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How consultancies can upskill talent & deliver clients valuable services

How consultancies can upskill talent & deliver clients valuable services

Written by:
Gregor Towers
Date created
August 24, 2023
Last updated:
April 7, 2024
5 min read
Table of content
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Key takeaways

• The management consultancy industry is facing increased pressure to deliver technical solutions for clients seeking ROI, with a focus on digital transformation and ESG consulting.

• Consultancies are encountering challenges in project management, talent retention, and attracting skilled consultants due to a shrinking talent pool.

• To meet client demands, consultancies must focus on talent attraction, upskilling, and succession planning to develop a sustainable pool of skilled consultants.

• Client-facing skills such as empathy, advanced data analysis, and leadership are essential for project teams to deliver successful technical services.

The management consultancy industry is under increased stress. While the industry sees revenue grow in markets such as the UK and the US, delivering services to clients with Return On Investment (ROI) is becoming more difficult.

As businesses undertake digital and AI transformation, consultancies have to execute technical projects – including supply chain innovation and data migration – to solve complex challenges at scale.

But clients are also focused on sustainability. Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) consulting is growing to help companies meet the environmental expectations of their investors, policy makers and customers.

With clients’ demands becoming more specialized, consultancies must attract, retain and upskill talent to become Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) with advanced project skills.

Download your upskilling checklist for the consultancy industry

Clients seek more technical services for business value & growth  

With AI and digital transformation in industries such as banking and manufacturing, businesses are innovating their operations and products to supply consumers and increase profit margins.  

As a result, the growth needs of global businesses are becoming more complex and clients increasingly select consultancy firms offering technical solutions, with the power of a firm’s name dropping from 23.1% in 2020 to 14.6% in 2022.

However, as the need for technical services rises, consultancies are encountering several project management challenges, such as adopting AI, talent upskilling and sustainability demands.

Top 5 project management challenges

Consultancies are under more pressure to develop effective solutions and they risk losing shares of client contracts as businesses set up in-house consultancy teams or resort to multi-sourcing – employing consultancies with other 3rd party specialists – to achieve ROI.

To succeed in the client service industry, professionals need to continuously upskill and stay attuned to emerging trends. Embracing technology, understanding clients’ evolving needs, and maintaining a commitment to ongoing learning will be critical for success in this dynamic field. Afrodita Kermichieva Panovska, Human Resources Director at Teleperformance Germany Group

For consultancy firms this means clients are more careful how they invest money in services and expect projects to deliver tangible value. Therefore, they must execute technical services such as mass data migration or automating processes to win client contracts and meet businesses’ goals, whether cost reduction in a recession, increased cybersecurity or customer service innovation to increase revenue.  

Rising Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG) consulting demands deeper expertise

However, businesses are focused on more than digital and AI transformation. Sustainability strategies are essential for companies to build trust with customers, investors and policy makers. By 2024 all companies with over 250 employees must document their sustainability activities with impact assessments and reports.

As a result, consultancies have to assemble project teams with the skills and knowledge of legislation to improve ESG performance. These teams need to analyze risk as well as identify opportunities to increase the confidence of stakeholders in clients’ ESG strategy.

Talent attraction & upskilling to deliver clients profitable solutions

Retaining & sourcing senior consultants is challenging

Consultancies have to source talent with relevant skill sets to meet clients’ growth and service needs, as they look at the time, cost and available SMEs for technical projects.

But hiring and retaining skilled consultants is challenging due to a shrinking talent pool. Consultancies are seeing experienced talent hired by former clients or even going freelance to earn more money in less working hours.

Graduate succession planning increases the retention of skilled talent

New talent entering the industry is key. Consultancies’ L&D teams need to attract, recruit and upskill young consultants to create an internal supply of skilled talent. This involves onboarding graduates into teams and developing skill sets aligned with clients’ needs.

And the talent pool is widening as consultancies look outside of Russell Group universities, with the number of young consultants attending these institutions dropping from 73% in 2011 to 35% in 2022.

With a focus on graduates’ skill development, consultancies can adopt succession planning and internal academies to create a sustainable talent pool. Upskilling can develop talent with key skills and expertise in data analytics, AI integration or ESG consulting to embed specialists in the workforce.  

Example of succession planning at a consultancy specialized in large-scale digital transformation services to improve pharma companies’ customer experience success

However, graduate programs can also involve and retain senior consultants. With the right feedback, coaching and leadership skills, they can help less experienced talent solve clients’ challenges and create a learning culture throughout a consultancy firm.

Key client-facing skills for project teams

Talent’s skills have to match the complexity of projects such as digital transformation and ESG consulting. In the planning phase, talent needs analytical thinking, leading conversations and questioning skills to identify clients’ needs.

Empathy is the ability to empathize with clients and understand their perspectives. Demonstrating empathy and showing respect for clients’ experiences and perspectives, regardless of their cultural, racial, or gender background, is essential for creating an inclusive and welcoming client service experience.

Afrodita Kermichieva Panovska, Human Resources Director at Teleperformance Germany Group

However, soft skills should be balanced with hard skills such as advanced data analysis and storytelling with data to gain clients’ trust in solutions.

And especially for ESG services, consultants need a deep understanding of sustainability legislation to provide detailed and structured reporting to clients. With the right knowledge and skills, consultants can give more accurate advice on financial investment to build successful ESG strategies for clients.

But leadership skills also have to advance to support graduates and project teams as they deliver clients technical services. Project leaders need skills in adapting leadership styles, difficult conversations and giving feedback to manage teams’ development and project capabilities.

Consultancies need to shape existing & future skills for client services

Consultants are delivering niche services to clients. With more technical demand, upskilling is key to expand client accounts and execute projects that deliver clients financial growth.

Despite a challenging market to hire and retain highly-skilled talent, consultancy firms can use succession planning to align talent’s development with the demands of client projects. And combined with leadership upskilling, they can ensure knowledge is passed down from experienced talent to increase their engagement and involvement in company strategy.  

However, as skill sets evolve to match clients’ demands, consultancies have to look beyond digital transformation and ESG consulting: how will legislation evolve? What happens after businesses have integrated new tech? And most importantly, how should upskilling support this?

With the right upskilling strategies and internal academies, consultancies can ensure they have a sustainable supply of highly-skilled talent and continue to grow the sector’s market value.

Download your upskilling checklist for the consultancy industry

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