Cygnus Sprints - Disrupting the Consulting, Change Management & Advisory Industry
Cygnus Sprints didn't start out with the motivation to disrupt the multi-billion dollar .industry that comprises the combobulation of: management consulting, change management, advisory work, innovation boutiques and a litany of other service firms . It kinda is just happening that way.
As we acted on building our Grey Swan Guild's top value-driving venture (as voted on by our Guild members) it turns out prospective clients, observers and talent are not entirely happy, or even satisfied with how the consulting, change & advisory game currently works. We surfaced eleven key reasons below in our discovery.
Famed Harvard professor, author and "Radical Innovation" pioneer, the late Clayton Christensen, provoked the idea of professional services industry disruption in his HBR article Consulting on the Cusp of Disruption, arguing "the same forces that disrupted so many businesses, from steel to publishing, are starting to reshape the world of consulting”. That was back in 2013, It looks like nearly a decade later, with a few tech cycles and the residue of a global pandemic in between, it's finally happening. Cygnus Sprints believes it's long overdue and hopes to be at the tip of the spear of this disruption. We invite you into our odyssey.
Traditional Consulting has Outdated Practices and is Slow to Change Itself
Although management consulting and its cousins preach a good game to its clients, compelling them to react to the disruption in the world around them, they really don't eat their own dog food.
By and large, consultancies have operated with the same business model over the last 70 years - functioning as smart outsiders recommending solutions based on deep industry expertise and proprietary approaches, with high margin contracts, big city hub offices, and per hour/per diem billable rates for time invested, with a partner-based model reliant on waves of new recruits - juniors fresh out of university. willing to work 50-70 hour weeks to support the frontline work involved.
It has worked for this long but the headwinds have now turned against consultancies:
clients know more & demand transparency now,
the world is complex and looks cross-industry
access to info & approaches is less asymmetric
internet culture has placed more value on outcomes & value versus inputs & time
the gig economy has liberated talent, scale is much less advantageous in a platformed world
those MBAs that used to clamor to be slaves to consulting life, are choosing other professions with more immediate impact, higher purpose and less grind
As a reaction to these signals, Cygnus Sprints gets closer to what clients now want, by offering more seasoned expertise, able to deal better with complexity and tougher-to-automate skills, and structuring sprint work around clients demand for performance and agility.
Traditional Consulting is a High Overhead, High Cost Business Model
Markets may vary, but the cream of the crop coming out of business schools and embarking on consulting careers make over $160k U.S. base compensation with benefits that take them above $200k. Senior consulting partners make up to $600k salary with the potential to make $5MM with bonuses. Add in the expensive and sleek marble-and-slate offices around the world (e.g. Accenture operates in 300+ cities, McKinsey 130+ cities), and that adds up to a very pricey cost side to most advisory firms' income statements. It also causes real friction points in client relationships to sign longer term contracts, have strict scope requirements, penalize change requests and pay upfront with few conditions.
Wait a second the world now says, not so fast. Along comes the new wave of technology. Distributed work in teams, global connectivity, asynchronous collaboration tools, commoditized data and online client engagement. All have caused consulting clients to reappraise the 20th century focus on big city, shiny HQ and talent for value, Do we need this excess?
Cygnus Sprints recognizes you don't want to Upwork-gig some of your most integral business intelligence & change work out. You still need vetted credible talent and not stickhandle through piles of hundreds of resumes yourself.. You need to find these diamond-in-the-rough, virtuosos that are more than happy to work in an agile, on-demand, free agent manner and focus on the work & craft itself, not their billables. We think we have a solution. we know we have great people, all powered by a guild.
Traditional Consulting has Lost Its Moral Compass
Most large consultancies like to stay out of the media spotlight. They have very strong NDAs with their clients and staff for this reason. If they are in the media, unless under the right managed conditions, it might not be for the best reasons.
Wade through some of the most recent headlines and you might spot vestiges of the seedy underbelly that is large consultant company life and motivations:
- How Mckinsey Destroyed the Middle Class
- The Stigma that Keeps Consulting using their Flex Time
- Top Consulting Firm Hid Opioid Conflicts from the FDA
- SEC Charges Partner at Global Consulting Firm with Insider Trading
It would appear Hippocrates oath of Primum, non nocere (translated first,do no harm) is really challenging in the elite echelons of a corporate management consultant's existence. The Don Draper levels of ego, pretention, status-seeking and privilege in the biggest and flashiest firms are heavily documented
Cygnus Sprints operates with the same values of the guild that birthed it:
be collaborative and in it for collective good;
be purposeful - act on evidence & truth and for humanity's sake;
be curious - critical but optimistic in sensemaking the world,
be aspirational - have a can-do spirit and aim for the non-ordinary
I.t's how we came together, it's how we will operate and we think in 2022, it's something partners & clients will appreciate.
Traditional Consulting has Disgruntled, Unhappy Talent
Happier people do better work, or so the thinking goes. In that case, the independents should be doing all the better work.
Large consulting companies have 20% turnover every year, and many have confessed recently that retention and recruitment have become a much bigger challenges as we bounce back from COVID. A look at some comments about big consulting on the Fishbowl app is illustrative:
"Every consultant is 2 bad projects away from leaving consulting"
"You can bear the long hours, constant travel, poor eating, abusive culture for a while"
"Working 15 hour days on projects that make no sense, because the people selling it had to cut costs or talked a big game but didn’t understand the actual work."
Fully 86% of consultants are happier as independents, the majority find the work is more gratifying, has more intellectual challenge, has better associated work-life balance and produces a better relationship with their clients. The hidden secret is 71% take home more dough as independents than they ever did as employees.,
Cygnus Sprints embraces the life of an independent, freelance executive by providing them a scaffolding to do their best work. We take a movie production operating model of matching project to principal and facilitating everybody to do their best work while still owning their own business card.
Traditional Consulting is Low on Real World Experience
True, consultancies and boutiques have a depth of real world experience .... at partner level. The unfortunate truth is that less than. 5% of people who make a pay cheque in large consulting make it to partner status.
One could argue that even partners operating in an insular, promote-from-within culture, never really and truly get the day-to-day reality of being in the client experience.
The majority of most other employees at big consulting firms either join after university in analyst positions or after MBA in junior consultant positions. Most of these people have less than five years working experience and leave on average 2.7 years after they join the firm, either because they don't work out, can't sustain the lifestyle or want to do more in life than advise..
Given the complexity of the world';s challenges and the subtle art & science of the advisory work, do you really want to be outsourcing client to an army of smart neophytes?
Cygnus Sprints places a premium on a variety, depth and breadth of principal experience. Our principals have 4x the experience of other similar firms, have either run their own firms or have had senior roles in corporate life and are constantly challenging themselves to learn more and to experience more.
Traditional Consulting is Still Growing Despite a Poor Track Record
Make no mistake, if you are in consulting, this world is shining on you quite happily. The need and pace for change, the outsourcing of headcount and the impact of a pandemic, have all been kind to consultancies', innovation boutiques', transformation firms' and change management companies' top lines. Professional services have been growing at 10% compound annual growth rate with management consulting growing comparably to $1.3T in 2026 from its current 2022 projection $973B (according to ReportLinker).
Here's the paradox, when we look at Net Promoter Score (NPS) and "would you recommend these companies to others?" - frequently cited as the one question to monitor to indicate client satisfaction, these same companies fall woefully short.
For benchmark purposes, a good B-to-B firm should have an NPS of 25 to 68. According to Customer Guru, here are what some of these industry players have:
- Big Pure Play Management Consultants (-1)
- Big Professional Service Firms +20
- Big Research Firms +16
- Big Communication Agencies +8
- Big Digital Transformation Firms +19
Hmmm, big growing industries, the largest players constituting more than half the market, with such poor customer satisfaction levels — now that defines vulnerable.
Cygnus Sprints offers a fresh, customer centric approach to an industry that sorely needs it.. In 2022, Industry might does not make right. And for the future, big global scale has many avenues to fail. Look for our hungrier swans, who are more concerned about your interests than their per diem travel budgets.
Traditional Consulting does not Sync with Post-Pandemica
Remote work. Digitization and video streaming. Purpose-driven lives. Work-life balance. Reappraisal of purpose, Self-starting, intrinsic morale and extrinsic personal branding. Side hustles. Investment in mental health. Scrutiny of travel budgets. Retreat to the near 'burbs and the countryside. These are all legacies of the pandemic. They will flex back to some equilibrium but most are not going back to 2019.
Now let's ask a couple of additional questions - are any of these traits above strong suits of big Change Inc.? Are many of the incumbent firms embracing these shifts with vigor? We didn't think so either.
Cygnus Sprints was formed out of the pandemic with a set of principals and consultants who wanted to congregate and collaborate on events, content, and ventures. Our #1 and #4 reason for getting together during this time was "to make better sense of the world" and do it together as a "global community for collective good" - we think this is part and parcel of deep-seated motivations for post-pandemica too.
Traditional Consulting Does Not Do Small or Mid-Sized Well
Yes, the big consultancies of the world can marshal armies of consultants and global & regional offices to attack a problem, There are shelves of books and binders to onboard, follow protocol and adhere by the guidelines and rules set out by Fortune 500 clients, What these firms do not do well is small-to-mid sized companies or small-to-mid-sized experiments, ventures and projects.
Speaking as former clients, we're not too sure if consultancies and big shops have ever done this well candidly. Small-to-mid-sized clients frequently get priced out of their meal brackets or are given the lowest priority with the worst consultants. Small-to-mid-sized experiments and skunkwork projects, or edge groups and upstream ventures that defy "best practices" are not the strong suit of consultants with classical MBA training and a paucity of real life work experiences.
A big advantage has now come in recognizing small-to-mid sized consulting & advisory work can be delivered on an on-demand basis without the handcuffs of a long-term contract, penalties and assumed indentured ways of consulting business..
Cygnus Sprints loves the art of the possible, the aspiration of the underdog and the tangible potential of small-to-mid sized clients and projects. Many of us identify with these client leaders, because we are these leaders too, running intrapreneurial and entrepreneurial ventures ourselves.. Our twelve core disciplines are ideally suited for navigating the hopeful prospects, uncertainties and possible blindspots of brave innovation, moonshots and transformational change,
Traditional Consulting is Not Particularly Multidisciplinary or Collaborative
Smaller firms, tend to better natural collaborators, as rooted in their approaches are mutual dependencies and relationships built on trust. They can outpunch larger players by creating ecosystems of. firms and individuals who are collaboratively, focused on performing in the best interests of the client.
Conversely, larger management consultancies, communication and change firms are a bit more collaboration-aloof. In consultant parlance, this is called protecting turf, holding client confidence and being the master integrators. They will sometimes share things wincingly but they typically want to be in control and will protect their incumbent position at all costs, From many of us who have tried to team up with them, they are often rightfully seen as less collaborative and often see smaller firms as a threat.
The real skinny is when consultancy X gets big project Y, there is mad rush to get talent Z even though other partners in their own firm want to protect their best talent and the firm wants to run lean and mean at high utilization rates. As a new client, you are frequently paying the surtax of this lack of bench strength of your new partner firm chasing down talent in terms of costs, speed and experience
Cygnus Sprints has an all-star set of individuals identified across twelve core disciplines and fifty sub-disciplines. In the event of some niche interest, we have a guild of thousands of members that can step up (if not refer us to somebody they know). We also get together regularly outside our Sprints life to host events, create content, mine intelligence, learn together and build other ventures. Collaboration is not only one of our four foundational values, it's what we live and breathe.
Traditional Consulting has Big Mis-incentives: Revenues & Billables > Outcomes & Solutions
If you ask senior level executives at most big consultancies, they are painfully aware of the future crunch they are facing. Technology firms on one side stealing their lunch with big data and AI tools. Independent consultants and big consultancy alumni on the other side doing what they used to do but better, more flexibly and cheaper.
If they could wave a magic wand to improve their profitability, three of the top things mentioned by top consuitancies were to: reduce expenses, manage receivables and better invoice all hours. Hardly the stuff of the expansionist minded.
The billable hours model may work for accounting, legal and medical profession because they are in a profession that is standardized, regulated and relatively more transparent. In those professions it is clear what is good and bad work. Consulting can be more subjective and so should place a premium, not on hours worked, but:
- did the work exceed some objective standard?
- would the client work with you again?
- was it done on time? and on budget?
- were the principals involved proud & satisfied?
Cygnus Sprints does not sell people's time, we sell sprints. Tangible efforts that are designed to make progress on client partner's biggest challenges. There is a difference.
Traditional Consulting Delivers Less Client Value, Speed and Relationship
Although controversial, there are compelling arguments to be made over the long term that traditional consulting has been bad for both business and society.
Over the golden age of management consultancies, lifespans of companies have been cut into a quarter, more than 70-90% of external change/innovation or internal change/transformation projects end up failing and wealth is increasingly being strangled through the wallets of fewer and fewer people.
Attributable to both this checkered history and anticipating future trends and technology, 80% of consultants are confident that independent and agile small groups of consultants are on the rise and in favour. When working as independent consultants vs. inside big consulting, these consultants were staunch in their assessments:
- 91% believed they provide better value for a client as independents
- 76% considered the efficiency of the work to be better
- 66% thought the chance for implementation was more likely and
- 61% maintained the project impact was higher when performed as an independent
Central to our offering, Cygnus Sprints is designed as a business model to deliver better overall value to its prospective clients and partners. through the spirit of the independent consultant . Implied in our name, we our considerably faster at generating client momentum and progress (three months or less) without the dog and pony show, and our vetting process has produced experienced individuals with the right values and collaborative DNA.