Need a Business Transformation Consultant? Here’s How to Choose the Right One

June 13, 2019 Brad Unger

business transformation consultant - concept of choice

In competitive industries, incremental improvements aren’t enough to sustain long-term market leadership. Instead, companies need to totally transform the way they do business. According to Gartner, CIOs ranked digital transformation among their top three business priorities for 2018 in 11 of 15 industries. Other companies are seeking to transform everything from their supply chains to their customer service.

The question is, how can companies seize an opportunity to create meaningful, effective change? And, what’s the best way to manage the complex process of designing, planning, and implementing a major business transformation?

Most companies seek external help for all or part of the transformation process. It makes sense, given how critical these initiatives are to the business—and how complicated it can be to shift internal processes and mindsets in support of something new.

The good news is, there are more options for transformation consulting support than ever. However, these options can make it seem daunting to select the one that’s right for your company’s needs. I’ve led transformations both as a consultant at Capgemini and an executive at companies like AT&T and Starwood Hotels; my independent consulting practice now focuses on helping clients drive successful outcomes through enterprise-wide change initiatives.

In this article, I am going to review some of the options that executives at big companies can choose from nowadays—and why I think independent consultants offer the best combination of agility, fit, and effectiveness on large transformation initiatives for the modern company.

Understanding the decision to outsource

Some transformation ideas happen organically, whether it’s because an employee has proactively identified an opportunity for improvement or because executives have solicited new solutions to specific problem areas.

Other times, companies seek an outside opinion to assess the most promising opportunities or to help make sense of a complicated landscape. Obtaining an outside perspective at this phase can be very valuable, whether it’s done in conjunction with internal resources or not. Business transformation consultants have a broader view of what’s going on across other companies in your industry; they can also help you assess both the strategic and tactical implications of the change.

Of course, hiring the right help doesn’t come cheap; however, viewing it as a priceless investment in your company’s future is essential. Business transformation consultants are one of the highest-value options—but in today’s consultancy marketplace, you don’t necessarily need to choose a firm with a heavy footprint. Nor should you assume that the highest-priced engagements will deliver the most value.

In today’s consultancy marketplace, you don’t necessarily need to choose a firm with a heavy footprint. Nor should you assume that the highest-priced engagements will deliver the most value.

Business Transformation Consultants: Independents vs. the big firms

When you hire a consulting firm, you have two different options. The traditional option on large transformations would be to engage with a large consulting firm; they will deliver a team of consultants with established methodologies and frameworks.

However, the days of this being your only option are long gone. Thanks to the growth of the independent consulting marketplace, you can also engage a smaller team of seasoned independents. These consultants may also bring similar methodologies and frameworks, but they will have a broader set of unique and diverse experiences that are their own as opposed to the same one as their firms. They can work in a more flexible manner, often delivering support that’s more practical, targeted, and executable—for, most likely, less of a bill.

Here are a few factors that should influence your decision:

1. Experience

When you hire the Accentures of the world, you are buying the firm’s experience rather than the experiences of the individual consultants who’ll be working on your project—they’ll be selected by the firm, not by you individually.

By contrast, independent consultants bring their own experience. When you engage them, you are selecting specific backgrounds and contributions that they will make immediately to your project. Like in my case, many independents have both consulting and executive experience. That’s especially important when it comes to large business transformations, where the options that look good on PowerPoint might not fly when implemented in the real world.

2. Fit

Big consulting firms often come in with a heavy footprint. Their work can be hard for your team to absorb on a day-to-day basis, and when they leave, they take their learnings with them.

On the other hand, engaging independents enables you to bring exactly the right expertise in at exactly the right time. Most independents don’t require a minimum spend of $250K for a Phase 0 Transformation engagement; they just want to help you solve the problem at hand. You can mix and match different skill sets to get just what you need or tightly define roles to make sure the work is done at an absorbable pace. You can even engage different consultants at different times to support specific phases of your project.

3. Reputation

Unlike independents, big consulting firms carry known brands and reputations. There are situations when it helps to have that pedigree—for instance, on high-profile projects where you need to secure people’s confidence on the board and in the C-Suite.

Other times, an informed, experienced external point-of-view is all you need for success. In that case, independents may deliver not just better value but better results. It’s easy for independents to blend into your company’s culture, and many times, employees will forget that they aren’t technically part of the team. On projects that require a lot of change, that can be a huge advantage. The close and often intimate relationships that independent consultants will forge with your team will help them tailor their support to exactly what your organization needs.

Independents may require heavier vetting than the big firms. Of course, that can also work to your benefit: if you’ve invested more time in their selection, you’ll have greater confidence in their work. Companies like Business Talent Group, which combine the dynamic selection of the independent marketplace with extensive client service and support, can help too.

4. Size

Major business transformations require a lot of work. That prompts many clients to imagine they can only be done by the big firms—how effective can a team of people who’ve never worked together really be?

Of course, that’s exactly what the big firms do. In my eight years and 16 projects at Capgemini, I worked with the same consultants on just two projects; otherwise, it was always a new team. If you’re concerned about your consultants’ ability to work together, you can look for people who have trained at the same consulting firm and have common frameworks and methodologies. Here is another place where firms like Business Talent Group can help. They deploy dedicated in-house consultants to curate, and vet, and oversee independent teams to make sure they work well together and can deliver the results you need.

5. Cost

Consulting companies have a lot of overhead—and they pay their consultants a salary regardless of whether or not they’re deployed on a project. On the contrary, Independents don’t collect a salary unless they’re on a project. That is because their overhead expenses don’t typically add more than a couple percentage points to their salaries, and their per-diems are almost always lower. Given how often all large corporate initiatives go over time and over budget, that ought to be something you seriously consider when making your decision.

The best of both worlds

Independent consultants don’t typically seek to create 100-page decks that will sit on your desk and collect dust. They are doers as well as thinkers, and they succeed only when they have prepared their client thoroughly to take their work and move forward without them.

The link between organizational agility and market leadership is clearer than ever. Independent business transformation consultants help companies work more nimbly as they manage to always keep their fingers on the fast-changing pulse of the market.

Accelerate Your Next Transformation

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About the Author

Brad Unger

Brad Unger is an independent consultant and business transformation specialist with more than 20 years of cross-industry experience. With experience as a senior consultant at Capgemini and as an executive at Starwood Hotels, he's led major digital and back-office transformations. He's helped BTG clients plan, execute, and manage enterprise-wide IT transformations.

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