What does it take to be management and strategy consultant?

Ask 10 management consultants what they do and you are likely to get 10 different answers. This is partly due to the large variety of experiences one can encounter in the job. It is also due to the abuse of the term management and strategy consulting. Although many firms claim to be exclusive management and strategy consulting shops, they do many different things beyond this particular niche.

Since it is hard to come up with a standard definition of the profession, I will limit myself to my concise definition:

Management and strategy consulting is helping executives make decisions.

Let me elaborate. Management consultings typically work with larger organizations. They deal with issues sitting on the executives agenda. The work could be helping CEO for acquisitions, COO with cost transformation, CIO with large scale system transformation, CMO with innovation. Whatever the assigment is usually there’s executive, at most times multiple executives, with a personal interest in the issue. The decision has high impact on the value created/lost  for shareholders/owners.

What kind of skills do you need to get the work done?

  • Management consulting is a client oriented business, hence client empathy is key . A consultant needs to be sensitive to client’s needs, situation. Most business is repeat business, successful consultants have clients for life
  • Most of the decisions involve limited resources, especially time and money. You not only need to be able to crunch numbers (e.g. NPV analysis, basic stats) but also make sense out of them. Unlike academia, problems in real-life are ill-defined. Incomplete, conflicting data is ever-present so good analytic judgment is essential to understand issues
  • You will meet senior clients, report to your seniors in the firm, talk to industry experts, wall st. analysts, cold call competitors/customers. It is important to get your point across in any setting from a formal board presentation to five minute chat with a colleague on each other’s projects. Any senior person either in the client or the firm appreciates a consultant able to voice his perspective in a effective and succinct manner. Hence good communication is essential
  • Consultants are rarely in isolation; they work with other consultants, clients, contractors. You need to be a team player and well-liked. One famous test for hiring is the Pittsburgh airport test: “If I was stuck with this person in the Pittsburgh airport for 8 hours, would I be able to stand him/her?” If the consultant interviewing thinks “No”, chances are he won’t hire you.