If you are reading this article hoping for some mud-slinging, you will be disappointed. There are benefits to both models and approaches into which this article hopes to give some insight. In some instances, prospective clients will see small and perfectly-formed as the answer. In other cases, sheer size and reach will fit your requirements. Call it David and Goliath, Enkidu and Gilgamesh or George and the Dragon, if you will. In reality, a small management consultancy does not directly compete with the large management consultancies. There are gaps, differentiators and specific requirements that suit the smaller entity. So, without further ado, let’s talk about small management consultancy versus large management consultancies.
Management consultancy is the process of improving the performance of an organisation to achieve their strategic objectives. Another definition might be services that improve the management of an organisation. One of the greatest strengths of management consultants is “to be ignorant and ask a few questions”, according to the late, Peter Drucker. The industry as a whole has changed significantly in recent decades, largely due to the introduction of new technologies. Management consultants sit outside an organisation, typically providing expert advice professionally to clients. As the industry has had to adapt to technology and regulatory changes, not all consultancy is the same.
In terms of competitive competencies, the rapid change to the technological landscape has disrupted the industry. Some dabble in analytics, others use AR/VR and, more recently, AI. Software is increasingly being leveraged for competitive advantage and ‘stickiness’ of customers. Other innovations such as the deployment of neuroscientific techniques, unique thinking frameworks and product testing methodologies set us apart. There are a range of types of consultancies from specialists in an industry, process or niche. Similarly, there are innovation consultancies that focus on product and market opportunities. Finally, there are various research houses, IT solution providers and project management firms. Now, let’s look at the benefits of small and large management consultancies.
Small management consultancy
The most valuable materials on the planet tend to be found in very small amounts. Precious gems and rare earth metals are highly prized with high values per gram. Their scarcity and bountiful, often long-term uses drive up the value even further. Similarly, nobody wants a smartphone the size of a brick in 2024. Some want to make calls from a smartwatch and others want a phone that fits in a slim clutch bag. Anyway, you get the idea. Sometimes, small is good. In a small management consultancy, you often see a different approach to the ‘big boys’. Agile, lean and responsive are just three words that typify smaller players. With small size comes rapid mobilisation of resources, usually on a platform of low overheads. There is also the option of going directly to the owners or consultants, rather than via switchboards or personal assistants.
Similarly, personal, transparent and innovative are just as relevant. Small management consultancies can attend in-person and may perform much of the work themselves. Additionally, they are usually qualified and experienced with simple charging models. Furthermore, they are often transparent, with complex processes and models remaining a more-closely guarded IP in the largest firms. The agile and transparent small provider also tends to be innovative, not having to confirm to set models, templates and procedures. Finally, small practices can tailor their services and relationships to fit the needs of their clients. A large SME or corporate may not be ready for a team of 20 on a project, perhaps needing to chart the course first. Brave pioneers can also add services and use partners to provide a broader array of services according to need.
Large management consultancies
It goes without saying that we are now facing Goliath, Gilgamesh or the Dragon. Whereas David, Enkidu or George display courage, fleet of foot and sharp of mind, the opponents possess incredible scale. Some of the big players have thousands of staff and operate internationally. Similarly, they have sizeable breadth and depth of services and capabilities that many smaller players cannot match. If you operate internationally across multiple jurisdictions and time zones, you need a partner to match. If you have 120,000 staff and want to transform a division, it makes sense to leverage a team of 100 consultants.
Large management consultancies have built and embedded layers of technology to cement ongoing client revenues. Whereas a retainer may be ended or a project postponed when times get tough, software and technology services are harder to scale back. Quite often, your business depends on the very IT solutions provided by the biggest players. From analytics to AR/VR and tool stacks to AI models, there are software solutions you can leverage. Others provide subscription-based services to give you access to HR, training and governance platforms. Many senior directors appreciate having access to self-proclaimed ‘industry-leading’ partners – foremost experts in specific disciplines. Finally, a substantial benefit of the largest players is that they will possess expertise in almost any industry or topic. Ultimately, there will be a partner, team or department that can cater for your specific needs.
Small, but perfectly-formed?
Full disclosure – Think Beyond is David in the above struggle. Like it or not, we simply don’t compete with the largest management consultancies. However, we like to think of ourselves as Achilles or Perseus – both great warriors who punched above their weight. Thus, where it makes sense to use consultants, there are scenarios where we are perfectly placed. Similarly, when a management team needs a broad, outside perspective, we can respond with agility. Finally, if you don’t fancy working with graduates, paying exorbitant partner hourly rates or feeling like you have to follow instructions, why not give a warrior a call.