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Insights from the leadership and change management consulting market

I recently asked colleagues from my MBA and executive coaching programme for their perspectives on leadership development and organizational change regarding what their firms and organizations are looking for and the type of consulting they believe is required. This post is a summary of the responses I received. It would not have been possible without the help of everyone who answered, for which I am grateful. So, what did I discover?

Companies face similar leadership development challenges across various industries, from financial services to life sciences, relating to leadership skills, organizational change, communication, talent management, and innovation. In general, survey respondents indicated that leadership development was a corporate priority, albeit not the top priority, with respondents evaluating the significance of leadership development in their sector slightly higher than in their organization.

What is the importance of leadership development to your industry and company?

The survey responses identified several important subthemes within each of the leadership development themes:

  • Leadership skills: there was an emphasis on external skills and self-confidence/awareness. The external skills focused on visibility, delegating, and ethical decision-making. Self-awareness focused on self-confidence and impostor syndrome as individuals grow into new leadership roles.

  • Organizational change management responses focused on managing growth, mobilizing for change, and building change coalitions.

  • Communication emphasized clarity, relevance, and authenticity.

  • Talent management identified succession planning and staff engagement as priorities.

  • Innovation: encourages creativity and risk-taking to generate innovation by permitting experimental techniques, building a pipeline, and assisting with the skills transition.

When asked about managing organizational change, survey respondents identified several additional areas they consider organizational obstacles. Interestingly, responses to this question indicated that most organizations are contemplating some change, with organizational transformation scoring as a high priority for most people's organizations. At the same time, respondents perceived organizational change as slightly less vital for the sector.

What is the importance of managing organizational change in your company/sector?

The top organizational change themes that stood out were establishing new organizational capabilities, securing needed resources, efficiently managing growth, teamwork, and remote working; responses revealed several important sub-themes for organizations to consider:

  • Organizational capability: respondents emphasized the challenges their organization face in developing new capabilities, particularly building effective team capabilities and upskilling their employees in technology.

  • Securing resources: this sub-theme covered ensuring enough budget and resources to put the necessary capabilities in place.

  • Managing growth: discussed the role of new product development and driving organizational transformation when growing or shrinking an organization. Respondents tied this theme to the significance of fostering organizational agility to respond to market developments and how to promote employee engagement in the context of transition.

  • Collaboration and remote working: included collaboration within and across teams, managing cultural differences and conflicts, and transitioning to a collaborative work culture in a hybrid or remote working world where workforce motivation, mental health, and resilience are all critical challenges.

Diversity stood out for the need for more emphasis in the survey response despite the focus on career development, team development and managing growth in organizations.

In response to the question, "Do you or your organization use consultants?" most participants reported using leadership development and change management consultants. Smaller specialized firms are the most used by enterprises with less than 500 employees. What struck me about what individuals desired from consulting support for leadership and transformation was the emphasis on partnership, a pragmatic solutions-focused approach based on practical advice and execution support. Businesses seek someone willing to engage with them to accomplish the proposed changes, not just someone to provide a framework.

Ultimately, when it came to the purchasing choice, I was struck by the consistent response that the HR team purchases the leadership development consulting, with some change management support procured by functional business leaders with HR remaining involved. Procurement is managed differently in certain firms, but the emphasis on HR driving the process appears consistent. While this is not surprising, it does emphasize that leadership and change decisions are not often decided by those who will be most affected by them.

What stood out to me from this survey?

  1. Managing change is an important theme across organizations, and it is both a leadership challenge and organizational ways of working challenge that almost every company is grappling with.

  2. The importance of communication and building organizational capabilities struck me as an important theme. Effective communication was an important part of the organizational change process, and creating more capacity within organizations was a theme that came up consistently across the survey responses.

  3. Talent management and securing resources as challenges surprised me at first. On reflection, they both relate to helping organizations manage in a changing environment and reflect conversations I've been having with various individuals in leadership positions across organizations.

  4. Finally, I was struck by how only some companies turn to big consultancy firms for their advice and support. There is a market dynamic at play here, smaller companies tend to use smaller firms, but I was still surprised by the limited use of large actors in the change management sector.


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