Consultants of Swing

Emely Nobis, Paul Nobelen | 13 January 2017

A new generation of consultants is breaking off from the larger organisations. These ‘free’ organisations don’t measure success in terms of the ability of their people to sell the next project, and they say that for them hierarchy and chargeability come after ensuring the right person is on the right project.

Three non-traditional players held a round table discussion on the future of consulting, in November 2016 at Eden McCallum’s new offices on the Zuidas in Amsterdam:

  • Geert van den Goor, Managing Partner at First Consulting. First Consulting focuses on resolving operational issues for companies and has 160 employees on the payroll, but has no physical office, as employees base themselves at their current client.
  • Marjon Wanders, Partner at Eden McCallum. Eden McCallum focuses on strategy and works with independent consultants on a per project basis.
  • Simone Heidema, Founder and CEO of CPI. CPI focuses on advice and implementation in risk management, finance and governance, working with independent professionals. Both CPI and Eden McCallum paradoxically do have physical offices.

The discussion was led by independent management advisor Paul Nobelen. Selected highlights in English follow. For the full article (in Dutch) click here.

Highlights:

Paul Nobelen introduces his discussion partners  at the table: Simone Heidema of CPI and Marjon Wanders of Eden McCallum, both of whom represent firms that have physical office locations, but work with freelancers, and Geert van den Goor of First Consulting whose firm has  employees but no physical office location.

All three previously worked at big consulting firms: Van den Goor and Heidema explain that they left the bigger firms so as to be better able to focus on having impact for clients, without internal demands. Nobelen challenges that professionals call it ‘duty’, when they have to manage internal stuff, rather than focus on client work. So what’s new?  Wanders comments, ‘the difference is that we offer consultants the opportunity to do things differently… They’ve often worked in industry for a period of time after their consulting career, but at a certain point they realise that solving complex problems with interesting clients is actually what they enjoy most. They are motivated by content and are passionate about really helping the client. We offer them this opportunity. All that we ask of them is to do that specific project really well. They are not expected to sell the next project.’

The discussion moves to the question of how to maintain a mutual bond, if you don’t have a physical office or work exclusively with freelancers.  Van den Goor stresses the importance of the right culture and activities to ensure cohesion, while Heidema focuses on the intrinsic motivation of the consultants, who are able to work together and have impact. Wanders echoes this: ‘Clients notice this. They always get consultants who have chosen to work on the project. Consultants are never staffed on a project that they aren’t enthusiastic about, but have to do in order to avoid missing the chance of a promotion. From a recent survey we conducted together with the Financial Times and other partners, it is evident that independent consultants are much happier about their work than when they were still employed, and that they feel they now have more impact.’

Nobelen addresses another challenge: how do you ensure that independents who work under your umbrella behave according to your vision? How do you check quality?

Heidema explains that ‘traditional’ quality systems (such as coaching and evaluations) are in place and supplemented by a CPI rating system that also includes things like ‘living CPI values”. Wanders comments on the high bar set for consultants to join the Eden McCallum network in the first place and the fact that the wide talent pool allows the staffing of people who bring the right expertise: ‘This is a second level of assurance. Plus, we are of course involved. We participate in meetings, check that the quality requirements are met, and that we are doing what we promised.’

After a discussion around the cost benefits of their respective approaches, Nobelen closes with a question on perceived threats to their respective business models.  None of those around the table is very worried. Wanders: ’Listening and asking questions to really understand what is actually going on at the client is crucial in our business. You don’t solve that with technology. It remains a people business.’