Consulting on the cusp of reinvention

Olivier Van Calster

In a recent Q&A with, I discussed whether we had seen the “end of consulting as we know it”, spelled out by Clayton Christensen in his seminal 2013 HBR article. In this post, I elaborate on some of those key themes, and share some recent experience with Talmix which shows that consultancies are alive and kicking – thanks to a little help from the independent world.

Christensen suggested that one of the drivers of disruption to the traditional consultancies is the undeniable shift towards the ‘gig economy’ at all levels, including white collar workers. Independent consultants (and firms operating principally through them like specialist, modular, boutiques) would gradually take over.

Anyone who takes a passing look at the world of consultancy today might question whether there’s been any real change, let alone full-on disruption.

Talmix, with over 40,000 global independent consultants on our network and a best-in-class platform to match them to client needs, looks like the archetypal model to chase the big strategy consultancies away from their mainstream business, and for companies to discard their ongoing relationships.

And yet, in a surprising twist, it’s become clear that independent consultants actually support and complement traditional firms – instead of replacing them.


“Unbundling” the traditional consultancy model 

Bringing in plug-and-play independent consultants extends a firm’s core resources – leveraging its brand, the relationships of its partners, and its culture and intellectual property. That’s why management consultancies work with Talmix as long-term partners; and now represent over a third of our business globally.

How have we helped drive away from disruption and towards this symbiotic existence of big firms and independents? There are two main strands to this evolution:

 “ elastic sourcing” – adjusting the bench based on volume of work

“ specialized augmentation” – adding to the core team, as and when, with relevant specialists to demonstrate an in-depth understanding of a client’s situation.


Lean consulting machines

Does this apply mainly to the boutique houses and smaller consultancies, where the opportunity to “work lean” clearly has appeal? Not really.  We see interest across the board: from the mid-sized, established consultancies who like the access to independents with great resumes and solid backgrounds, through to the global strategy houses where we are building partnerships on both a regional and global basis. It’s no surprise that we work directly with two of the most prestigious strategy firms – and are actively talking to the third one.

An international consultancy that we work with has been open that they expect the proportion of permanent staff to move from 100% to 80% by 2020: proof positive that independent talent is coming into the mix, for efficiency, for value and for experience.


Keep your consultants close – and your alumni closer

Another trend is that these firms are turning to us to help reach into their alumni network – something that is notoriously hard to do, once the apron strings have been cut. As these alumni have already joined Talmix, it’s something we can easily manage. Our annual consultant surveys constantly show that many consultants go independent not to sever links with the industry – but to balance their consulting skills with opportunities to develop their own business (30%), specialize in sectors and functional skills (40%), or to explore and work in new regions (30%).

Coming to the home of independent business talent means consultants keep their work options open, while pursuing these different, independent avenues. Those alumni are now accessible to their former employers in one place –  in fact, consultancies now use Talmix to create mini-networks, or talent pools, to deliver both alumni and similar profiles instantly.

“Uber meets McKinsey”

That’s how the Financial Times described our service – and it’s not far off. Although specialists can be found through many channels, matching the right expertise at speed and scale (and having sufficient expertise available) is better achieved at Talmix through our expansive network and our sophisticated search and matching technology.

As one consultancy client describes it “ Talmix is getting to be known as the go-to provider of specialist external resource for us.

Despite the challenging predictions from ‘Consulting on the Cusp’, the reality is that consultancies are embracing different models, and finding ways to use freelance talent to their advantage. And. in the end, that forward thinking is going to deliver a better service to clients, and flex capacity to suit the flow of business. It’s not so much as the end of consulting as we know it, but the future of consulting as we (and the clients) want it. 

About the Author

Olivier Van Calster

Olivier is CEO at Talmix: passionate about the growth of independent business talent, he is a digital leader with background in Strategy Consulting and Marketplaces.

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