Maintaining the art of strategic counsel in disruptive times
The art of strategic counsel has existed from the courtiers and viziers of yesteryear to the trusted strategic advisers and management consultants of today.
As recognized in our current day and time, the management consulting industry itself, did not really evolve until 1886 when Arthur D. Little and Roger B. Griffin incorporated what was to become the first management consulting firm with an aim to improve corporate processes, products and services.
Many prestigious core of management consultancies were established thereafter, with the most significant three generating combined revenues of almost $24 billion in 2020.
The industry, however, has faced an almost-perfect storm of disruption over the past decade — one which is not a reputational or strategic issue, but rather a governance one.
How do we know this? Disruption is actually a crisis in slow-motion. For people it does not build character, but instead reveals it, whereas for corporations and institutions, it does not build culture, but rather it exposes it.
Therefore, this period is ripe for providing lessons which the industry as a whole can benefit from.
External perceptions of the industry
Strategic counsel is usually influence behind closed doors, with clients sharing confidential details about their institutions, their problems and ambitions in order to receive help from their trusted adviser in solving them or achieving them.
In instances when this counsel is publicized, and the media, public and key stakeholders react, the only real reason for any consulting firm to be on the defensive would be if their counsel was not intellectually-rigorous, based on sound facts, and provided with genuine integrity.
At a time when global issues like the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are becoming more institutionalized at both national and corporate level, many consulting firms still have an almost-exclusionary mission of just helping their clients. This focus not only looks highly anachronistic, but could be potentially dangerous, if the client has malevolent intent which could manifest hazardously towards society, the economy and potentially, the planet.
From a governance perspective, a true upheaval is then required at the very core mission of the consulting industry itself.
With the most significant management consultants having over 55,000 employees globally, the industry has historically been well-known for recruiting the best and brightest, but could now potentially face a diluted talent base.
Key services of many firms have also expanded to not only include the realm of delivery, execution and implementation, but also digital analytics and design.
The end result, through expanding and broadening both the talent and service base, has created, not as per the title of McKinsey’s 1997 book, “The War for Talent,” but rather a war on talent.
Strategic counsel is designed to enhance performance and add value, solve a problem, resolve a crisis, or help launch something new and innovative, with initiative.
If one were to ask what strategic counsel should look like today and in the future, it would be moving beyond management to governance; beyond strategy to strategic intelligence; and beyond communications to influence.
Even though some of the analogue era are hastening towards digitalization, they are neglecting to realize that the true winners in the art of strategic counsel in this era will actually be those who are ambidextrous between the digital and the real.
What does this entail?
One must seamlessly oscillate from being online, plugged-in and digitally connected to being present in the real world, humanly and naturally connected.
Recognizing the pre-eminence of governance with foresight, famed management consultant Peter Drucker once famously said, “culture eats strategy for breakfast,” and so, in the art of strategic counsel today, knowledge, wisdom and sound judgment based on first principles outplay technology.
As a result, those able to navigate between these two poles of well-being should be better positioned to have an asymmetric leveraged advantage, which can help them, their clients, and society as a whole, achieve a quantum leap.
• Talal Malik is a strategic adviser, and founder of Alpha1Strategy, and has worked with some of the world’s most influential people, companies and institutions.