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Trends on the Very Near Horizon

None of us is endowed with flawless business prognosticating abilities, and I don’t claim to be an exception. But here are some developments that I see as more likely to occur than not over the short-term. Consider what the implications might be for your particular consulting practice or approach.

  • Disappearance of traditional hierarchies.
    While there will continue to be an executive strata formulating strategy and accountable for the profit and loss, there will be an increasingly flat organization below it. Job titles will reflect results accountabilities (“customer satisfaction director” or “on-time performance chief”) rather than task accumulations (“vice president of administration” or “director of inventory control”).
  • Combinations of transient and resident talent.
    Most major projects will embrace a minority of highly skilled resident talent unique to that business and a majority of process talent which travels from project to project among companies and industries. The R&D function of a pharmaceutical operation may be completely resident, but the marketing, advertising, and design team may well be free-lancers or outsourced alternatives. (This will greatly reduce the costs of benefits, down time, and other staff expenses.)
  • Time-to-market as a central attribute.
    It will no longer be enough to have a great product or superb service, but will be even more important to establish it before anyone else. In this scenario, the ability to establish a foot hold, create a brand, obtain publicity and so one will be as important as the product itself. Speed-long a core value at top-performing organizations such as GE-will be a prized organizational trait.
  • Customer-to-customer promotion and word-of-mouth.
    The fascinating book The Cluetrain Manifesto describes the increasing ability of customers to talk to other customers without going through the purveyor of the product or service, thanks largely to the Internet and advances in communications. This means that producer-to-consumer promotion will ultimately be subordinate to consumer-to-consumer interchanges. (Picture a play which is undone by very poor word-of-mouth within the community, despite the fact that the newspaper reviewers loved it.)
  • Increasing remote services.
    Some companies have begun charging a premium for customers to pay bills through conventional checks sent through the mail, and are strongly advocating for electronic funds transfers. Many people have begun to bank online. E-bay is one of the few, successful Internet innovations that has remained consistently profitable. Email not “outweighs” conventional mail and phone messages by a huge margin. The labor intensity of consulting is no longer required (and as far as I’m concerned, hasn’t been for quite some time). In other words, you don’t have to “show up” to be paid as long as you can provide remote value in a variety of ways.
  • Disappearance of niches as a value-added attribute.
    Complexity and accelerating change means that a consultant will have to integrate his or her approaches-and the client’s immediate needs-into a variety of variables, scenarios, and cultures. You won’t be able to provide succession planning help or diversity assistance without considering and actively including the reward system, career planning, recruiting, and compensation. “Specialize or die” will give way to “Specialize and die.” The intellectually-diverse generalist will have a far greater market value.
  • Lack of regulation.
    I see absolutely no indication that the consulting profession will be regulated by government, nor will coalesce under a comprehensive trade association (such as the American Bar Association or American Institute of Architects). This means that self-development, individual branding, independent promotion, and unilateral market entry will be the ongoing keys for all solo practitioners. Whether that’s good or bad is irrelevant, since it’s going to be the order of the day, we must get good at it. Organizing consultants is only slightly more difficult than teaching cows to dance.