How Company Culture Impacts Consulting Assignments.

Company culture comes in many different flavors. For this reason, business consultants need to have awareness of the flavors on offer before commencing each assignment. Why is this, you might ask? The answer is that the company culture will actually determine if your assignment will be a success or not. Here are some of the broad categories of culture you will often be exposed to.


This cultural variation operates on the assumption that every employee is well motivated, instinctively knows what to do, and is happy to take responsibility and to make decisions without fear of making mistakes that might have career implications for them. It is an open culture where trust is part of the package and communication is two-way and frequent. Company vision, mission, goals and objectives are well understood by every employee, and each employee will have a clear understanding of their part in delivering on the objectives. As a consultant, working in this environment will frequently be like becoming part of the team, with openness to new ideas and a collegial athmosphere.


This type of company culture assumes that employees need to be closely supervised to ensure that they do their job properly. Employees are not encouraged to come up with innovative solutions to business issues, but are instead forced into doing their work the company way. There is very little latitude or appetite for free-thinkers. Sometimes, fear can be at the heart of motivation, wherein employees operate on the basis of keeping their heads down for fear of having them lopped off. A consultant working in this environment will have close supervision of everything he does and there will be lots of checks and balances along the way. Innovative solutions to business problems may not be welcome.


This culture is a really strange one and it is one I have often seen in the Banking industry, with disastrous results. On one occasion, I spent 5 full days and several evenings being interviewed by eleven different executives for a VP position, before a decision was made to offer me a job. It is based on consensus and everyone is expected to fit in with the cultural norm of the organization. Employees are reluctant to take a stand on issues of concern and they will typically run with the herd, even if this may have negative consequences for the business. This cultural type is not as turgid as micro-management but it provides obstacles for consultants to overcome when working with executives that don’t often think outside the box.


This culture is particularly strong in the Pharmaceuticals industry, where well-defined processes are the norm. There are written standards and procedures for almost every task, and these must be observed by all employees. One particular Pharma company I did some work with even had rules in relation to how employees and visitors used the escaltors. It is not usually a micro-managed environment and employees have latitude to be innovative within the procedural rules and regulations that drive the business. Consultants working in this environment will benefit from having existing experience in a strong process culture and will need to have a robust documentation bias.


This type of culture is all about mutual support and collaboration. It has a strong people focus and it seeks to create happy and well motivated employees that will often stay with the business for a long time. Social interaction is encouraged amongst employees both inside and outside the work environment. Very often, it will also have strong elements of the empowerment culture embedded. Consultants working in this environment will usually be viewed as part of the team and will become part of the happy family for a while.


The customer is always King in this environment. The entire organization is driven by the need for customers to have an extraordinary experience. Kip Tindell’s Container Store is a good example here. Recruitment is done on the basis of only choosing a particular type of candidate and then training them exhaustively in the company way. Training in this environment costs multiple times the industry average to ensure that customer experience is harmonized, high-touch and unforgettable. Employee retention is high, wage rates reflect the extra attention to detail, and employees are empowered to step outside normal rules to ensure that customer satisfaction is always superior. If you are doing a consulting assignment in this environment, you must embrace the “customer satisfaction above all else” mantra as part of any solution you deliver.


This is another strange cultural environment to work in wherein the CEO or top team is often willing to bet the house on a new play. They see an opportunity, real or imagined, in a particular area and then pursue it with vigor, even if it is not contiguous to their existing business. The consultant working in this environment must be prepared for a wild ride and needs to protect himself from colatteral damage should the project go off track. He may never be truly in control of the project and may be subject to many seismic shifts as the project proceeds.

Gaining an understanding of the company culture, during the meet-and-greet or discovery phases of any potential consulting assignment, will pave the way to executing a successful project. Ignore company culture and you may risk coming up with the the wrong solution, or delivering unpalatable suggestions that will not sit well with your client.

Niall Strickland