The Future of the Firm

Conversations with experts that explore the big trends shaping the professional services industry.

The future of the professional services industry has never been so opaque. As we hurtle along an uncertain trajectory, services from audit to consulting will all need to be radically re-imagined. On this podcast, we explore the changing face of the industry, and what that means for firms that want to compete—and win—in the modern knowledge economy.

The Future of the Firm
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What role can human capital consultants play in enabling the workforce of the future?

It’s fair to say that organisations have never before been more conscious of the critical two way dependencies between themselves and their workforces. On the one hand, businesses are having to think about how they can keep their people safe and do right by their employees; on the other, those same businesses are trying to create the type of institutional resilience that will allow them to continue operating even if key individuals are temporarily unavailable. We could well be on the verge of a complete transformation of the relationship between employees, businesses and society-at-large. So, in this podcast, we explore the nature of that transformation—and ask whether it will lead to a consequent reimagining of the role of human capital consultants.

Fiona Czerniawska, Clarrie Wakeling and; Fergus Navaratnam-Blair.

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How can auditors maximise their perceived value-add?

Regular listeners of the podcast will have frequently heard us address the thorny topic of value in the professional services industry; today, we apply that thinking to the world of audit. Non-discretionary work like audit isn’t always seen as “value-generating” in quite the same way that discretionary spend—consulting services, for example—is. But is that really fair? In this episode, we explore the relationship between audit and value, as understood by clients; and we ask what auditors can do if they want to maximise their perceived value-add.

Click here to download an extract of our recently published report on client perceptions’ of audit firms.

Edward Haigh, Martin White and; Fergus Navaratnam-Blair.

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How can you make your thought leadership stand out in today’s content landscape?

Thought leadership has always been one of the most important weapons in a consulting firm’s brand-building arsenal. And that’s why it’s so important to invest time into making sure that your content output is highly differentiated; not just from the thought leadership that other firms are putting out, but also from all of the other media sources you’re competing against for client eyeballs. In this episode, we explore how clients’ content consumption habits have been affected by COVID-19, and what that means for consulting firms who want to make their material stand out from the crowd.

Zoë Stumpf; Edward Haigh; and Fergus Navaratnam-Blair.

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How can you protect your reputation in a time of crisis?

There is no shortage right now of stories in the press about how professional services firms are responding to the pandemic—be those positive stories about companies going above and beyond to protect their employees and their customers, or more negative ones about firms laying people off or failing to deliver on critical public health projects. But is all of that noise actually having an impact on client perceptions? In this episode, we examine how the brands of leading firms are holding up during this crisis, and ask what firms can do to ensure they come out of this period with their reputation in the market enhanced rather than diminished.

Alison Huntington; Edward Haigh; and Fergus Navaratnam-Blair.

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What’s the outlook for the risk consulting market?

COVID-19 has undoubtedly transformed the way that clients think about risk, and how they evaluate the risk management practices of their own organisations. So what does that mean for the risk consulting market? In this podcast, we explore how the market for risk services has held up through the pandemic; what changes could be on the horizon for how risk services are delivered; and what firms can do today to set themselves up for success in this market.

Zoë Stumpf ; Martin White; and Fergus Navaratnam-Blair.

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How can you solve the Goldilocks Problem?

Getting the right balance between breadth and depth in your service portfolio is one of the perennial challenges for consulting firms. Many clients greatly value the ability to buy multiple services from a single vendor; but spread yourself too thinly and you risk becoming seen as a jack-of-all-trades. So in this episode, we look at what firms need to consider when developing their service portfolio, and how they can find that sweet spot between doing everything under the sun and becoming single service providers. We also explore how the size of your firm helps shape client expectations for what services you’ll be able to offer them, and how you can best take advantage of those expectations.

Fiona Czerniawska; Martin White; and Fergus Navaratnam-Blair.

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Will regulation or technology have a bigger impact on the future of audit?

Regulators in the UK recently announced the details of a plan to reform the audit industry, in response to a series of high profile business failures where auditors took a large portion of the public blame. And these UK proposals may well end up as the template for reforms in other markets. So, in this episode, we examine the role that regulation will play in shaping how audits are purchased and delivered over the coming years—and examine the relationship between regulation and other critical factors that will shape the future of audit.

Fiona Czerniawska; Martin White; and Fergus Navaratnam-Blair.

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What will the future of sustainability services look like?

Sustainability is a topic that’s moved up and down the client agenda for a while now—but around this time last year it felt to many like we’d reached a turning point — spurred on by Greta Thunberg, the global climate strikes, and the new wave of media focus on the issue. And while COVID-19 has certainly impacted client priorities, and perhaps led to a bit more of an emphasis on the social side of the ESG equation, it doesn’t seem to have much dampened interest in the topic. Today on the podcast, we’ll be examining the role that sustainability services play in today’s professional services market—and what role they could play in the future.

We’ve just published a free white paper on why sustainability needs to be thought about in the same way as digital, and what you need to do next.

Edward Haigh; Clarrie Wakeling; and Fergus Navaratnam-Blair.

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What impact will COVID-19 have on M&A activity in the consulting sector?

Consulting firms have not been shy these past few years about making acquisitions; in fact, there have been several high-profile recent examples of firms buying businesses that fall well outside the traditional definition of consulting, in an attempt to augment their service portfolios or create entirely new customer propositions. In this episode of the podcast, we ask whether M&A energy has been diminished or magnified by COVID-19, and explore how the pandemic may change what firms look for in potential acquisition targets.

Margaret Cameron-Waller; Edward Edgcumbe; James Beeby; and Fergus Navaratnam-Blair.

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What role does brand play in your client’s buying decisions?

A firm’s brand is always one of its most important assets. Not only is it a critical part of getting your foot in the door with new clients, but it also sets the limits of what work you can and can’t feasibly bid for; like it or not, brand is one of the key factors that clients look at when deciding who to work with and who to avoid. So in this episode of the podcast, we explore exactly how your brand shapes the work that clients are willing to buy from you, and we look at how COVID-19 may reshape what it means to have a great brand identity.

Edward Haigh; Alison Huntington; and Fergus Blair.

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How can firms make investment decisions in a time of uncertain growth?

Investing for organic growth as a professional services firm is rarely straightforward, even in times of relatively stable background economic conditions. There are a myriad of factors that go into decisions about which markets to enter, what new services to launch, and how to invest in talent. In periods of crisis and uncertainty, those decisions become orders of magnitude more complex. In this episode, we explore what smart investing looks like in the time of COVID-19.

Fiona Czerniawska; Margaret Cameron-Waller; and Fergus Blair.

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Your COVID-19 Questions Answered

We take a break from our regularly scheduled programming to bring you a special live Q&A episode, in which we answer the burning questions on the minds of consulting leaders. This is a recording of an online panel discussion we recently hosted, for which we invited firms to submit questions on the theme of how COVID-19 has changed professional services. In this episode, we go through those questions and explore how different facets of the industry have been impacted by the pandemic.

Fiona Czerniawska; Margaret Cameron-Waller; Alison Huntington; and Fergus Blair.

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How will COVID-19 impact the delivery of consulting projects?

COVID-19 has rewritten the rulebook for consulting projects; firms have had to adapt, virtually overnight, to a world in which the vast majority of their work must be done remotely. In this episode of the podcast, we take a closer look at the challenges and opportunities that firms are facing right now, and we explore the potential longer-term implications of the current crisis on project delivery.

Fiona Czerniawska; Edward Edgcumbe; and Fergus Blair.

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What will consulting’s leaders of the future look like?

The modern consulting partnership looks very different from those of ten or even five years ago. Not only have more firms recognised the importance of diversity–both in terms of demographics and in terms of professional background and thinking style–at the partner level, but the skills required to be a successful leader in the consulting industry have changed dramatically. In this episode, we’re joined by Ben Richardson, of executive search and talent advisory firm Sheffield Haworth, to discuss the ongoing evolution of the consulting partnership.

Fiona Czerniawska; Edward Haigh; Fergus Blair; and Ben Richardson.

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What makes for great thought leadership?

Most consulting firms care a great deal about the quality of the thought leadership they put out into the market; but even so, there are still plenty of sub-par pieces that get published. In this episode, we discuss the impact that good thought leadership can have on a firm’s reputation, what makes some pieces stand out from the crowd, and what firms can do if they want to ensure consistency and quality in their thought leadership output.

Fiona Czerniawska; Alison Huntington; and Fergus Blair.

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How can you win the war for talent?

Top graduates entering the talent market today have more options open to them than ever before. At the same time, career paths for consultants are more fluid than they’ve ever been, with mid-career professionals happy to move around between firms, go in and out of industry, and spend time as freelancers. All of this means that attracting and retaining top talent is becoming increasingly challenging for many firms; and on this podcast, we explore some of the different ways firms are trying to meet that challenge.

Fiona Czerniawska; Edward Haigh; Fergus Blair; and Richard Longstreet.

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What impact will coronavirus have on professional services?

It’s clear right now that we’re in unprecedented times for the global economy. Across the world, professional services firms are trying to understand what impact COVID-19 will have on their own ability to continue operating and on their demand pipeline. In this episode, we explore the potential impact of the pandemic on the professional services sector, and talk about what we’ll be doing to support listeners of our podcast through this challenging period.

Fiona Czerniawska; and Fergus Blair.

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What even is consulting?

Consulting is, to put it bluntly, not an easy industry to navigate. The dizzying array of firms out there – all offering jargon-laden, overlapping bundles of services – make it hard for even seasoned industry-watchers to accurately describe the landscape of the sector. But what if there was a better way to talk about consulting services?

Fiona Czerniawska; Edward Haigh; Edward Edgcumbe; and Fergus Blair.

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Has anyone cracked account management?

A recurring theme of our podcast has been the way in which professional services firms are becoming increasingly complex and difficult to navigate. But as a consequence of that shift, the role of the account manager has become more important than ever. In this episode, we explore how firms are reinventing the way they manage client relationships, and what that means for you.

Our Emerging Trends report on The Future of Account Management is now available.

Edward Haigh; Alison Huntington; and Fergus Blair.


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Is there a “best” brand strategy?

Professional services firms live and die by the strength of their brand. But there is precious little consensus about how to develop and protect it; different companies have taken very different approaches to brand management. In this podcast, we explore the pros and cons of different brand strategies.

Edward Haigh; Alison Huntington and Fergus Blair.

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Should you be offering your clients discounts?

The prevalence of discounting is one of the consulting industry’s biggest open secrets. For many firms, the rate card is more of a useful fiction than anything else. Should firms be wary of the long-term impact of discounting too much? Or is it all part of playing the game?

Fiona Czerniawska; Edward Haigh; and Fergus Blair.

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What would a discretionary audit look like?

Nobody likes getting audited. But does that have to be the case? By asking what a discretionary audit would look like, we can better understand the opportunities for auditors to use new technology to make their services more attractive to clients.

Fiona Czerniawska; Edward Haigh; and Fergus Blair.

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How can you measure the value of a consultant?

Consulting is an industry with a perennial value problem; because the work that consultants do can often be relatively abstract and strategic, it can be difficult to prove the value created by a given project. Is there anything that firms can do to help make their unique value-add more concrete in the eyes of clients?

Fiona Czerniawska; Edward Haigh; and Fergus Blair.

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What if consultants gave up flying?

The stereotype of consultants is that they spend all their time jet-setting around the world; George Clooney even made a film about it. But in an age when all of us are having to think more about our environmental footprint, is it time for consultants to become a little more grounded?

Fiona Czerniawska; Edward Haigh; and Fergus Blair.

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What is the future of managed services?

The managed services model has historically been associated more with technology outsourcing than with high complexity advisory services. But in recent years, an increasing number of consulting firms have appropriated this model and begun offering continuous support to their clients in critical business areas. In this episode, we examine this trend, and ask whether it represents the inevitable future of management consulting.

Fiona Czerniawska; Edward Haigh; and Fergus Blair.

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Is it time to retire the rate card?

The trusty time and materials pricing model may have served consulting firms well for decades, but is it on its last legs? In this podcast, we look at the growing appetite for linking project fees directly to outcomes, and ask whether this really is the future of the industry.

Fiona Czerniawska; Edward Haigh; and Fergus Blair.