Why Large Consulting Firms Are Like Swarming Ants On A Picnic Basket
12th October 2020

Why Large Consulting Firms Are Like Swarming Ants On A Picnic Basket

large consulting firms

Situation – Selecting a firm because it’s massive and well-known

When choosing a consulting firm to work with your organization, it’s crucial to select one based on results and cost-effectiveness — rather than solely on brand-recognition or large size.

Large consulting firms have many mouths to feed and incur many brick-and-mortar expenses, in addition to many other investments.

It’s therefore simpler for big firms to take a “doctor-patient” approach to consulting, because the basic premise is that they know better than the customer. The “ants on the picnic basket” relates to the way in which they price. They charge by time, effort and the number of people on the job; so, if 10 people on the job charge 100% of their time, they are able to cover the cost.

Problem – Avoiding the swarming ants

The way we deliver our work at OTM does not require us to have 5,000 people “climbing” all over the picnic basket. In our recent work with FitBit, our team included 3-5 people, and just three of us are currently spearheading the project we’re working on for a large retailer. Our process lends itself to requiring fewer people on the team, freeing us to more accurately price a contract. We can give our customers a single figure to redesign the business for “X” amount of money within “Y” scope. Large consulting firms offer the opposite, which involves charging your organization to cover the costs of all their people.

The danger with a bigger consulting firm? Costs can easily spiral out of control — and the operation can lose transparency. Because they use a “doctor-patient” model, they plug people in and out of the process. In a particular project, you may not recognize the consultant working with you tomorrow — but since someone went on leave, a different consultant was entered the mix. With OTM, our process of supporting customers with their business remains completely transparent. Because large consulting firms typically lack that level of transparency, it’s easy for the customer to feel like they have been taken advantage of.

Solution – Facilitative approach to organization design

We are a boutique firm: our approach is facilitative. Large consulting houses may say they facilitate, but they simply run brainstorming sessions, send notes off and receive some pretty PowerPoint slides. Then, they spit out the commandments and say, “Follow these.” They suck out all the information they want, and inject much of what should be done, in what we call an “expert” model.

The opposite of that relates to our work, in which we hold a fundamental belief that people support what they help create. The answer to the problem likely lies within the organization — so the consulting firm becomes a subject matter expert but does not act as the decision-maker. In large consulting firms, they make decisions for companies, rather than tapping into their collective genius. We inform companies and help them understand trade-offs, but we do not step in and make a decision for the group, function or business. We always remain cautious to not step over the line.

The successful delivery of our solutions does not require us to live in a certain part of the globe. And, we won’t unleash a wave of inexperienced MBAs on a business, also akin to ants on a picnic basket. Our projects vary greatly from a single local, state or country projects to regional to truly global projects. Our way of working and solutions cope perfectly with any geographical demand our customers may require. And, we partner with and complement the wisdom from your internal staff.

So, do you want ants swarming on your picnic basket — or a collaborative, transparent, efficient approach to business transformation? You decide!

Further reading: A Sustainable Approach To Business Transformation

On The Mark’s experience and passion for collaborative business transformation that’s supported by pragmatism, systems thinking, and a belief in people is unparalleled. OTM has been in business for 33 years and is a global leader in organization design consulting.


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