Can You Trust Your Strategic Initiatives to Independent Consultants?

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The recent recession and anemic growth we are seeing has had fundamental and long lasting effects on how business is being done and how it will be done going forward. Companies have scaled back on staff and have learned how to operate as lean organizations. And with growth continuing to be anemic, it’s unlikely that companies will be staffing up to pre-recession levels any time soon, if at all.

Within this environment companies are learning to “flex up and down” – hiring staff on a temporary basis for short term project needs. Now there’s nothing new in companies hiring temp staff, but the traditional model has been to hire IT and administrative staff this way. What’s new is that they are now doing this to address key strategic projects and they are bringing in senior executives to work on these projects or fill in interim management roles. A McKinsey study from 2011 says that 58% of companies are more likely to use Independent Consultants

This makes sense on so many levels. Traditionally, the alternative was hiring a major consulting firm to do the work. The knock against consulting firms has always been that they staff too many junior analysts who are learning on the job with limited time from the partner on the project. And if you retain one of the name firms, you are probably spending between $500K – $1MM on Phase 1 which includes an analysis of the situation and high level recommendations that can’t be implemented without a follow on project. Hiring an Independent Consultant not only costs a fraction of this but you tend to get much more senior executives who have actually dealt with the strategic issue you are facing. We like to call this Issue Specific Talent. You also tend to get more honest, pragmatic advice since many Independent Consultants have been operators before. And they tend to have consulting experience too.

There are 2 key issues with this model, both of which are addressable. The first is finding the right person. You could use your recruiting team to find the right person for you but this isn’t their core competency since they are used to recruiting full time talent and as such do not have the experience in vetting project success. The 2nd is specific to losing the structure and oversight provided by a consulting firm. The consulting pyramid that includes a senior manager and partner ensures that you get the structure, analyses and QA necessary to get the initiative successfully completed.

Intermediary firms are starting to fill the void here. Etonian is one such firm that addresses the need for interim CFOs and finance staff, while Axiom does this in the legal field. A couple of firms, have begun focusing on the strategy and business side. They have built networks of Independent Consultants from which clients can find qualified resources, addressing the staffing side of the equation. IQ Strategy Associates is addressing both the sourcing side and the project side by not only have a certified network of qualified Independent Consultants but also providing project structuring and on-going project oversight and QA.

The “flex” staffing model for strategic initiatives is not only here to stay but it’s going to become more prevalent. The key to success is finding a partner who can find you exactly the right person or team for your initiative and takes a personal stake in your success by providing project oversight and QA on an on-going basis.

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