Why Blue Monday could be a red letter day for consultants

Consultants are notoriously optimistic. Years ago, I had the partner I was working for up against a wall (metaphorically speaking, you understand), when he overused the phrase, “every problem is an opportunity”. “This is just a problem,” I said, “I’ve looked everywhere for the opportunity in it, and there isn’t one.”

And they have to be. Most consulting firms run on relatively short pipelines (2-3 months isn’t at all uncommon, even for the big firms), so it requires a certain degree of optimism not to get stressed by the continuous (but hopefully continuously receding) threat of bankruptcy. Optimism is important at the micro level, too: the consultant who responds to a client request with, “That sounds awful. Have you considered a career in dentistry? It would probably be less painful”, wouldn’t win a lot of work.

Not the group of people who are likely to suffer from the blues on Blue Monday, then.

But consultants should be giving serious thought to all those who did wake up depressed on Monday 18th January. After a year in which ‘transformation’ has been the key driver of growth, it’s good to remind ourselves that, for all the investment, most people’s jobs – the daily grind – hasn’t changed. We may be transforming the way organisations operate, the way they engage with customers, the types of products and services they offer, but we’re only scratching the service when it comes to transforming work.

There’s a huge opportunity in this, and not just in terms of the social good that might result.

We estimate that 45% of the growth in the consulting industry is coming from transformation. But it’s not evenly distributed. If we apply that percentage to our 2014 data (the most recent we have – for the moment), then you start to appreciate that, of the $2.5bn in new strategy work, $2.3bn (just over 90%) came in the form of transformation projects. Similarly, of the $2.4bn in new technology work, $1.7bn (around 70%) came from transformation. But compare that with the $0.3bn of HR and change management work that was associated with transformation: this is lower partly because these services grew less in 2014, but also because only a third of growth came from transformation. Given the opportunity in the market, both of these last two figures are too low – and are likely to be much higher in the future, as clients and consultants wake up to the fact that genuine transformation depends on change at the most human level. Change that might leave a lot of people feeling a little less blue.

Perhaps that partner was right after all: every problem is an opportunity.