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Are You Made for Consulting?

Consulting is one of those professions that require a very specific state of mind. But dedication, diligence, and scrupulousness alone are not sufficient, without having empirical knowledge of your job and the knack of solving the most complex situations.

Many consultants claim that: most of the time, they need to cope with far-fetched situations that mainly call for creativity in order to be solved. Then, we shall consider that the main tool of consultative process is the consultant himself, not data. Undeniably, even the consultancy process, the depth of understanding of the client case, or the choice of business analysis techniques that the consultant mobilizes – in short, everything – to some extent is deeply influenced by his personality.

For all that, and whatever your core business as a consultant is, you will need to follow three golden rules if you want to break into the business and ride among rising stars of the profession.

  1. Develop state-of-the-art skills and knowledge in a particular field.

Consulting is full of various activities. Naturally, strands of work of a particular consultant determine requirements for the professional competence. Actually, during your early career you will have no choice, warns “It’s harsh but true. When you first join BCG or McKinsey they will put you onto assignments to learn the core consulting skills – MECE, MECE, MECE… and more MECE. You will be assigned to different sectors, types of work and so on to ensure you understand and can apply problem-solving across any type of situation.”

But if you get through the tough selective up-or-out system established in the most prestigious consulting firms, and if you want to hone your craft as a consulting rising star, sooner or later you will have to claim a very specific know-how. Most consultants generally define their area of specialization around three matters: a sector-based expertise, a type of work or functional expertise, and eventually a geographical specialization. “It’s clear that the advantages of specialization are various and powerful, and these advantages will continue to give firms a competitive edge as the management consulting industry becomes more global”, writes Social Media Today website; “The key is to make an informed decision with a thorough understanding of your strategy’s particular benefits and challenges.

At Duff & Phelps, one of the worldwide leading firms in corporate finance advisory, – i.e. valuation services and M&A advisory – consultants are destined for a high-end expertise. Henk Oosterhout, Managing Director at Duff & Phelps, explains: “We don’t focus on a “hit and run” approach to some investment banks have adopted.” According to him, a sustainable client relationship goes through a subtle knowledge of the client’s line of business: “first, you have to truly know the industry and more specifically the developments of your clients within that industry. Secondly, you need to know how to use your financial numbers in order to say something about your strategy.” And no matter what’s the client’s need, consultants at Duff & Phelps make it a rule to bring ad hoc solutions, says Oosterhout: “Because we are so specialized, we are able to dig deep and offer the skill set to tackle any complex issue our client might encounter. We are not an advisor that you can call for anything, but rather a specialized council that you can call for activities that really need a close eye and a tailored approach.”

  1. Be methodical in the process of consulting per se.

As a business consultant, you will need to juggle many analysis techniques that call for an extreme intellectual rigor: focused diagnostics, data analysis, providing and implementing recommendations, dealing with objection, etc. This also entails engaging with people – ability to listen to clients and hear them, techniques of questioning, holding a group discussion, feedbacks and so on. These qualities are particularly important in the sense that big names such as BCG turned their methodical approach into a key success factor: “We seek a competitive advantage for our clients. Our approach is to consider the business as a whole, the competitive system, and its dynamics. We identify market positions and capabilities that enable clients to deliver superior results in a sustainable manner. Objectivity is crucial. Valid data, rigorous analyses, external perspectives, root causes, and explicit logic serve as our foundations for objective decision making.”

Consulting methods have also become a major issue at Deloitte. The firm has created a Consulting Methods & Tools (CMT) service which is “an enabling service within Consulting, supporting Human Capital, Strategy & Operations, and Technology practice areas.” As the company explains, the CMT mission is to drive consistency, reliability, and efficiency in its global client service delivery through innovative solutions, methods and tools. “We provide consulting practitioners and engagements with methods, tools, standards, and hands-on support that strengthen our offerings, contribute to wins in the marketplace, and help differentiate Deloitte among our competitors.”

  1. Never, never underestimate the importance of professional ethics.

As Arthur N. Turner warns in an article published in the Harvard Business Review, titled Consulting is more than giving advice: “Seeking solutions to problems of this sort is certainly a legitimate function. But the consultant also has a professional responsibility to ask whether the problem as posed is what most needs solving. Very often the client needs help most in defining the real issue.” Indeed, clarity of aims has a special role in a consultant’s everyday life. Ask yourself: Why am I actually doing this? Why do I actually apply this method, rather than another? What do I really want to achieve? Even covering up the true purpose of any action from the client (perhaps to overcome the predictable resistance), a consultant should honestly answer himself the questions.

Chartered Management Institute (CMI) is the only chartered professional body in the UK dedicated to promoting the highest standards in management and leadership excellence. CMI’s code of professional ethics states six essential rules:

  • Behaving in an open, honest and trustworthy manner
  • Acting in best interests of your organization, customers, clients and/or partners
  • Continually developing and maintaining professional knowledge and competence
  • Creating a positive impact on society
  • Respecting the people with whom you work
  • Upholding the reputation of the profession

Values in consulting always pay off, even if most consulting firms claims about their differences although they make distinctly similar. Martin Blackburn for example, UK People Director at KPMG, says KPMG is “special because it’s a responsible business contributing to the community at large.” PWC, for its part, defines itself as a place where “quality and value mean everything”. But all things considered, as Robert A. Bartell, Managing Director at Duff & Phelps, picks it out, the one thing that matters, in the end, is satisfying your clients: “I do think that any company can ‘talk the talk,’ meaning talk about teamwork and collaboration (…) But the spirit of what we are trying to accomplish is to have a company where people really want to work together, and they want to really put the client first.”


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