More on the Consultant of the Future

I recently co-presented a webinar on the Consultant of the Future with my colleague Nathan Simon. It was the third installment in the State of the Industry series launched by ALM Intelligence this year, and I think we did a pretty good job of sustaining audience interest. The number of listeners that logged in remained steady throughout the presentation, and I got some ‘great job!’ emails afterwards from people I know. Thank you. However, our moderator forwarded a few questions we didn’t have time to address during the call and the nature of those questions reminded me of that old adage about change being hard. Let me explain.

For the webinar, we spent the better part of an hour exploring how consulting providers are connecting with clients using new business models and how this is impacting the career consultant. We talked about the new consulting value proposition, the move from generalist consultant to technical expert, the skills explosion, the shifting dynamics of the talent marketplace, and how to navigate the emerging ‘ecosystem economy’ using alternative career paths.  We thought we had it covered, but then those questions came in that conveyed an overall sense of “what’s so new about this?”

On deconstructing the questions, what became clear is that we, as humans who resist change, tend to anchor our thinking about the future in the present. We try to understand unfamiliar scenarios by framing them with familiar concepts. For example, one person asked if the ecosystem world we were talking about wasn’t really just another type of matrixed organization. This equivalency makes a lot of sense when you think about how a matrix and ecosystem share certain design characteristics, such as decentralization, and operational challenges, such as global service delivery.

Bill Gates said: “When you look back on what happened in a two-year period, you always think nothing has changed. But when you look at ten years, everything’s changed.”

I explained that the ecosystem model is different because, in short, it brings together a network of providers that collaborate with clients. No one monkey runs the show, as a friend of mine is fond of saying whenever someone tries to tell her theirs is the last word. In terms of our topic that day – the consultant of the future – the ecosystem model is where the adoption of agile, integrated teaming methods, as well as differentiated partner tracks are leading to a shift away from the matrix model where geography, sector, and functional experience have long defined the consultant’s career journey. Instead of the traditional “up or out” consulting career path, the ecosystem model is one where you can be a technical specialist and achieve upward mobility. The new mantra is “grow or go.”

Another question, or rather comment, noted that there was not much new in the linear and lattice approaches to career self-determination discussed in the presentation, and that some options, such as  sabbaticals and rotational assignments are not readily available. Meanwhile, the pull of promotion in the linear model is still high. I responded to this person that I agreed with their comments. What’s new, however, is that the lattice career model is fast becoming the standard career path for consulting, particularly as the millennial generation and its corresponding expectations around work/life integration overtake the workforce. It’s not the ‘what’ that’s new. It’s the ‘why’ that’s new.

So, yes. Change is hard and it’s confusing. But it happens anyway. In the consulting world, it’s happening all around us at every minute of every day, and even though we’re trying to make sense of it with talk of lattices and ecosystems, we really don’t know exactly how things are going to shake out. I often think about something Bill Gates said: “When you look back on what happened in a two-year period, you always think nothing has changed. But when you look at ten years, everything’s changed.”

Think about it. In 2007, Deloitte’s Cathy Benko introduced the world to the career lattice concept in her book Mass Career Customization, and here we are today taking it for granted as a legitimate, viable option for managing your career. Consulting talent networks – another, yet newer paradigm that shifts the locus of control from one to many – are being embraced by some very established providers who realize they cannot be all things to all clients or all people. Providers realize that the talent they hire today is not likely to stay for a long-term career. As a result, they’re doing a better job of managing the social contract so that when they run into that person at a future date in the consulting ecosystem, they already have a positive relationship.

And this is a large part of what being a consultant of the future is all about – knowing that the balance of power has shifted in your favor, taking responsibility for it, and embracing change.

Click here if you would like to listen to the webinar replay and download the slides for State of the Industry: The Consultant of the Future.