Before Choosing the Obvious Firm, Think About Who Does the Work and How You’ll Work Together
There is much time and attention focused on which growth strategy consulting firm to work with.The obvious choice for growth strategy consulting comes from the “MBB” tier one strategy consulting firms: McKinsey, the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), or Bain & Company.
But the obvious choice may not be the best one for your organization. We suggest examining how the work will be done and by whom (the consulting team), rather than selecting based solely on brand name.
Top Tier Growth Strategy Consulting Firm Choices
MBB firms have a long list of satisfied clients who derive considerable value from the leverage model. In the words of a Fortune 100 Vice President leading an internal team studying an acquisition:
“The MBB team was worth every penny though they didn’t uncover any new findings and simply validated the analysis we did internally. They have the confidence of the board and the CEO, so when they recommended the acquisition (in addition to our internal team’s recommendation), we got the green light to move forward.”
Another reason to work with these growth strategy consulting firms is summed up in a rationale for their selection that we hear frequently:
“No one ever got fired for hiring McKinsey.”
Putting the MBB brand name and endorsement on a decision brings significant value to their corporate clients.
Who’s Doing the Actual Consulting Work?
In the MBB firms, the growth strategy consulting team will typically include:
- principal or manager(s)
- business analyst
Unless your engagement is the exception, most of the time spent on developing a growth strategy for or with your organization will be by less experienced consultants and analysts in a leverage model.
While circumstances vary, the price tag for these firms for a month’s worth of work could be in the $350,000 to $500,000 range. The price tag and business model may not be a good fit for your organization and your situation.
Dominant MBB Firm Impact on Loyal Corporate Client Organization
In our experience, Fortune 100 and other large growth strategy consulting firm corporate clients fall into different categories, depending on how they use consulting firms.
The first category, at the extreme end, may be called a “McKinsey shop” or “Bain shop.” In this situation, the consulting firm is seemingly omnipresent and engaged regularly. A clear sign that you are encountering an MBB shop corporate environment is that the MBB consulting firm’s written communication approach (using chart-rich Powerpoint documents) is required for meeting success. At an MBB shop, it’s also likely that one or two members of the leadership team was trained at McKinsey or Bain, and/or significant board seats are held or influenced by these firms.
As an example of how MBB growth strategy impacts corporate leaders, Indra Nooyi credits her early BCG training with shaping her leadership style at Pepsi.
If a leader in this type of firm wants to be successful, they need to adapt to the MBB firm’s style, since the organizational culture is highly influenced by the MBB consulting firm.
Expanded Choices Beyond MBB May Offer a Better Fit
A different approach found at other large organizations is to use the MBB firms less consistently and/or to reserve them for particular types of assignments. This category of corporate client will work with other types of growth strategy consulting firms or consulting for areas distinct from strategy.
These clients may require deep expertise, operational or other skills, and prefer diversity of approach. For example, consulting firm Oliver Wyman may be chosen for its financial services expertise.
There are eight additional firms who receive strong online ratings across two online sources, and most of these are extremely well known. They are:
- Deloitte/Monitor Deloitte
- IBM Global Services
- LEK Consulting
- Oliver Wyman
- Strategy &/PWC
In addition, there are nine firms that are strongly rated by one online source, some of which are well known:
- Cordence Worldwide
- Kaiser Associates
- OC&C Strategy Consultants
- PA Consulting Group
- Roland Berger
- The Cambridge Group
Depending on the firm, the team composition may follow the MBB business model. As a practical matter, this means that most of the consulting work is done by less experienced team members. In my experience working at Booz Allen & Hamilton in the 1990’s, the partners were involved sporadically, and most of the heavy lifting was done by the project directors and the consulting team.
At other firms, the model may be different, with more experienced staff involved in the work. Most clients I hear from favor getting more experienced input from the consultancy they select. This can make these firms a better fit for many clients.
Values and Culture: How Will Your Management Team Work with the Consulting Team?
Collaboration and active engagement mean that the consulting team members need to have sufficient depth of experience and confidence to facilitate skills transfer and buy in. Your organizational values and the values of the consulting firm will often make or break the experience.
If your firm favors a top down, one answer is right approach, this suggests a less collaborative consulting partner. If your organization encourages diverse inputs and collaborative problem solving, this suggests a different sort of consulting firm choice.
In our experience, it will be difficult for a less experienced consulting team to effectively engage with your leadership team in a collaborative growth strategy development process. This suggests selecting a firm that delivers a more experienced team.
While the MBB firms offer “bootcamps,” such as BCG’s virtual upskilling bootcamp, this is more about imparting skills in the BCG way than leveraging the diverse skills of your team and the consulting partner to arrive at an aligned growth strategy.
We recommend choosing a partner that works with you to customize the growth strategy development approach that will engage your team, rather than take a formulaic approach.
How Can Your Firm Get More from the Growth Strategy Consulting Engagement?
Understanding how the consulting firm will structure the work and how and when the client team will be involved is another important consideration when selecting a consulting firm. For instance, will your team mainly be presented to by the consultant, or will your team be actively involved in framing and evaluating the strategic choices?
Since buy in and alignment are important to success in implementing the strategy, it’s essential that the client’s management team who will be leading the work be actively engaged.
In a well-run growth strategy consulting engagement, there is the opportunity to have an enduring impact through skills transfer. For example, the consulting skill of taking a broad external market perspective for growth strategy development can be transferred to the management team in the course of the engagement. Making this transfer will require more involvement on the part of the client team. The consulting engagement work sessions need to encourage dialog and explore different perspectives.
One test of the strength of the strategy consulting work is if it has an ongoing impact on the management’s consideration set for decisions beyond the scope of the initial engagement.
Impacting the mindset and thinking can be an enduring benefit of working with a strategy consulting firm, especially when the client organization learns to consider more external and diverse inputs.
Bringing growth strategy initiatives to market can take months, if not years, and then the consulting team will be gone. If management is not aligned, the growth strategy has little chance of seeing the light of day.
Your organization’s growth strategy should be a place where fresh thinking is useful and valued. So, when you’re choosing a growth strategy consulting partner, it’s worth exploring who will be involved in the work (not just the selling partner) and how they will work with your leadership team.