is a wave of solo entrepreneurs and the attraction of the contingent workforce lifestyle and is why companies like Uber are flourishing. Basically, companies like Uber have the contingent workforce (with their own assets – the cars), logistics software and customers. What’s not to love?

With this in mind, an application of the new approach for the procurement consulting model is to work with cross-functional, cross-business teams on category management. The project typically starts with a four-day workshop with the team that is designed to provide tools, assign roles and accountability, develop the process and define the strategy for the category. The team is then prepared to go forward to gather and analyze the fact-based data, refine the strategy and implement the process and plan. The consultant’s role is to drive the project, check in with the team (remotely) on a weekly or other planned timeline. While the consultant is able to manage project timelines, assist in strategy adjustment and provide additional coaching and tools, the company team drives the project and assures all business needs are met for now and for the future.

The result is a sustainable process and category plan, embedded learning, an empowered team, true value improvement, stronger managed supplier relationships and a sense of satisfaction and ownership. Since the teams are led by an experienced category expert (usually one consultant), the resulting fees for consulting time and travel expense are greatly reduced, results are better and the return on investment is extremely high.

The traditional model for consulting is dead. Strange thing for a consultant to say.

Is it time for a change?


photo: Dikaseva


One response to “Are the traditional consulting and training models dead?

  1. Bill – I couldn’t agree more. It seems that consulting firms that are failing to adapt are struggling right now.

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