Time for consultants to stand up and be counted

16 Jan 17

There’s a crisis of trust across all sectors and a trend towards increased scrutiny. Management consultants need to be on the front foot.

A crisis of trust is affecting business in all sectors. It has been acute since the financial crash of 2008-9. We saw it all too clearly during the EU referendum when the voice of business seemed to count for precious little.

And management consulting is always under an additional microscope. Government departments, NHS Trusts and local authorities are regularly attacked if they make use of consulting services, even if they win major awards for the project outcomes that result.

Incidents such as the recent Brexit memo get blown up in the press, usually for reasons that are nothing to do with the consulting firm involved.

But whether these motives are reasonable or not, we know that consulting must – for this and many other reasons – be strong in our pursuit of high standards and value for clients.

Scrutiny is always welcome, and taxpayers need assurance that they are getting value for their money. They are entitled to know – and see evidence – that their consulting firms live up to the highest industry standards and are accountable for their performance.

Our new Consulting Excellence scheme is based on nine principles, grouped under three pillars: ethical behaviour; client service and value; and professional development.

These principles, tested with clients and others, have won the unanimous endorsement of our consulting firms, ranging from the largest global players to the specialist and SME consultancies that central government are encouraging to bid for more work. John Manzoni, chief executive of the civil service, has also added his support, saying “the government wholeheartedly supports MCA’s Consulting Excellence scheme and encourages member firms to fully incorporate its principles”.

Each participating firm adopts the principles, applies them to their own circumstances and client sectors, and then explains in public how they do so. And, increasingly, each firm will also provide evidence of the impact that they have on behaviour and performance.

Some wags have compared these statements of good practice to the resolutions that we routinely make at New Year. But unlike visits to the gym or a dry January, our firms have committed themselves to consulting excellence for the whole of 2017 and way beyond, and expect the scheme to become quickly embedded – for the long term – as the accepted hallmark of quality. Many consultancies are already building Consulting Excellence into the management and governance of their firm.

And the scheme will develop as well. The principles around client service and value, for instance, will help drive innovation in the industry. Our aim is to make Consulting Excellence a race to the top for all firms that strive to be the best that they can.

Why does this matter? For many reasons, but certainly because the tasks facing the public sector are more significant than ever.

On top of a brutal transformation and deficit-reduction agenda, the digitisation of services, and the devolution of major public responsibilities, the uncertainty and difficulties posed by Brexit is now setting new challenges for everyone.

In this context, external support, advice and delivery become more important than ever. It’s time for everyone to stand up and be counted for excellence.

  • Alan Leaman

    Alan Leaman is chief executive of the Management Consultancies Association

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