High-Performing Consultancies Train Their New Hires on These 5 Things in the First Month
Narrow Focus in Consulting, Consultancy's Profitability
One of the things I see consultancies often struggle with is consultant recruitment, onboarding, learning and development, and retention.
Consulting is a highly competitive industry – not only for acquiring new clients. Competition for top talent is rough. Everyone wants the best consulting expert, the best marketer, and the best salesperson. However, many consultancies fail to attract such talent or, if they manage to do so, actually retain it.
This is the trend I’ve observed with consultancies that have a struggling business in general. Their growth has stalled or dropped off. Their pipeline is unstable and unpredictable. They take on any client they can get and offer discounts to compete.
That’s the opposite of high-performing consultancies I’ve had the pleasure of auditing, having in-depth conversations with, or meeting consulting leaders from over the years.
These firms tend to operate in a highly synchronized and efficient manner. Everyone is working towards a unified goal. From entry-level consultants and marketers to senior-level leadership and partners, this underlying alignment in messaging and actions exists.
And retention doesn’t seem to be that big a hassle for them. Why? They have a solid employee management system that starts with the induction process of new hires.
This is what I’d like to discuss in this post – the common things I’ve observed high-performing consultancies train their new consultants on in the first month.
Yes, in the first month.
#1. New hires get trained on the positioning of the consultancy and what that implies.
Typically, high-performing consultancies are already hyper-aware of what their positioning is. That’s a big part of their success. They own a specific expertise niche, know exactly who their ideal clients are, and know exactly what type of measurable value they deliver to clients.
As a result, consultants are brought on board with specific knowledge requirements. So new hires tend to have a solid idea of how a consultancy positions itself regarding services and clients.
However, successful consultancies take it a step further. The induction process takes new consulting hires to the heart of the positioning – the strengths, the parameters of work, the level of expertise that clients have come to expect,
It’s pretty typical to come across documentation and systems developed by such consultancies that new hires are introduced to from Day 1.
Marketers usually brief on the target audience and market, senior leadership brings the hires up to speed on the firm’s goal and action plans, individual consultants introduce new hires to how the positioning is communicated and embodied in the daily work, etc.
And that goes beyond those joining consulting teams and includes pretty much anyone who joins the firm, be it marketers, sales assistants, or admin staff.
This means that new hires clearly understand what the firm is about, how it provides highly competitive value to a specific audience, and how it differentiates itself from other consulting firms on the market.
Recommended reading: A Consultancy's Positioning Has the Single Biggest Impact on the Buying Decision
#2. High-performing consultancies ensure that new hires are aligned with the company’s goals and growth strategy from Day 1.
It’s not enough to explain what the consultancy does – the WHY, the buy-in from new hires is critical to successfully integrate into the firm’s operations.
That’s what I’ve observed highly profitable consultancies do with their new hires – they get the buy-in and align them.
In terms of alignment, it’s about every aspect of the business:
- How marketing and business development teams work with consulting teams;
- How new leads are generated and converted;
- The types of clients the firm works with and, perhaps even more importantly, what kind of projects/clients the firm will never take on;
- What the expectations are in terms of contributing to the assessment of the pipeline and forecasting;
- What technologies, automation, and other solutions the firm uses, and what their purpose is;
- And many more
Why do they put so much effort into alignment from the get-go? Because high-performing consultancies are all about optimization and efficiency.
Again – that’s one of the foundations of their success. They see it imperative to introduce all new hires to the systems and internal cooperation schemes in place to enable that person to optimize their work.
#3. New consultants are taught the ropes of audience education-based marketing and business development.
I always say that consultants who think marketing and sales are beneath them are doing it wrong. In this day and age, marketing is all about showcasing one’s expertise and promoting this expertise to a highly targeted audience.
I’ve noticed that highly successful consultancies tend to have a dedicated marketer or a whole team. However, at the foundation of all marketing and business development efforts is the strong reputational footprint set up and expanded by the consultants and their leaders.
Marketers are there to support the efforts, amplify them, ensure brand consistency, track the implementation of a strategy and measure results, provide feedback on what works and what doesn’t, set up systems, etc.
However, none of that is done without an active contribution from every last consultant. The two work in unison.
Senior consultants, consulting leaders, and partners are the people within firms with genuine expertise in a particular field. Creating original, authentic content that addresses the most pressing pain points of the target audience and engages them falls on the consultants. That’s why consultancies that understand the importance of establishing an expertise-based reputational footprint in their growth waste no time introducing new hires to this approach.
Recommended reading: Consulting Leaders, Stop Outsourcing Your Thought Leadership Responsibility to Marketing!
One of the consultancies I audited absolutely blew my mind regarding how organized and intentional they were with this process. Here are just a few examples of what they have in place:
- Senior leadership provides more high-level training on the themes that will resonate with the target market.
- Consulting peers conduct a session where they explain what type of content they generate, where they post it, how they allocate time towards creating authority-driven content, and provide examples.
- The marketing team has a sit-down where they explain the kind of support this new hire can expect from them: designing collaterals, identifying engagement rates and supplying this feedback to the consultants, measuring performance, providing pointers to good content opportunities as they spot them, etc.
- Admin stuff handles a large chunk of the system training – what tools and systems the firm has in place that are at the consultant’s disposal (e.g., everything from Grammarly plugins for Google Docs to the central database for data management)
And you know when I discovered they conduct these sessions? On Weeks 2 and 3 of the induction process!
The best consultants I meet are also exceptional teachers: they educate their buyers/clients, share best practices and trends with them, tell them what to look out for, give them valuable tips on achieving success, show them the transformational potential, inspire thinking shifts, and demonstrate how they’ve helped others in their shoes.
#4. High-performing consultancies assign each new hire to a “coach”
For the first three months (for some, it’s a shorter period, for others, it’s longer), new consulting hires are assigned an experienced team member to mentor them.
I’ve noticed that such mentorships– formal or informal – come down to how and what to communicate to the market.
Of course, it’s not about making everyone sound like a machine. It’s about ensuring that the messaging of the consultancy is always consistent.
- If a prospect wants to better understand the value the firm seeks to deliver, here are the main items to highlight.
- If a prospect wants to understand the competitive advantage – these are the strengths and differentiators.
- How to differentiate between opportunities and identify projects that fit the narrowly defined “ideal client” category.
- Engaging prospects by listening to their concerns and placing these pain points into a larger context.
And so on
These coaches are there to ensure that new hires get 100% comfortable with the positioning and value proposition once they get trained on that.
#5. New consultants are provided with resources to deepen their expertise
I’ve come across so many medium- and large-size firms that set up their L&D and knowledge banks too late in the game – when they were too big, scrambling to set up a system.
On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve come across tiny firms – boutique consultancies – that set up knowledge transfer and knowledge acquisition programs from the get-go, and boy, did they benefit from that!
A consultancy is only competitive if it has in-demand skills and knowledge to offer. All of that comes from the expertise of individual consultants. Firms that aim for sustainable and consistent growth tend to put much effort into ensuring their consultants’ skills and knowledge relevancy.
Such firms clarify to new hires that they will be expected to deepen their knowledge and constantly learn continuously. And for that, they set up dedicated resources. I’ve seen various systems, but they typically provide a mix of the following:
- An opportunity to attend online or in-person training in the field at least once per year
- A choice of industry events to attend
- A library of case studies and learnings from past work
- A system to submit an L&D request and a dedicated budget to that
- Shadowing colleagues in their project work
“There are all sorts of things you do as a consultant that are comfortable but I got to tell you, in a world where everyone is a click away, you are not safe anymore.” (Seth Godin)
The level of expertise ultimately sets these high-performing consultancies apart (and, of course, the ability to communicate that to the market). So they tend to approach knowledge growth opportunities as a foundational element of success.
Recommended reading: Furiously Successful Consultancies Put All Their Eggs in One Basket.
Strong retention and internal promotions are the results of high-performing consultancies’ processes.
In this post, I talked about only the induction phase of strong-performing consultancies.
This approach, however, extends throughout every stage. The emphasis on continuous learning, constant refinement, alignment of positioning, cooperation in setting company goals, and forecasting pipelines are all part of the culture of such firms.
The result? These consultancies are masters at retaining their employees. What’s more? They typically don’t have to worry as much about recruiting outsiders for leadership positions. They tend to build up their leaders from within. These are the consultants who enter the firm and grow over the years. They deepen their expertise. They hone their leadership skills. They learn every system, every process, and every approach. Transitioning to a leadership position becomes a natural step for them.
I loved seeing a recent LinkedIn post from Stephen Newton, the Founder and CEO of Elixirr.
In this post, he says, “Over a third of my partner team have been promoted from within. The belief that our newest recruit will one day lead the firm is a philosophy embedded deeply within our culture and strategy. It forms part of our 4-pillar growth strategy and accounts for much of our focus and attention as the firm's leaders.”
He continues in his post: “As I've said before, we've had a 50:50 success rate in hiring new partners. Many talk a good game but cannot make markets and scrap as our entrepreneurial people do. This risk is almost eliminated when you focus on building up the people who are already around you and have proven themselves, and their potential, to you repeatedly.”
What a great testimonial from Stephen.
This type of growth from within, at Elixirr, is only possible when you get the buy-in of your consultants, and that starts not even at the new employee training stage. It starts at the recruitment stage.
In working with many consultancies as an external expert, I’ve seen many firms come and go. I’ve witnessed big firms collapse during hard economic times, and boutique firms prosper by anticipating opportunities during these tough times and successfully growing.
Over the years, certain trends started shaping up. And when it comes to furiously successful firms, there is one thing I can say without a shadow of a doubt – they work hard to ensure internal alignment with company goals and external communication. And they do it from Day 1 of every new employee.
The way consulting leaders onboard their new consultants is the way they manage the consultancy.
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Hello, I’m Luk Smeyers, and I’m helping mid-sized consultancies become high-performing consulting firms. I have been in the consulting businesses for more than 20 years, in very different roles: as European CHRO in a global consultancy, as a founder of a mid-sized analytics consultancy, and as a leader in a 'Big 4' consultancy, post-acquisition of my consultancy. I had the privilege of achieving global visibility as a consulting leader, and I never had to sell, persuade, or negotiate as a result. I have now bundled all those experiences, expertise, know-how, research, reading, successes, struggles, and failures from managing and advising consultancies in the past years.