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Transcript: Open strategy creates challenges for consultants

KARL MOORE: This is Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, talking management for The Globe and Mail. Today I am delighted to speak with an old friend, Richard Whittington, who is a professor at the Said Business School at Oxford University.

Good afternoon, Richard.

RICHARD WHITTINGTON: Good afternoon, Karl. Good to see you again.

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KM: Richard, you have talked and written about open strategy and how strategy is quite different now from the past. What does this mean for the strategy-consulting industry? Is it going to be quite different in 10 years than it is today?

RW: Yes, Karl, I think the strategy consulting industry is changing fast. Many people will say that the strategy consulting industry is past its peak – I don't think that is the case. I think what is happening is that it's changing.

This notion of open strategy, which reflects the demands for greater inclusion in the strategy-making process and greater transparency in that strategy-making process, does create new challenges for the strategy consultant. Strategy consulting is no longer going to be purely analytical. Strategy consulting is going to be much more like organizational development, involving more coaching skills to help people on inclusion in strategy, coaching and strategic skills and other skills (project skills) to help them actually deliver and, secondly, communication skills because transparency will involve much more communication both internally and externally.

So one of the things you find, certainly in the U.K. and Europe, is that many senior executives are actually poor communicators and they are having to be coached how to work with the media. This has been, of course, a phenomenon that has long history but is becoming increasingly important because people have to communicate their strategy and engage with more people internally and externally as a part of that open-strategy phenomenon.

KM: So does this have implications for who McKinsey, BCG, Bain and those kinds of people hire, then? Are they going to hire different kinds of people?

RW: Yes, I think these changes within the strategy-consulting industry will have implications for the hiring, training and developing practices of the leading strategy-consulting firms. Of course, analytical skills will still be important, sheer brains will still be important, but there will be a much higher premium put on the social and coaching skills that these people have and of course they have to be able to communicate.

Now, those are things they have always had. Those are things they have always cultivated, but I think the emphasis will change from simply being a whiz on the spreadsheet to being much better as a coach and mentor. One intriguing aspect of that, I think, is that may change the balance within the consulting teams – that you will actually require not that old ratio of one partner to 6 or 8 in a team, but you might need a larger proportion of senior, credible, and social-savvy people in these teams and perhaps be less reliant on the junior analysts.

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