Consultancy professional bodies recognise the year’s successes at awards ceremonies
Our management consultancy columnist, Mick James, this week reviews the awards handed out by the Management Consultancies Association and the Institute of Business Consultants  10.12.2008

We may be gearing up for Christmas, but it’s also awards season. All over the country people may be trying to reverse out of the Christmas party, but in consultancy, at least, we managed to keep the party spirit alive with the Management Consultancies Association Consultant of the Year Awards back in November and the Institute of Business Consultants Awards last week.

Competing awards? Not really, rather intersecting in that odd way the two bodies often do, with only KPMG—as befits the organisation which has most consistently nurtured both organisations—scoring a hit on both occasions.

The IBC awards were the more glittering affair, a black tie do held in the lavish ballroom of the Waldorf Hotel in London. It was the sort of thing that can attract criticism these credit crunch days, but as IBC chairman Alan Downey pointed out, we’re looking back to some pretty good times and ahead to a rougher future—it’s right that we should celebrate success. For a full run down of the awards, see here.

Indeed, the IBC awards were structured in such a way that they might be a fable for our times. The two practice awards were for creating sustainable client relationships and demonstrating benefits—the consultancy that can hit both of those buttons is looking pretty ironclad. It’s always been my belief that if you see consultancy as a cost then you don’t understand it. Every consultancy project should lead to a positive impact on the bottom line—otherwise why do it? And the consultancies that have survived every previous recession have been the ones that have managed to maintain relationships even when the projects weren’t there.

The IBC’s second tranche of awards were for individuals that had produced something extra-special in their training at various levels within the Institute’s qualifications. The final section was for the training providers themselves. By this time the bees in my bonnet were buzzing away nineteen to the dozen. We all know that training is one of the first things to go in a recession, and it’s such a damaging, kneejerk reaction. It’s easy to get more out of the market if the market is booming, but when the market stops delivering your only strategy is to improve yourself or your staff. This is particularly important in consultancy, where a career which shows no momentum in any dimension is pretty soon a non-career. Promotion may be out for the moment—that means development should be in.

While I was delighted to be asked to break out the black tie for the IBC, a few weeks ago I’d been flattered to be asked to be a judge for the MCA’s version. Being an awards judge is no easy task, not just because, as all judges always say “The quality of the entries made it impossible to be a winner,” but because the way being a judge forces you to question your own assumptions and prejudices. Why do I prefer person A to person B? What does that say about me?

There is also another couple of issues which go to the heart of why it’s often so hard for consultants to gain recognition. A consultancy project might be a startling success, but how do you gauge the contribution of the individual consultant when they’re at the sharp end of a massive armoury of well-thought out methodologies, techniques and quality mechanisms. And worse, the better a consultancy is at programme and project management, carefully mitigating risks and anticipating problems—the less likely they are to be noticed at all. It’s much easier to get an idea of someone’s mettle when they inherit a raging mess, and can tell a thumping good story of adversity overcome, setbacks endured and a happy ending all around. It’s sad but true: the Lone Ranger got noticed by shooting bad guys with silver bullets; no one remembers the Lone Crime Prevention Officer. I think we got a good mixture in the end. You can read all the winners’ stories here.

I’m all in favour of awards, and I hope that whatever happens next year that we will see a repeat of both ceremonies, with even more entries and an even harder task for the judges. It’s certainly going to take a little bit extra next year to win those projects and achieve success for clients, so get to it!

All views expressed in this article are those of Mick James and do not necessarily reflect the views of and

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