December 2, 2020

How consulting is trying to stay essential during Covid-19



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The Big Idea

Consultants are rebranding as pandemic-fighting experts as they try to stay essential amid a global recession. Here’s the TLDR to our field guide on consulting’s new challenges.

Here’s Why

1⃣ Covid-19 is adding to existing threats facing the consulting industry.

2⃣ It’s a bad time to be looking for a job in consulting.

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3⃣ But for many firms, the crisis is proving to be an opportunity.

4⃣ Executive coaches say they are busier than ever,

5⃣ and remote work is inspiring consultants to innovate.

The Details

Even before Covid-19, consulting firms were facing challenges from technology that had tipped the balance of power. Clients have access to information and resources online which they never had before, meaning they might need consultants’ advice less often. Online search and social media have also given clients new ways to find other consultants to work with, instead of just relying on the usual brand-name firms, heightening competition. Then the pandemic hit and consultants had to face an additional challenge—the inability to meet face to face when advising clients on matters vital to the future of their business.

Another potential problem: Some worry that since companies have been forced during the pandemic to make big changes on their own and on the fly, without waiting for consultants’ advice, they may conclude they don’t need as much as they thought they did.

The pandemic has frozen the US consulting industry. A deeply uncertain economy and travel restrictions have put the industry’s hiring on pause, making it an incredibly difficult time to be an aspiring consultant. The jobs listings site Indeed says that in mid-September, postings for US-based consultant jobs are down 56%, compared to just 18% for jobs overall. Glassdoor, another jobs site, also shows consulting job posting down 45% in September year-over-year, compared to 14% overall.



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Limited layoffs, low turnover, and the drop in business travel are likely contributors to the lack of new jobs.

In some ways, companies may need consultants more during the pandemic, not less. Need to pivot to having all your employees work from home? Consultants can help you with that. Is your company struggling financially, and needs to restructure or even file for bankruptcy? More ways for consultants to counsel you and charge for it.

Covid-19 required clients “to change virtually every aspect of their business faster than ever before,” Accenture CEO Julie Sweet told analysts who cover the company on a September conference call. “And they are turning to us to help them embrace that need for change and become stronger.”

Executive coaching is an estimated $3 billion-a-year global industry, with the median rate for a coach hovering around $500 an hour. And though revenue in the coaching field might be hurt this year by the coronavirus pandemic, it’s still been a busy time for executive coaches, as business leaders seek guidance on everything from managing layoffs to navigating racial issues at work to handling uncertainty.

Since their clients tend to lead busy lives, many coaches have long offered virtual sessions. But with the pandemic, the shift to online coaching has been more deliberate—which comes with pros and cons—and has brought about some changes to their businesses.

“I think the pandemic has really led people to realize: I need additional support,” says Melody Wilding, an executive specializing in highly sensitive people, and one of six coaches we checked in with for this guide.

When lockdowns forced consultants the world over to work from home, one of the first questions that they had to confront was how they would replicate the on-site client experience so central to their work. More specifically, they had to find a suitable stand-in for their whiteboards. The sudden need to replicate brainstorming online has increased the popularity of collaborative, digital whiteboards. But it’s also led to other creative in-house solutions.

“We found both the value of some of the new tools has surprised us, [as well as] our workarounds to creating great experiences with clients…it has created its own interesting kind of energy,” says Clark Scheffy, a partner and managing director at IDEO, a global design consultancy. “I believe when we return to whatever this next world is after the pandemic, many of the things we’ve discovered and created will continue because they provide a unique value.”

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