Seven things to think about in the Nordics consulting market

At 6%, growth in the Nordics consulting market in 2016-17 was good by continental European standards—but it’s also a good reminder of how dangerous averages can be. Not only are the different countries in the region growing at different rates—growth in Sweden and Finland is roughly twice that of Norway, which is still recovering from the impact of low oil prices—but individual firms’ experiences vary widely.

Speaking recently at events at Virke in Oslo and DI in Copenhagen, I was struck by the possibility that none of the firms in the audience were likely to have grown at that rate. Some we interviewed for our new report on the region were much more upbeat, while others were struggling. Given that context, I offered up seven things consulting firms in the region might like to consider:

  1. Transformation is changing. Nordic clients are a demanding lot, always among the first to scrutinise the experts of consultants who want to work with them. And that scrutiny is being increasingly directed at transformation projects: They’d like to see hard evidence of results being delivered and more thought given to how work at the individual level (the behaviour of people, in effect) is going to be transformed.
  2. As in many other markets we write about, quality of work is no longer a differentiator: The clients we’ve surveyed struggle to point to any one firm that stands out in terms of delivering excellent work.
  3. As a consequence of the previous point, consulting firms would do better to think about how the way they work differentiates them, rather than the services they offer. Clients we’ve surveyed and spoken to in the Nordics say that, when they’re selecting a firm, the three factors that matter most are how innovative the firm is, how strong is its ability to implement, and whether it charges a reasonable price (picky Nordic clients are a bit more price-sensitive than their counterparts in other countries).
  4. But what do clients mean when they say they’re looking for innovation? Our conversations with them have highlighted not only the need for consulting firms to bring best practice from other sectors and geographies, but also the extent to which clients want innovation to be grounded in practical reality. Big ideas are out; small, feasible ideas are in.
  5. Automation is in, but there are worries that it will take the form of robotic process automation, rather than—again—something more innovative.
  6. Talent continues to be a huge issue in the region—this is something every firm would agree on, irrespective of their size and/or recent performance. But perhaps it’s becoming increasingly unlikely that any firm will win the talent “war”. Rather than focusing on trying to find one person who has all the qualities and expertise clients are looking for, the emphasis should be on getting people of different backgrounds and disciplines to work together.
  7. Multi-disciplinary projects—digital transformation being a good example—can be immensely complex to execute, so clients would like consulting firms to make this process simpler. Too often, though, firms are seen to have rigid ways of working, and rules that have to be adhered to. We shouldn’t forget that one of the underlying reasons why organisations bring consultants in is that they create organisational flexibility.

Bearing these seven points in mind won’t guarantee a Nordic firm an easy ride, but it might give it some sense of where and when the next ups and downs will come from.