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Who says you can't teach old dogs new tricks? Consultingmagazine is featuring an interesting piece this month, focusing on what CEOs of leading consulting firms have learned from the recession and what they're expecting to see in the year ahead.
It's not surprising that most of these business leaders are all saying some variation of the same thing: With the US economy still shaky ("fragile" is a word that crops up over and over again), it's best to proceed slowly and steadily. All are grappling with the reality of refocused/more stringent client demands (a big part of what many love to call the "new normal") and a reduction in overall discretionary spending, and they expect this condition to last for the foreseeable future. As such, these guys recognize that there will be no quick bounce-back, and that the road ahead requires more agility on their part: in terms of realigning their service capabilities and offerings to meet new client demands; focusing on certain key areas (Asia, health care, IT, government—see my post from last week for more on this—and energy); and increasing collaboration and innovation within their own ranks to be able to offer clients the measurable results they're looking for.
Change is definitely the key, here. As Jim Bramante, general manager at IBM, put it, "One of the lessons we've learned from this recession has been to embrace change and have the confidence to make bold moves." PRTM Director Mark Strom couldn’t agree more, saying, "Clients want bold ideas and value propositions and will pay if you deliver ... This is not a time to cover up and play conservatively—the market for consulting services and for talent will eat you alive if you do."
Speaking of talent, that's a top concern for these business leaders as they plow forward in recovery mode. With depressed fee rates and a greater need to produce tangible value for clients, firms are concerned about attracting and retaining top people at all levels. Bramante of IBM touches, also, upon the growing complexity of jobs in today's market, noting that "businesses need new skills—in math, analytics and engineering, and college students today represent the best resource."
So while these consulting leaders are optimistic that things are improving, their caution is very apparent as they prepare to tread carefully and steadily toward modest growth in this uncertain global economy. I think Oliver Wyman CEO John Drzik sums up the mood best:
"Economic conditions in both the U.S. and globally have been improving over the last six months, but I think it's too early to say that all of our problems are behind us. There's still a lot of uncertainty out there, and the recovery is fragile. So, while my baseline expectation is that we'll see a slow but steady recovery in 2010, I see more than normal variation around that expectation—and we are building both upside and downside contingency plans."
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