After the ‘big four’ have gone

The *Big Four consulting firms undoubtedly have the potential to deliver huge value. However, while they can bring considerable benefits to a business, they also tend to create an operational turmoil that is harder for their clients to find their way through in practice than the consultants seem to realise. 

When they eventually leave, there are often significant interface issues to sort and big strategic dilemmas still to resolve, which demand a level of change leadership from senior leaders that they’ve probably not had to demonstrate before. 

There’s a risk that the organisation isn’t able to rise to the challenge of the expensive work that’s been done, and the result is disempowerment, confusion, and internal wrangling that can continue for years.

Clear advantages

Just to recap, here’s a quick summary of the advantages of inviting the Big Four in:

  • Access to the best in global business strategies and models
  • High quality, leading edge thinking specific to the sector you’re in
  • A credible, objective outside perspective on what your business needs to do differently
  • Energetic support for creating plans, engaging people and making things happen
  • Professional role models for your people to follow.

Signs of discontent and alienation

Yet our recent experience indicates that while senior leaders appreciate the considerable benefits, they also experience doubts and difficulties.  Here are some of the things we’ve heard said behind closed doors:

“I like the thinking and analysis that the consultants bring, but the driving style is punishing and relentless. Sometimes things are complex and shouldn’t be done that fast.  Sometimes we just don’t have the capacity!”

“I find myself wondering whose agenda the consultants are promoting. Are they motivated by what’s good for us, or by what’s good for them and their business?”

“This New Operating Model is great and I’m right behind it, but there are so many small but crucial details still to be worked through that the consultants don’t seem either to understand or be interested in.”

“What’s being suggested is a massive step for this company.  I want to learn how to lead this sort of transition well, but I don’t believe that sitting through some generic 3-day programme will help me get better at it!”

The comments above are signs of local leaders feeling alienated by the Big Four’s approach and doubtful whether the work is being done with the best interests of the company at heart.  They’re also signs of these leaders becoming concerned that things are being rushed through without being discussed and untangled, and that before too long they will start to feel out of their depth leadership-wise!

What we do when we’re asked to help

We have been hired several times by large companies over the last few years to support the leadership of change following ‘structural’ interventions by these much larger consultancies.   In this type of context, we offer what we believe to be a unique service which supports leaders to reassert their own leadership of change.  We work with them to create spaces where people can discuss what is and isn’t working and what to do about it.  We also help them to deliver well where they can,  and push back or influence where they can’t,  and we extend their change leadership capability in the process through intensive coaching and feedback as we go.

And rather than do this via a ‘programme’, we get alongside the real work and support leaders to lead through highly-targeted, precise yet joined-up interventions.  We quickly build good quality relationships with key leaders, encouraging them to be clear about what they need from us, and offering our sense of what needs attention.

And how this is received on the ground…

The help we offer is typically a combination of: short, intensive coaching sessions on live ‘delivery’ issues; strategic change leadership advice re. next steps; and support for designing and running key meetings or workshops.

One senior leader who we supported recently said:

“The organizational change we’re going through is a massive step up for me as a leader.  I’m an experienced Director, but I’ve never built a ‘virtual’ leadership team before in a functional environment!

I like the way Integral Change understand what we’re trying to do, and offer high quality, but small-scale, tailored support.

This has helped me to build my skills, bring the new team together, flush out issues, attend to them fast and keep on track with delivery.  It hits the spot for me.”

* The Big Four refers to the top 4 consulting firms around the world such as McKinsey, The Boston Consulting Group etc.  See this list of top consulting firms for more information.

Note: If you enjoyed this article, you might want to read this case study which says a bit more about a particular example of the above.

Article written by co-Founder, Esther Cameron

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