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Consulting to the next level

image The assumption underlying most consulting professions is that it is possible for highly trained individuals to be brought up to speed quickly on unfamiliar projects/businesses/initiatives to contribute valuable advice. Whether or not this is true probably varies from type of consulting, but it raises an interesting issue, why stop at just advice or support?

And it seems I’m not the only one who is asking this question. I’ve identified two (out of probably a whole world of other companies) who really seem to take consulting to the next level, bringing in special forces (hence the picture of Marvel’s Winter Soldier) rather than merely slidemaking advisors:

Pivotal Labs

Pivotal Labs is a small software company who’s business model is an interesting hybrid of consulting and software development. They are hired by software companies who cannot solve key programming problems. Think this means that only small little startups hire them? Think again – their list of clients includes the mighty Salesforce.com as well as Twitter, which has recently been dealing with the limitations of the Ruby on Rails programming framework.

From what I can tell of their site, not only are they brought in to help their clients with software issues, they engage in many practices which well-managed management consulting firms follow:

  • Rotate staffing – According to Pivotal’s web site, not only are their employees staffed on challenging problems, they are rotated between projects, probably to prevent boredom, but also to help workers develop experience and to foster a sense of community (we don’t work for Salesforce, we work with each other on Salesforce or any of our client’s problems).
  • Training of the client – The difference between a good consulting firm and a bad one is that the former will help facilitate skill and responsibility transfer to the client. This may mean that in the short-term, the firm sells less projects/cases, but in the long term it improves the value proposition of the consulting project and, at least in theory, leads to future demand for the firm’s services.
  • Proprietary and non-proprietary frameworks/toolkits – Every consulting firm has their own magic “bag of tricks” which they constantly develop and deploy when faced with consulting challenges. Pivotal is the same way, having developed a number of web application programming tools which they are happy to explain (most seem open source) and even happier to deploy.

Bain Corporate Renewal Group

 

Bain & Company is one of the “Top three” management consulting firms (along with BCG and McKinsey) and is known for being somewhat of a maverick in the consulting industry – when it started, it promised not to work with your competitors, demanded access to top-level management, and became known for its emphasis on protecting the secrecy and confidentiality of its clients. These are now fairly common practices across the management consulting industry, but at the time, they were fairly unique – a pattern which followed with Bain pioneering private equity consulting, again something which the rest of the industry is now copying.

It’s not a surprise, then, that Bain recently announced the formation of its Corporate Renewal Group, an arm of the firm which doesn’t merely provide business advice and analysis, but which actually takes over a troubled company/division and turns it around. After all, if consultants truly believe they have the business savvy and the know-how to help troubled companies, then why not take a hand at actually managing the turnaround?

Unfortunately, the Corporate Renewal Group appears to be in its infancy, so the Bain website and a general Google search hasn’t turned up significant evidence of its success. But, it will be interesting to see if Bain is capable of pulling this fairly significant departure from its core slidemaking advisor competencies to the world of “special ops.”

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