We’re Facing Disruption, Too

:: Consultants are not immune to the forces of disruption. It’s ironic: even as we help our clients innovate and stay competitive, we can fail to notice how much is changing in our own business model.

Consultants, like most businesses, are working within a context that changes constantly. And in a world that is increasingly connected and empowered, we can no longer measure our value as consultants by what we know. The new intellectual capital is about how quickly we can learn. Critical thinking, imagination, communication, teamwork, and collaboration are the new power skills.

Below are three big changes I see in the consulting landscape:

  • Democratization of information. Today, anyone can learn just about anything about everything. Best practices, models, guidelines are freely available, published by experts as part of their content marketing strategies, or easily accessible online via Udacity, Udemy, LinkedIn Learning or Stanford. We need to continually update our offerings, and set aside time to learn weekly and keep up. (I am a firm believer in the 5-hour rule). Our value is now to help clients curate and apply abundant knowledge.
  • A profusion of talent. Work-life balance, the gig economy, and a host of other cultural and demographic factors are making it possible (and attractive) to work independently. By 2027, over half of Americans will be independent or will have worked independently according to one study. In parallel, talent marketplaces have arrived to give our clients even more options for getting projects done. The good news: a huge and incredibly capable talent pool to draw from in fulfilling our own engagements. The bad news: more people doing work that on the surface looks similar, but for less. Project-based contracts, with payments based on clear deliverables, is a great way to differentiate our value, and educate clients that we have the skills and insights needed to solve their unique challenges.
  • New intermediaries. In the aftermath of the 2008 Great Recession, more companies are shifting to a flexible workforce model that can be scaled up or down as needed. In order to manage a growing army of consultants, contractors, and temp workers efficiently, larger companies are turning to procurement platforms and staffing firms. These new systems and policies are designed to mitigate risk, but they also create more complexity. Clients within these organizations have to go through more hurdles to engage us. And for my larger clients, I go through rigorous compliance testing, and then use (and sometimes pay for) a different system to process SOWs, contracts, and invoices. It’s definitely not as easy as when I first started out. It helps to be 100% committed and clear on our business model, and knowledgeable about the trade-offs of being classified (or mis-classified?) as a contractor or agency employee when we engage with new clients.

For me, these dynamics are all re-shaping what it means to bring value to organizations.

Are you feeling disrupted? I welcome your observations below or email me. We can help each other stay nimble and competitive in this rapidly changing business environment.

Comments

  1. Martha–
    Your three-point summary is spot on, especially the third point about intermediaries. I constantly marvel how the cottage industry of marketing coaches for consultants is oblivious to the very existence of this layer. Our B2B prospects do not surf for online “offers”; they turn to (or swivel in their office chairs) to engage these intermediaries to “find someone who can help us with ___”. Fill in the blank and ask how your outreach modalities address this procurement model. It also begs the question as to how the 2027 gig based work force you reference will stay afloat without widespread know-how for getting noticed and engaged. We may need new unemployment metrics along a spectrum ranging from Steady Feast to Perpetual or Chronic Famine. I fear the macro scale meter will be tilted toward the latter.

  2. Thanks Kent. I’m seeing procurement intermediaries at only my largest clients. I suspect there will be a broad swath of companies looking for consultants the more traditional way for years to come — recommendations, word or mouth, personal connections. But yes, looking to the future, we will need to be on our toes to ensure we are “found” by potentially high-fit clients using data-driven/technology-enabled procurement platforms.

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