2021 Consulting Roundup (Part 1): What Worked, What Didn't, and What's Next

Posted by Timothy Bailey on December 6, 2021

By: Timothy Bailey, VP of Global Consulting at Deltek

As firms plan for 2022 it’s only fitting to reflect on the challenges faced and the lessons learned from last year’s turbulence in the consulting industry. We talked with consulting leaders from firms across multiple industries including general management, IT, healthcare, and environmental. These leaders shared with us the challenges they faced last year and what’s next in 2022.

The Biggest Challenge: Hiring & Talent Management

Across the board, firms identified hiring and talent management as the biggest challenge faced last year. Increased demand for services forced many firms to staff up and hire at a rate many were unaccustomed to. “The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been that more customers are looking for our help in transforming their businesses.” says Andy Jordan, President of portfolio management firm Roffensian Consulting S.A. “That’s meant we have had to figure out how to scale quickly to meet the increasing demand, without compromising the quality of the services we offer.”

The paradigm shift of working and hiring almost fully remotely was difficult for many consulting firms to manage in 2021. Jessica Bourne, CFO of Environmental Consultancy River Partners agrees, “We have on-boarded 37% of our current staff this year and we have needed to refine policies and processes to help them become effective in their roles as quickly as possible. The culture shift that accompanies growth has not been a small challenge. Moving from a small organization with tight bonds between long-time employees, to a larger, more geographically distributed team can be a painful shift for some.”

According to SSI Strategy (Healthcare & Life Sciences) President Adam Schwartz, “Our clients had significant support needs due to increased activity and slower than usual hiring caused by the pandemic. This caused higher demand on our team and our own challenges in hiring and onboarding new team members in a virtual environment.”


 

2021 Consulting Roundup Webinar


What Worked, What Didn't, & What's Next?


View On-Demand

 

A Forced Efficiency 

Although some business and marketing opportunities diminished with the cancellation of many in-person and industry events, many firms were able to pivot. “The pandemic, the Great Resignation trend, and other market influences made us take a deep inward look at our business and invest more in people, processes, and technology to be more effective and efficient,” says Kelly Waffle, Managing Director at The Hinge Research Institute. “We focused a lot of time on digital marketing techniques to generate leads that were lost from fewer referrals, in-person events, etc. All of that worked to help us manage and close more sales opportunities faster.”

The Importance of Cash Flow & Visibility

Expected growth this year is 9.2% according to Business Wire. The growth seen YTD from increased demand was of course a net positive for the firms we talked with. However, with this growth comes increased staffing, resources, and expenses. In addition to the need to increase staffing and better track resource management, firms cited the need for increased visibility and steady cash flow as a challenge last year. Sean Kennedy, Sr. VP, at IT & environmental consulting firm Marine Tiger Technologies said, “The most significant challenge Marine Tiger Technologies has faced is clearing our accounts receivable … we rely heavily on a steady cash flow to pay our expenses and to grow. We have shown steady growth in 10 of the last 11 years, but as year-end approaches, we are showing about 25% of our total revenue still outstanding. The root of our problem is visibility across our company to predict revenue, expenses, and track AR.” 

What Worked: Remote Work Brings Better Productivity & Satisfaction

The pandemic caused most firms to move to a hybrid or fully remote model. Although this shift initially worried many consulting leaders, its actually led to better productivity for most. According to Quantum Workplace, 77% of remote employees report increased productivity. Jason Mlicki, Principal of the marketing consultancy Rattleback saw an increase in productivity and customer satisfaction. “We had begun a migration to a remote work environment in 2019, and the pandemic pushed us to make the transition faster. Our team is now fully remote enabling them to work wherever they want, and frequently whenever they want. Not only has this helped keep our team engaged, often it has helped us better serve clients from all over the world.”

And Speaking of What Worked …

Make sure to watch our on-demand webinar featuring an executive panel of consulting leaders (including many of those cited above) for an interactive discussion on the challenges they faced in 2021. We reviewed what worked, what didn’t, and what’s next for the consulting industry in 2022.

Thank you to our consulting partners who helped with this effort:

 

About the Author

Tim serves as Vice President, Global Consulting at Deltek. He is an experienced and goal-oriented professional services executive with a demonstrated track record of success in designing and building services delivery organizations.