Virtuous circles in Nordic consulting

There’s something strange happening in the Nordics.

Based on the findings of our latest research, Nordic clients are usually amongst those who are least likely to turn to consultants for help. That’s largely cultural: Nordic countries have always placed great emphasis on the rights of permanent employees, resulting in a lack of the fluidity in the labour market that you see elsewhere and on which the consulting industry tends to thrive. Added to which the Nordic inclination for equality means that it’s far less palatable in Oslo than it is in, say, London, for the person sitting next to you to be earning double what you earn.

As a result, when we’ve asked Nordic clients how likely they are to turn to consultants for help with their projects, we’ve found them less predisposed to doing so than people elsewhere. Keep it in house. Keep it in the family.

But something’s changing: this year when we asked the same question, Nordic clients were not only much more likely than they were this time last year to say they’ll use consultants, they’re actually more likely than people elsewhere to do so. That’s quite a turnaround.

So, what’s happening?

I suspect there are two things at play here: the first is that Nordic companies are becoming more global, to the extent that, as one Danish consultant put it to me: “The reason we’re growing and the big Danish clients are growing has nothing to do with Denmark growing.” Danish freight matters no more to Maersk now, than sales in its Hamngatan store matters to H&M. What matters is what’s happening elsewhere in the world. So the distinction between Nordic clients and their global counterparts is an increasingly false one.

The second is arguably more intriguing. When you start to look more closely at the types of projects for which Nordic clients are most likely to turn to consultants, you find that the biggest change from initiatives concerned with culture change. Clients working on culture change are significantly more likely to say they’ll use consultants than they were this time last year. And what’s likely to be having the biggest impact on culture change in Nordic organisations? Globalisation. In other words, it’s the process of becoming more global itself, which is making views about the use of consultants feel more…well…global.

All of which leads to the inescapable conclusion that Nordic consultants are winning lots of work at the moment helping Nordic clients to become the sort of people that use consultants more. I have no doubt they’re delighted to be doing so.