Consulting in a Bleak Time
According to the poetry of Rudyard Kipling, “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs,” your reward will be “the Earth and everything that’s in it.” Though gaining the entire world may be a stretch, the consulting industry is one of the few in the current economy that can lay claim to keeping its head - not to mention its earnings, employees and capital assets. This is due to the unique position of consulting in the corporate world; rather than having an independent product or process, all of its actions are carried out in relation to other enterprises. It is a business of means rather than of ends.
In a June 2008 interview with Consulting magazine, Deloitte CEO Doug Lattner pointed out that consulting “lags the economy by two to three quarters.” A savvy consulting firm, then, could treat this lag as a crystal ball, taking time to assess the challenges and, more importantly, opportunities of a shift in the economy even before its effects have been felt. Services and offerings can be redesigned to match the new demands—an option (and a necessity) for any business, obviously, but one that is exponentially more advantageous when it can be done preemptively.
Of course, it’s impossible to completely escape the repercussions of such a severe downturn. Some sectors, though they may require consulting more than ever, are too troubled to afford it. Consultancies will surely see less work with financial services firms for some time to come, and contracts with the retail and building sectors are also likely to fall off. On the bright side, this will free up space for projects with companies in health care, oil and gas, and technology, all areas that, if not making strong showings, are holding up well in the current turmoil.
These are not ideal times, but the consulting industry has enough stability, and enough of a diversified client base, to be optimistic. And firms that work swiftly to adapt, stay up to date on client needs and, through it all, keep their heads, will emerge healthy, profitable and fielding a team that’s wiser for its struggles.