More courage to express an opinion needed in consulting

Op-ed piece on the leading B2B portal with ~ 55.000 readers and ~ 95.000 page views monthly

More courage to express an opinion needed in consulting

November 22, 2022

Definitely maybe“: This is the name of the debut album of the Britpop band Oasis from 1994. This has been running through my head for weeks as I prepare for interviews with CEOs in consulting and corporate influencer workshops.

When it comes to developing snappy quotes or stories for social media, stress ensues. Showing clear opinions or forming theses obviously creates pressure.

Only “man bites dog” is a message, I like to tease then. This is how I want to elicit corners and edges for exchange with the leading media. But it’s not easy.

Hence I wonder:

  • Why do many people have such a hard time showing their edge?
  • Why is this of all things crucial in this polycrisis?
  • Besides “The Pain is the Pitch,” what tips are there for sharpening your opinion?

The loudest opinion often doesn’t have the faintest idea

As a Handelsblatt reader since my student days, I’m a big fan of the agency Thjnk’s new image campaign.

The claim “Ready for new thinking ” underlines: We are facing a decade of disruptions.

What the pandemic and the Ukraine war have heralded is a profound upheaval – regardless of whether one calls this necessary reorganization a “turn of the times” or not.

As Handelsblatt editor-in-chief Sebastian Matthes aptly describes it:
Germany has to decide: Do we want to just endure this change – or shape it?
It is becoming increasingly clear, he said, “that the problems of the future can no longer be solved with the recipes of the past.

One thing is clear:
It takes opinions. Sound. Not simply loud. Here, the top decision-makers in consulting and the large auditing firms would have a wide range of opportunities.

Why do many people have such a hard time showing their edge?

Often, this potential still lies fallow. I’ve been tripping over that since my Booz&Company days. When it came to preparing interviews with leading media, that was easy during study launches. Finally, here was the thought leadership that partners could hang their hats on with numbers/data/facts.

But pointed opinions on the meta-themes of business or provocative forecasts about specific transformations? Today, as then, I experience hesitation, nested sentences in “both/and” manner or massive blockades.

In my op-ed piece “The seven sins of PR – and how to elegantly avoid them in consulting” I do describe this as an attempt to “nail a pudding to the wall“; in other words, an attempt to launch statement-free PR content in order to remain as unassailable as possible.

Three reasons why consultants are strangers to expressing opinions

1. Stress

Even though New Work has changed a lot since the pandemic: I don’t know any CEO/country manager or senior partner in consultancies and WPs who works less than 70 hours. There is often a lack of freedom to withdraw and look at the world detached from day-to-day business.

2. Typical curricula in consulting

Compared to all industries, the consulting industry probably invests the most in its employees. There is virtually no skill that is not trained. However, forming opinions and expressing them is not one of them. In this context, workshops for young consultants on “What is an opinion – and what is not” could be eye-opening.

3. In-house powerplays

If you want to move up in consulting or audit firms, you need not only the corresponding revenues, but also the internal power base. If you want to serve the right mandates or need votes for promotion or board decisions, you don’t like to hang your head too far out the window. A voice that is too loud in the media or even a shitstorm could lead to criticism from colleagues.

The DNA of the consulting industry is rather a hindrance for opinion leaders

On top of the three reasons mentioned above comes the DNA of the industry. Thus, in my positioning projects and especially the media trainings, I often encounter two MyersBriggs personality types.

However, these are precisely the ones who have a particularly hard time with the opinion.

  • The INTJ -types – They are usually strategic and conceptual as well as innovative, independent and logical. So they would actually be predestined to develop convincing, long-term visions and to come up with innovative solutions to complex problems.
    However, the “I” – their own introversion – stands in their way of openly communicating their opinions. They tend to prefer “overthinking.”
  • The ENTJ -types – In themselves, their uncompromising, analytical thinking about the future makes them born opinion leaders. Here, it’s more the internal power play that gets in the way.

Together, this often leads to the behavior pattern: “I keep all my cards close to my chest and don’t mess with clients who might disagree.”

Why does a pointed opinion pay off?

A good decade ago, there was the Stefan Raab show “Opinion has to be worthwhile again“. This motto applies more than ever. Clients need orientation. This is where consultants and auditors can score points with their expertise. Anyone who has to solve the most diverse and very specific problems of their clients on a daily basis knows about the proverbial “pain points”.

“Pain is the pitch” – a strong guardrail for finding opinions

If you know today’s pain points in the areas of finance, productivity, process and implementation like the back of your hand, you can reliably extrapolate what they will look like tomorrow. And he can – and should – use this “pain is the pitch ” as a guard rail for finding and expressing opinions.

It is precisely this problem-solving ability that is not only the value proposition for clients, but also the basis for all trenchant expressions of opinion – whether in Handelsblatt, the Corporate blog or on LinkedIn.

Four tips on how to get out of the “Definitely maybe” trap

1. Benchmark yourself: Where are you strong? Where are you lagging behind?

“Playing catch-up” and repeating existing opinions does not yield quotes or true opinion leadership. Honestly put yourself to the test in your area of expertise and consider, “What statements and future deductions can I use to turn the screw even further?”
What is important here? Hands off self-promotion. Quoting only from one’s own studies is prohibited.

2. Formulate your personal communication goal including concrete examples

Define your overall communication goal. Because without SOCO – the ‘single overriding communications objective’ – nothing works. Whoever has that can form the underlying messages. For these, the MECE principle applies: ‘mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive’. Those who have clarity in their message pyramid and message house communicate precisely instead of ‘wishy-washy’. Collect examples that have not already been widely shared.
Et voilá: you have theses that are quotable!

3. Consciously take time for your own thought leadership

Read. Not only in-house studies, but also the leading international media, books, blogs, social media, etc. Those who only stew in their own juices will not become the North Star for others.

and last but not least

4. Invest in media training for yourself and message workshop for your teams

If you want to win the next pitches and lead the way as an opinion leader, you need sparring partners. Both to rub shoulders and to test and grind their own messages. Always treat yourself to media training with an expert. Enable your teams to hold message workshops. Especially in the war for talent, you don’t need corporate clone warriors reposting your press release, you need people with opinions. Social media engagement rates will increase. So are the applications.

Conclusion: Turn your opinion into a strong competitive advantage

Take advantage of the looming recession to get out of the “Definitely maybe” attitude to a clear opinion. Recipes of the past do not do justice to the current complexity. So look for the recipes for the future.

Your clients will thank you for it. As you know, people buy from people and only from those they trust in the long term. Your communications consultants will thank you, too. Because there is no greater reward for them than strong quotes in Handelsblatt, FAZ or WirtschaftsWoche. Dare!

Author: Susanne Mathony

Susanne Mathony
Susanne Mathony

The positioning of brands and people are my passion. For more than two decades, I have lived out my calling with CEO positioning, strategic marketing and communications consulting, PR and business storytelling.
Added in 2014 was the Social Media Consulting. Here, the focus is on #SocialCEO and personal branding and positioning of boards and teams on LinkedIn.My home is Professional Services. At GSA and EMEA level, I worked for AlixPartners, Andersen Consulting (now Accenture), Strategy& as well as Russell Reynolds Associates, among others.
As a political scientist and trained journalist, I started my career at a Washington, D.C., think tank.

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