Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Five myths about Strategy Consulting

My stay in consulting so far has been a brief one but nevertheless it has been an eventful one as well. Interacting with consultants at different levels and from different geographies has been an enlightening experience. As is the case, I used this opportunity to ignite the discussion and this time my topic was “myths about strategy consulting”. Based on my interactions, experiences and a bit of reading on “strategy consulting”, these are the five myths that I have come across. 

Myth No. 1: Speak well and look good and half the job is done
Globe or gas is a widely used term and commonly associated with consulting. So you can globe your way to the top if you have an accented voice and a suave look. Isn’t it? What makes it a myth is that it works but only for the initial few years. In fact one of the best insight about strategy consulting that I got was that “what works for the first few years may not work over the longer period of time or vice versa”.  So it’s not about pronunciation rather it’s about communication. It’s not about the WordArt rather it’s about the art of persuasion. 

Myth No. 2: Strategy Consulting is about business class travels and five-star accommodation
With North America, the inventors of strategic consultant and Europe almost stagnant, the firms are increasingly targeting the emerging markets as they seem to be on the path of growth. But the price sensitivity of these markets and with most companies being packed with "former consultants" bosses, this has resulted in clients being more demanding i.e. seeking more value for money. In fact they are increasingly asking for fewer and better consultants rather than allowing the consulting firms to get away with an army of junior consultants and allowing themselves to be billed by the hour. No longer is the consultant’s time his own and the client accommodates his schedule accordingly, rather if the client has got a schedule, the consultants are working along with it.

Myth No. 3: Strategy Consulting is all about CXOs and high level gyaan
You must have heard about how strategy consultants even at junior levels, right from the word go, get to interact with the CEOs (chief executive officers) and the CSOs (chief strategy officers) of the firm.  But that’s not the complete picture. The CXOs are either the starting point or the full stop for the assignment. What joins these dots are primary research be it market survey, field visits, interviews and secondary research in the form of in-depth study of various reports. After all if it was that high level then it would have started with the CXOs and ended with the partners of the consulting firms. With the widespread use of BSC (Balance Scorecard) at the firm level, internalization of strategy is emphasized upon.  So the middle management is no longer that ignorant to be ignored completely. 

Myth No. 4: You are “too young” or “old enough” for Strategy consulting
One of the first lessons that I learnt from my interactions with the partners at the firm was in the form of a question, "How much do you value experience in consulting?" The answer was that experience counts for a lot in an operations' project but in strategy, it’s the insight that matters. After all it’s our tendency to be biased by our past experiences. If you consider some of the well-known cases in the industry that saw almost re-invention of their businesses be it IBM or the Indian example of Bajaj, you would find that the revolutionary changes were preceded by generational shift or change in guard i.e. fresh insights. The first major change in IBM was brought about by Thomas Watson junior in 1956 and Rajiv Bajaj is at the helm of rebranding of Bajaj after playing an active role in the firm’s foray into bikes. 

Myth No. 5: Strategy consulting is making way for operations-management
The landscape has become more competitive undoubtedly and the clients are driving harder bargains. But strategy consulting is far from dead as firms know that there is need for external expertise. May be we are getting this impression because even the big strategy firms are looking to make money by grabbing a larger share of operational projects (assignments on how to do the same things better) which is likely to grow by 5.1% a year, against strategy consulting that is likely to grow by 1.1% annually till 2014. But when you consider the increasing mobility of resources and ever changing business dynamics, assignments related to market entry strategies, growth strategies etc. are likely to keep the strategy consultants busy. 

Hope you found this article interesting and it helped you gain some insights into the world of consulting. Looking to hear from you all. 


  1. TM Saketvaani at its informative best ,to say the least. Could you please lend us an insight about your foray into strategy consulting in Indian market? Also Sir,it'd be highly appreciable if you could provide an idea about the scope of strategy consulting in a developing economy as ours in near future. Furthermore,is an MBA/PGDM degree a pre-requisite for anyone to try a hand at this thing? Hope I don't bug you by my plalanx of stupid questions,I'm just..curious..

  2. Could you please lend us an insight about your foray into strategy consulting in Indian market?
    My stint has been a brief one so it would be premature to come up with a conclusion that soon. But based on my interactions I can say that it's an exciting space with public as well as private sectors reaching out to strategy consultants to get their concerns addressed. So you would get to develop a wide set of skills as well as test them.

    An idea about the scope of strategy consulting in a developing economy as ours in near future?
    India is a developing economy thus the biz dynamics are changing at a very fast pace. So it makes the firms to reach out to strategy consultants to help tackle the uncertainty. But India has its sets of challenges e.g. the definition of problem is not that precise, the scope of engagement in not that well defined, know-how about Indian biz landscape is limited as it’s an evolving economy. So the scope is definitely there and if one can tackle the challenges, there are rewards to be had.

    Furthermore, is an MBA/PGDM degree a pre-requisite for anyone to try a hand at this thing?
    MBA is becoming more of a hygiene factor for consultant level. I also feel that an MBA gives you a wider as well as a better perspective of the problem. It also increases your familiarity with the biz terms. While you may join at an analyst level as an undergrad but your growth may be a bit slow.

  3. While you make some informative comments, your write up is skewed in favor of consultants. It seems heavily impressed by Walter Kiechel.

    Finally, MBA! are you kidding? draw up a name of the best strategists in the country - most never went to a B-school.

  4. @Anonymous... would have dearly loved to know your name. Some good food for thought indeed.

    Can you point-out the portions or arguments that show the bias as I am unaware of the gentleman called Walter Kiechel? Though I would look to gain some knowledge about him. Thanks for the info.

    Coming to the MBA part... I think you are referring to my answers to the questions asked by Mayank (cloudy_nights). As he asked about trying his hand at strategy consulting so I answered keeping in mind the entry-level scenario. Going by the existing set-up, it's hard to join as a consultant in top consulting firms w/o an MBA.
    While best Indian strategists may not have an MBA, it doesn't mean that an MBA degree is of no value. You can take the case of many top firms that were started by drop-outs but even these firms look to hire qualified (read with degrees) candidates as a degree is important but as you rightly said, not an end in itself.

    So, in brief, an MBA will make it easier for you to get an entry-level position in a consulting firm but it doesn't ensure your success over the coming years.

  5. Read Lords of Strategy. or Kiechel's interviews - you will find plenty of similarities.

    I didn't say MBA is of no value. But MBA is not a prerequisite neither does it provide a head start. Business acumen and strategic thinking does. And that can be developed outside of a B school.

  6. finally, your comments about strategists seems to upend (or at least ignore) an important constituency - FTEs working in strategy/planning function.

    Consultants are valuable but not a prerequisite for doing good strategy.

  7. Hi,

    I would like to quickly make some comments but I'll love to start from the bottom. Reacting to "Anonymous", I appreciate your perspective of not wanting to make polarities out of MBAs and non-MBAs; however, in as much as an MBA is NOT a prerequisite, it is an exceeding relevant advantage. In simple terms, many consulting firms (in specificsey: McKinsey, Accenture, BCG et al) place high regard on MBA. You may be employed in McKinsey, for example, without an MBA but you will be sponsored to do one soon after your employment. However, these firms go to b-schools to recruit MBAs. I have an MBA from the Lagos Business School, Nigeria and can categorically tell you that the MBA gives a head start. Be aware that, strategic thinking DOES NOT exist in isolation. it is built on some fundamental knowledge which you could get from the class, books, or practice. B-schools simply document the practice in the form of cases and allow you to be an actor (but a simulation). Companies would rather have an employee who has been trained for the job by experts than someone who has spent same time guessing to hit the nail in the dark. Please, note that I am NOT claiming the superiority of the MBAs over non-MBAs but I am itemising the opportunities of the MBAs of the non-MBAs.

    In response to SaketS No 4 comment, I beg to disagree with the notion that "insight" is preferred to "experience". Insight could only exist because of hindsight (experience). You cannot seek a deviation from the norm if you do not know what the norm was. You can only make a thing better when you know what it was before.
    I will rather paraphrase No. 4 as "it is expected that strategy consultants transcend experience(hindsight) and demonstrate insight."

    In all, this is a job well done.

  8. Thanks Anony and Phemmie for your comments.

    Phemmie, I think you have aptly put the importance of an MBA for consulting.

    As far as the "insight" vs "experience" debate is considered, i meant to say that simply because you have worked on it before or have spent decades in this profession doesn't mean that you would be right from now on. Even the best are tested day in day out.

    As far as insight is concerned, exposure or experience will help but it won't suffice as you also need a "strategic mindset".

  9. This is an amazing article i really like it........
    IT Strategy Consulting

  10. My cousin recommended this blog and she was totally right keep up the fantastic work!

    CMMI Consulting