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Over the last few years we have seen a rapid development in the impact and skills of internal consultants to the point where, in many cases, they provide capabilities unmatched by external consulting firms.

Here we look at the next generation of internal consulting and the implications for those working in this area. We have identified three main shifts:

1. From consultant to thought leader

We are seeing a great increase in intellectual property generated by internal consultants that is changing their industry. Some recent examples:

a retail internal consulting team working on ‘zero transaction latency’ (creating just-in-time purchase incentives through technology)
an FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) innovation acceleration team creating pioneering advances in confectionery wrappers
an investment bank consulting team creating strategies on international risk management
Internal consultants are acting as both ‘research-on-demand think tanks’ and brain-storming partners, bringing both content and process around innovation.

2. From consultant to change catalyst

In ‘The Ten Faces of Innovation’ Tom Kelley, founder of the design consulting firm IDEO, identified critical roles that were necessary to commercialise innovation (diagram). We find these are being adopted by internal consultants who are taking newly developed intellectual property and not only developing business cases but bringing ideas to market. Whether it’s by providing the necessary process to develop prototypes or scenarios, or by socialising ideas with key clients and internal decision makers, internal consultants are accelerating the time to market for new ideas.

3. From consultant to senior executive coach

Consultants are being called upon not only to foster peer level relationships with top executives but to offer coaching. This trusted advisor role was originally the province of partners of external consultancy firms but, as trust gets established over time by highly competent internal advisors, executives are finding that they benefit hugely from an internal confidant immersed in the organisation’s culture and challenges.

These three shifts have required a broadening of capabilities from internal consultants in six key ways:

  • Shifting the mindset from fixing existing problems to becoming more entrepreneurial and turning possibilities into commercial reality
  • Moving from being an expert problem solver to facilitating others to co-create innovations
  • Strengthening senior level interpersonal skills and social confidence to connect on an emotional, political and rational level with top executives
    Combining rigorous strategy analysis skills with sensitive change management skills in individuals
  • Encouraging risk and experimentation throughout the organisation without needing the last data point. Sometimes ‘80–20’ can be enough to enlist a Board if it is apparent how it meets a commercial imperative and is directionally compelling.
  • Being able to synthesise information and articulate an inspiring message (and stories) at all levels of the organisation for themselves and senior executives

Whilst external consulting firms have undoubtedly adapted to the economic pressures of the last few years, the agility of internal consultants is not limited by any particular business model, but more by their skills and capabilities to contribute widely across their organisations.

We predict the next few years will continue this rapid shift and further challenge the territory of external consulting firms.

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