Consultants and their Purpose: Is now the era of real meaning under COVID-19?

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Consultants and their Purpose: Is now the era of real meaning under COVID-19?

April 7, 2020

Susanne Mathony Purpose Consulting
Foto credits: Bruce Jastrow

Purpose: a term that is becoming increasingly important especially in times of crisis. But what is the current situation with ‘purpose’? Do good deeds finally follow fine words? Consultant Susanne Mathony asks the question about the pro bono Marshall Plan.

The COVID 19 pandemic is proving to be a Black Swan moment for which nobody was prepared. In addition to the humanitarian catastrophe, it is a singular challenge for the global economy. If the latter is doing badly, so is the consulting industry.

According to Source Global, the consulting market in Europe could collapse by 28%. Losses in revenues such as after the bursting of the dot.com bubble or after 9/11 seem inevitable.

In addition to challenges such as the switch to remote work/home office or the elimination of face-to-face meetings and tough business development, there is the litmus test:

How do consultants feel about their “purpose” now?

As to be seen on the covers of countless business books, this term has enjoyed great popularity since 2010. The question of the meaning of an organization is fundamentally different from Milton Friedman’s commandment (1970). He manifested the social responsibility of a company solely in the increase of profits.
In contrast, Laurence D. Fink, CEO of BlackRock, made a bold statement in his Annual Letter 2018. This – in contrast to Friedman – postulates that only those will be successful over time who both make financial contributions and demonstrate the positive contribution to society. This statement started a whole movement.

Even consulting firms are driven by the question of their own destiny: “Why do we exist?” and the famous “Why” by Simon Sinek.
Both as part of the consulting portfolio and for their own definition of values. No matter whether you enter purpose in the search engines for the Big Three or the Hidden Champions: There are dozens and dozens of hits.

BCG bought the specialist consultancy BrightHouse as early as 2015.
Roland Berger put the term on the cover of “Think:act” in 2018.
Horvarth & Partner launched the study “North Star: Purpose-driven Leadership for the 21st Century”.
At McKinsey it is on the current “Akzente” magazine.

Purpose: The Miracle Cure in the War for Talent

Purpose-oriented companies not only meet the expectations of consumers and society. They also grow faster than the competition and are less susceptible to economic fluctuations.
According to Ernst & Young’s “Global Leadership Forecast 2018″, ‘Purposeful Organizations‘ showcase 42% better financial results than the average. According to McKinsey, on average, purposeful brands increase their value twice as fast as the competition.

Purpose also functions as a link within the company, i.e. increases the attractiveness for candidates and the motivation of employees.
In the War for Talents of recent years, ‘purpose’ was the magic word for consulting firms to attract and retain top talents.
Sabbaticals and elaborate programs to make working hours more flexible or reconcile work and family life were enticed in order to offer compensation for 70 hour weeks and many hotel nights away from the family.

A new Marshall Plan from the restructuring consultants – cross-competitive and pro bono?


What will happen to all the consultants who are curently ‘on the beach’ due to the exogenous COVID 19 shock. They will probably stay there longer, since projects in the coming months are likely to be primarily operationally restructuring-driven rather than long-term strategic?

And: How is the impending recession affecting the recruiting pipeline? We are already hearing about hiring freeze and the termination of contracts with university graduates who are unable to start their consulting careers for the time being.

Now it is the time to see whether the purpose statements are delivering what they promised. Perhaps only now the true meaning will occur by demonstrating one’s own expertise in COVID-19-relevant areas in practice, instead of communicating this in dozens of (theoretical) studies.
For example, to orchestrate the procurement of the billions of protective masks. Or to save the backbone of the German economy – the Mittelstand (SMEs) – from the great wave of bankruptcies.
Or releasing consultants to lend a hand in the area of logistics and administration of hospitals and nursing homes at their limits.

In other words:
Passionate manpower and superb know-how as an investment in the future.
and
Creating value through value by working out the details of the exit from the lockdown together with politics, business and research.

Boldly thought

Could this possibly be the time for a second Marshall Plan?
This time, driven by the best restructuring experts across the competition – and pro bono – with the speed that distinguishes them? Extraordinary times require extraordinary actions.
This is a great opportunity for Professional Services:
Advice through action!
This would include creating meaning and enhancing the image of the post-COVID world.

view Consulting.de article (in German)