At Freshminds, we have been working with the best strategy and management consultants in Europe since 2000. The generalist consulting toolkit i.e. the combination of excellent analytical ability, diverse commercial acumen and the ability to create positive personal impact that can be applied cross-industry, is an incredibly valuable skill-set to have – it is essential to all businesses going through periods of growth as well as internal transformation.
We now term this skill set as anyone that can demonstrate a high level of these 5 core skills (IQ to EQ: Problem solving, numeracy, personal impact, communication, collaboration) from whichever background the individual comes from. But in terms of consultants, historically these skills, developed through years of hard work in consultancies, have allowed freelance consultants to leverage a diverse and busy portfolio of projects. However, with a rise in boutique ‘specialist’ consultancies with specific sector focus and an increase in client demand for ‘experts’, we find that the most successful freelancers have given themselves an edge by adding several ‘bolt-on’ skills to their generalist skill-set.
1) Industry/Sector expertise
It is becoming increasingly common for clients to demand independent consultants to bring industry-specific expertise to the table. This does not always mean experience of working with a direct competitor, but a strong exposure to the industry or similar organisations experiencing similar problems and market dynamics is very valuable to clients.
According to of Evettfield Partners, a leading, specialist strategy boutique in Australia, independent consultants believe that the process of strategy research, development and implementation are directly transferable across industries. At Freshminds, many of our clients believe that industry expertise is important from a ‘speed to market’ perspective and the ability to save time on the consultant being brought ‘up to speed’ with the commercial nuances of the market, as time is often of the essence for independent consultant engagements.
2) Continued analytical excellence
Typically, consultants – as they progress up the ladder within consultancy or industry – will prefer to concentrate on the bigger strategic and transformational problems within the organization. However, we have seen that with a number of our clients, there is a demand for interim Strategy Managers or Programme Directors to have and maintain keen Excel skills and have recent experience of guiding teams through complex analytical problems.
For example, for one client we have been working with, the first step of assessment for independent consultants and permanent intake (up to C-Suite executives, including a CFO!) is an Excel data manipulation assessment – the organization believes that if senior members within the company are not attuned with these skills, then they cannot advise their subordinates effectively.
The demand for this skill is also enhanced by the fact that we live in a world dominated by (big) data and companies are hugely wary of its implications on future consumer strategy. Senior consultants with the ability to break this data down and translate it into strategic plans are, not only desired but ultimately a necessity.
3) Digital & Customer
At Freshminds, one of the most in-demand skills for consultants, across all sectors, is Customer and Digital. In a by Consulting UK of 400 buy-side decision makers found that 99% stated that digital has led to some form of marketplace disruption. Clients are increasingly focused on customer-centric operating models, digital strategy and transformation, and almost all retail clients are focused on e-commerce. Indeed, looking at the recent acquisitions of traditional consultancies e.g. PwC with BGT, EY with Seren and Accenture with Karmarama, proves the sheer importance of having this capability.
Ashley Friedlin, Econsultancy founder, says that this skill-set shows ‘separate parts of the customer funnel, (historically) managed by agencies, tech vendors and consultancies, are coming together’. In fact, McKinsey & Co recently claimed that 20% of each McKinsey consultant’s generalist skillset would be focused on digital and customer strategy. So independent consultants who are able to spice up their existing know-how of strategy and transformation with digital and customer expertise will find themselves in a narrow pool in very high demand from both traditional consultancies and cross-sector clients.
These are a few key trends we have seen through our recent interactions with both consultants and clients – what do you think? Do you agree that these additional areas of expertise enhance the generalist consulting tool-kit? We’d love to hear your thoughts.