At a panel discussion with Brilliant Hunch, 2020 Delivery, CIL and Advancy, these boutique consultancies explained how they hire, whether they use freelancers, their approach to training, and the competitive advantages of boutiques v. other consultancies.
As part of a new focus on events, we ran the first evening on boutique consulting on 27th April 2017. We heard fascinating perspectives on the unique features that make boutiques attract talented consultants when big consulting firms don’t. We heard astute questions from the audience, and insightful responses from Brilliant Hunch, CIL, 2020 Delivery and
Lee Pickavance, Partner at Hunch; James De La Salle, Associate Director at CIL Management Consultants; Katie Metselaar, Senior Consultant at 2020 Delivery; and Stepan Wildt, Partner at
Q1: CIL works mostly with Private Equity funds. Private Equity is a cyclical industry – how does a boutique cope with the uncertainty?
James: It is definitely difficult. But consulting itself is a cyclical industry, and CIL as a boutique manages this issue in a similar way to big consulting firms; by working with
Q2: Aside from CIL, how many of the
Katy: 2020 Delivery does nearly the opposite because of the nature of its work in healthcare. It is very hard to achieve anything in that space without some internal support, so many of 2020’s associates are senior clinicians. The firm also relies on associate companies for skills such as modelling, while strategy is the internal focus.
Lee: As a young, small company Hunch regularly needs freelancers to be able to flex as business fluctuates, but it also uses expert networks and core teams of “safe hands”. The freelance consultants used are highly talented people who can quickly understand the ‘Hunch way’, so the quality of freelance available is a big factor.
Q3: What is a boutique consulting firm’s approach to training and development?
Stepan: For good training go to the big firms – if by ‘good training’ we mean structured, clearly defined and regular programmes, not on-the-job learning. In a boutique, training is provided internally and when there is time. But, surely, the kind of skills you pick up when speaking to a CEO
Katie: 2020 Delivery’s training programme is actually very structured – and so fairly good – because it is essential for the company’s USP: a big part of 2020’s work is capability-building in healthcare so that change can be sustainable. So it’s really important to put all consultants through training that gives them the skills for this. Admittedly, training is slower than what it can be in a big firm, but it is good. And because a boutique is smaller and people’s strengths and weaknesses are known to the trainers, it is possible to flex training to individual needs in a way that is impossible in a McKinsey, Bain or BCG.
James: CIL also provides very structured training, partly because it often hires graduates who have to be up-skilled (the best way to teach Excel, for instance, is in a
Lee: Training? At
Q4: What are the competitive advantages of boutiques vs. the big consulting firms?
Lee: Approach, methodology, and how the company communicates these is what differentiates a boutique from a big firm. And because boutiques are different, they tend to land different kinds of clients. But aside from that, consulting is a relationship business, and boutiques rely on referrals as much as the big firms.
James: CIL is a market leader in Private Equity, and the weight and case study of expertise wins work. As a boutique, you can’t trade on
Katie: Sector expertise is hugely important. 2020 Delivery doesn’t outsource hiring so that the current team can ensure that every new hire meets company values and has what it takes for developing sector expertise.
Stepan: On top of all of the above, boutiques also carry out real, individual assessments of client needs. Because they can’t trade on brand, they must have a humbler approach, and also a clearer focus on what the client wants. This is often an advantage compared to big firm’s pitches that are based on having already worked on a similar problem in the past, not on the specifics of the problem at hand.
Q5: How much does under-delivery (or even failure to deliver) affect brand in a boutique?
Stepan: Under-delivery is simply not an option – every member of a boutique needs to over-deliver.
Lee: If you under-deliver your heart probably isn’t in your work, so you just won’t last, as much because of the strain and demands of the work as because of the importance of delivering. It’s that simple.
Q6: Big firm v. small consultancy – how does that affect the skill-set and personality needed?
Lee: In a small consultancy the right mix of skills and people is key. Trying to make sure that right mix is there is why Hunch relies on freelance consultants so much.
James: In a
Stepan: A boutique can find it hard to recruit people from outside of consulting. Because there isn’t time to train people from scratch, the risk would simply be too high. Big firms, on the other hand, can hire people just out of university or from different industries and give them training from the basics.
Katie: On top of the above, a small consultancy can also struggle to reach out to non-consultants. This is an
At movemeon we have hosted a number of events, click here to find out about our last one.
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