6 September 2022

Consultants touting their values (and other cliches) to the public sector

| Chris Johnson
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‘Values-based’ consultancies – an over-used claim as authentic as a stock photo. Photo: iStock.

Ever had partners from a consultancy firm tell you they are ‘values-based’?

We’re not talking here about values-based pricing. That’s a whole other issue (and story).

No, I mean when a consultancy – usually a small and young one – includes, in part of its bid to get your work, a pitch about how the business was founded on ‘good values’ and how it makes all of its decisions based on those values.

Values-based leadership. Values-based culture. Values-based change.

Some firms put those or similar cliches into their company profiles. That’s a red flag right there and often indicates a company is trying too hard to overcompensate for something they don’t really have.

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Consultancy firms feeling the need to emphasise values are often as values-based as friendly takeovers are friendly, and as riskless investments are riskless.

There is a reason the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea insists on including the word ‘democratic” in its name. That’s because it’s not.

In the current and continuing discourse about the future of contracting to the public service, a fight for a piece of what could soon be the diminishing consultancy pie is underway.

Niche companies are up against the big four firms trying to explain their points of difference before they are edged out of public service contracts when Labor drops its guillotine on the massive consultancy spend.

It could be that their niche is they’re all young go-getters; or that they have big four experience but with more ‘heart’. Or like White Lady Funerals, their niche could be offering a woman’s understanding to its clients.

Maybe they’re ‘progressive’; or they have a more ‘conservative approach’.

Perhaps their bent is IT (a good specialty to have right now), or they are human resource ‘fixers’.

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It could be comms where the consultancy excels, or procurement. Audits or project management might be the strengths on offer. Or they’re just great at getting bums on seats and hands on phones to fill call centres.

All of the above attributes are worthy and each will have its profit-making appeal.

But when the company’s niche is that it is values-based, that’s not a niche at all.

The term rings hollow and if that’s the focus of the pitch, it’s a good bet there is little substance behind it.

Too many public sector contract managers are shaking their heads over how some consultancies are marketing themselves.

Where the big four accounting firms stand out in the consultancy world is their experience, pricing power, influence and branding.

For sure, the big companies have considerable negatives that clients (and their own staff) have to deal with. There are questionable practices across all sized consultancies. And the big players are by no means cliche-free either.

The smaller ones, however, are certainly up against it no matter how good they might be at their jobs.

But trying to convince a senior public servant desperate to hire some expert contracted help that they should make a values-based decision is not going to cut it.

The term had meaning once upon a time. These days, not so much.

It has been overused, over-marketed, distorted and focus-grouped to death.

And while we’re talking about it – other consultancy cliches that should ring alarm bells include offers of an ‘innovative strategy’ and ‘holistic approach’.

All added up, they mean nothing. Buyer beware.

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Have you told the secretaries their values statements mean nothing? Values statements are far more common in the public service.

Tom Worthington9:43 am 07 Sep 22

Values are important. I occasionally teach ethics to computer students. Part of my advice is to check your values align with the client. It is not a good idea to work for the Defence Department, and then realize you are a pacifist. https://blog.highereducationwhisperer.com/2016/02/cyberwar-over-south-china-sea.html

There is a mountaineer and public speaker who runs a small consultancy not far from here.
He will show you what ‘value based’ means, for a small fee..

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