Backup Consultants Aren’t Joking

Bad jokes about management consultants are, if not exactly legend, commonplace enough for most of us to trot one out with just moment’s reflection. And while not suggesting that collective sensitivity to humour has anything to do with it, management consultants worldwide want to be taken more seriously.
The result is move by the International Council of Management Consulting Institutes to adopt global Certified Management Consultant (CMC) standard of competency and qualification. The move, in the words of ICMCI chairman Richard Elliott, who was in New Zealand last month, is not before time but has taken some strenuous global diplomacy to accomplish. The talking started back in 1987.
Management consultancy is relatively new “profession”, if one can use the term. It has only been around for about 25 years. And now, according to Elliott, it is going through its first significant industry “hiccup”. Events like the Trade Towers attack in New York, the Arthur Andersen debacle, corporate collapses of the Enron kind and the recession in US and European economies are having major impact on business that had been growing at between 20 and 30 percent year.
There aren’t any reliable statistics on just how big, in turnover terms, the consultancy industry is, but Elliott, who is Australian-based, estimates it generates revenues of around $6 billion year in his country and between $200 and $300 million in New Zealand.
The pace of growth has, however, slowed since the end of 2001, particularly in Europe, where it has been dramatically checked and in economies like Germany, it is currently going backwards, laying off staff and consultants alike.
Consultancy, particularly in New Zealand and Australia, flourished in the wake of commercial and economic deregulation – ushered in by the Lange and Hawke governments of the 1980s and maintained, by and large, through the ’90s. The ongoing clamour of mergers, acquisitions, separations, downsizing, re-branding and general change management mêlee fuelled demand that consultants rushed to meet. And therein emerged problem. As the demand for consulting services mushroomed, standards slipped.
Consultancy is profession “characterised by changing portfolios of services, low barriers to entry, and no single professional qualification”, says Caroline Barker, head of professional development at the UK Institute of Management consultancy – who was also in town. On the other hand, this new profession succeeded in attracting high-calibre individuals, building high profile and generating some impressive levels of income.
So from October this year the Institute hopes to have global certification mark that will provide differentiation between consultants who have passed the ICMC certification standards and those who haven’t. The process is already working in the UK where the IMC model has been used to create the global standard.
The CMC qualification will define “competent consultant” and broadly speaking, is targeted at those who:
* Have at least three years’ experience as consultant.
* Are experienced in all elements of the consulting life cycle.
* Can take full ownership for delivery of project or major work stream.
* Have experience in managing others and whose contribution is valued by clients.
The pressure is on consultants to perform and to be accountable. Clients unhappy with the performance of certified members will have recourse to the international body. The reality is, according to Elliott, clients are far more demanding and discerning now and provide better briefs. They expect consultants to perform to higher standards and they know exactly what they want. That wasn’t always the case, he concedes.
The industry may be going through soft patch at the moment, some observers in New Zealand think it is currently going backwards, but Elliott says the time is right for consultants to get their house in order for the future. “We have reached point of maturity – plateau in the evolution of the profession. The market is more skilled in managing consultants and consultants have learned to read their clients more carefully.” professional certification process is tangible sign of that maturity. M

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