Written by: Runar Vestrheim
After more than two decades in the IT consulting industry both as a consultant and manager, I have made my reflections and experiences on what is key to create a winning consulting company. As I move on to a new role with several delivery areas, I thought it’s time to share some of my experience. Here, I summarize what I believe to be the most important criteria for creating a successful consulting team or company.
Are the criteria obvious? Yes, but they are still difficult to implement in practice.
Is it smart of me to share these criteria? Definitely, sharing knowledge is precisely one of the success criteria.
1. Define clear services in a growing market
What should your company be to whom? Meaning, what services do you provide, and to whom? If this is not clear, it’s difficult to succeed in general, and you will also have problems with the following criteria, especially criteria 2. Services should of course be aimed at a growing market. And remember, you have to be able to differentiate yourself! In what way are your services different?
2. Set clear and ambitious goals - and go for them!
Goals must engage and motivate all employees. They must ignite a spark in the mind and the heart with a desire to achieve the goals. This means that goals can't be strictly financial. And the road to achieving them must be just as meaningful. At a minimum: have the ambition to be the best at what you do. Become world champion! Aiming to be mediocre is not a winning recipe.
Use your goals as a daily compass. There are many tempting opportunities along the road that may not follow the course towards the goals. If the opportunity doesn't take you to your goal, leave it alone. You should only do what will help you reach your goal.
3. The right people in the right role, but everyone needs to have a sales focus
A basic, important principle for the consulting industry is to deliver what you promise - always. Everyone must have this mindset, in every role. Beyond that, diversity is important. You don't grow into eternity with identical people. Age, gender, ethnicity, education, etc. There is a wonderful (but difficult) balance between diversity and likeness. Get to know people. Who is better at domain, delivery, management, and sales?
"Hire for attitude, train for skill" says Runar Vestrheim, Chief Country Operations Officer at Cegal SYSCO.
Not everyone is a fit for everything. Another fundamental principle: consulting sales are about relationships and trust. The consultant has relationships and trust and must always sell. Without it, the business doesn't scale very well. Use specialist sellers, not generalist sellers. And finally, challenge people.
4. Proper incentives
Give your employees the right incentives to succeed and stay. In addition to a strong performance culture with backing and feedback, the consultants also require reasonable pay for the struggle. There is a shortage of IT consultants, and many companies are over-bidding each other for salaries when chasing great consultants. A salary war does not create room to build a robust and successful company. Compensation is supposed to be a hygiene factor, i.e. fair wages for strong work. The best solution is therefore ownership interest. Let your employees take part in the success of the company. If the company succeeds, its employees succeed. Win-win. This creates connections and motivations that are far more powerful than wages.
5. Create a strong culture of sharing and learning
A really good consultant who works alone is only so smart and powerful. A good consultant who has a large and competent network of great consultants around him is very smart and very powerful. You need to build a culture where the consultants know each other, back each other up, and share knowledge. Knowledge sharing applies both internally and externally. Sharing and learning from each other is win-win. Everyone doesn’t have to be best friends, but they can still love working with each other.
6. Smart and efficient deliveries
Reuse of methods, deliveries, code etc. is the difference between good and extraordinary deliveries. Reuse, or the use of "reusable assets" as I like to call it, is key to the extraordinary. Reusable assets increase efficiency, improve profitability, and reduce risk, and the customer is both impressed and satisfied because you deliver quickly and with high quality.
As I stated initially, these six criteria may seem obvious, yet they are challenging to accomplish. It can be difficult to maintain focus over time. The right framework might not always be in place. For example, having the right incentives or enough resources to prioritize the focus areas described above. At Cegal SYSCO, we have had tremendous growth and great success. However, we have not run the company perfectly, far from it at times. We have been strong in some areas – in others we have not been as good. Nevertheless, I find that these six criteria are what characterizes companies that succeed – including Cegal SYSCO.