Fearless Thinkers | Season 2, Episode 3

Why we’re proud of consulting that’s different by design

with Kathryn Clubb and Anne Wilson

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In this special episode of Fearless Thinkers, guest host Anne Wilson, VP, Principal, and Head of the Change & Transformation Center of Expertise for North America, and Kathryn Clubb, CEO of BTS North America, discuss why organizations should expect more from consultants and when not to hire them.


Masami Cookson: Welcome to Fearless Thinkers, The BTS Podcast. My name is Masami Cookson. I’m excited to share that we have a special guest host today, Anne Wilson, Head of Change and Transformation for BTS North America.

Anne Wilson: Hi, Masami, always great to see you and talk to you. I’m doing very well, thank you. It’s bright and sunny in Chicago, but spring hasn’t quite found us yet; otherwise, doing quite well.

Masami: That’s awesome. I’m so happy to have you here, always wonderful to have another female voice on the podcast.

Anne: Thanks, Masami. You know, there’s no shortage of fearless female thinkers at BTS, so I’m excited to have the platform and the opportunity to have a conversation today.

Masami: Would you share a little bit more about what you and Kathryn covered on the podcast?

Anne: Yeah, absolutely. So, you know, at BTS we’ve believed for a long time that consulting as an industry isn’t serving clients well, and the idea that companies deserve more from consultants is really gaining traction. So, we really thought that the timing was right for us and for Kathryn, especially given how long she’s worked in the industry, to share some of what we’ve seen and what organizations should be looking out for and what they should expect from a great consulting relationship.

Masami: Wow, I can’t wait to hear more. Let’s get into it.

Anne: Kathryn, welcome to the Fearless Thinkers Podcast or welcome back, I should say.

Kathryn: Nice to be here. Thanks, Anne.

Anne: Kathryn, I wanna start today with an obvious question. The topic of our conversation is about what traditional consulting gets wrong and why it’s time for a new approach. You are a longtime consultant, you’ve said quite loudly and publicly that you have three loves in your life: your spouse, Linda, your dogs, and consulting. So, the obvious question is why? Why would you want to go out into the world to talk about what’s wrong with something that you care about obviously so deeply?

Kathryn: Let’s start at the beginning. I feel like I grew up in consulting, and when I found consulting, I was in awe that they would pay you money to do work that was this much fun helping organizations solve really challenging problems.

Anne: It’s quite a compelling value proposition to think about being able to access outside expertise or perspective that you don’t have internally and build the internal capability that you need for sustainable growth over the long term. But you mentioned watching consultants help clients solve the same problems over and over again, and isn’t that core to the consulting business model to turn one engagement into the next engagement? How could this possibly be a sustainable approach for consulting firms?

Kathryn: I love having long-term clients. The relationships you can build with them become the basis for everything that’s possible. You learn how to complement each other’s skills and knowledge. You learn how to work together. It’s like a marriage: the longer you’re in it, the more you know how to have each other’s best selves come out, right? So, you have a strong foundation, and you can stand on the shoulders of the accomplishments that you have.

Anne: Yeah, I guess the argument being if you have to hire a consultant to solve the same problem three years later, did they ever even solve it in the first place?

Kathryn: The bad news is, it’s an accurate description of how the industry has actually evolved. In my mind, the good news is it doesn’t have to be that way. Companies actually hire consultants for all kinds of services, but it kind of boils down to they need to make a decision and don’t know how or don’t have the data or don’t have the perspective needed to make that decision. And then they have to execute, implement, actually make those decisions become real in their daily life of their business. Those are the things that in my mind are reasonable things to hire a consultant to do.

Anne: Well, as they say, careers are not linear. But I’d love to dig into that a bit. Can you say a little bit more about that? After swearing off consulting, why? Why come to BTS? Why dive right back in?

Kathryn: The first time I met BTS, I was referred by a former colleague of mine who actually had been a client of BTS. And when she asked me what I wanted to do next, this was when I was finishing up commercializing the medical device command company, I said I wanted to do weird consulting and she asked me more about that and without hesitation, she said “You have to meet my friend at BTS.” And I did and we talked for hours.

Anne: You have often said to me and to clients that a change in information doesn’t equal a change in behavior. You actually can’t just drop off a strategy or a PowerPoint act no matter how glossy and beautiful it is and expect people to take it up and start making different choices. Why? Why is that? Why is it the communication and beautifully laid plans don’t go the way we expect them to?

Kathryn: There’s humans involved–

Anne: Pesky humans.

Kathryn: Pesky humans, they are the bane of strategists’ existence. So, these elegant strategies get developed truly beautiful, elegant, relevant, breakthrough kind of strategies. And then they have to get implemented by humans. And a lot of the issue that I’ve seen in the past is the separation of the development of the strategy and the people who have to implement it.

Anne: So, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about humans, about shifting mindsets, offering people new beliefs, building capabilities, helping to change behavior. It sounds like training, not consulting, which is it?

Kathryn: Often training has been a change lever because when you create new strategies, you are asking people to see differently, do things differently, have different capabilities than they may have had in the past. What you can’t train is judgment and what people need to have when they’re implementing strategies, actually, even when they’re creating strategies is judgment, will this fit with our customers? Is this something that our employees can actually execute? Is our technology or our systems or our processes up to what we need to do? It’s all a matter of judgment. And so, the idea is to give them an experience of it, actually let them live it. Let them understand why they’re doing things differently.

Anne: What’s your take on why there’s such disdain for consultants?

Kathryn: Minimally, a consultant should not make you feel bad. That’s fundamental table stakes. But so many consultants come in, they’ve got smart MBAs, they’ve got people who have worked across industries, they get people who get paid a lot of money, and they feel, consultants often feel that their job is to give you answers. And that would mean actually telling you something you don’t know about a business that you’ve lived in, worked in, are in on a day-to-day basis for a long period of time. And so it’s just a shame.

Anne: So, we’ve covered a lot of ground about why organizations hire consultants, what to look for in a consultant to ensure that you are making a good investment. Do you ever have a moment with a client where you say this isn’t the work of a consultant, you really shouldn’t hire a consultant for this. Are there moments when clients shouldn’t hire consultants?

Kathryn: One of the ones we hear about a fair amount, particularly when big name consultants get hired, is that leadership needs credibility with their board or shareholders or investors to potentially rubber-stamp or support tough decisions they need to make. And leadership of companies — management — is a hard job. It’s a really hard job, and we’re in a moment right now with recession looming and pivots going on and technology disruptions going on that it takes courage to be a leader.

Anne: I think sometimes reaching out to the firms that we know is a muscle memory that’s hard to break. But as they say, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. So don’t outsource leadership courage is kind of the first piece of advice that I heard from you there. Don’t outsource leadership courage. Kathryn, we’re reaching the end of our time.

Kathryn: Obviously, I’m still in consulting. I actually think it’s the absolute best career choice for me. I think it’s a great career choice for a lot of people who like challenge, diversity, intellectual, and human connection. And I would be remiss if I didn’t say that based on who we are, how we operate, and how we’re different, I believe that every company on the planet deserves BTS. It’s a different kind of human-centric, practically driven consulting company that our clients are looking for. They may not just know that quite yet.

Anne: Well said, Kathryn. Thanks again for your time and thanks everyone for tuning in.

Masami: If you’d like to stay up to date on the latest from the Fearless Thinkers Podcast, please subscribe. Links to all of the relevant content discussed in today’s podcast are in the show notes or you can always reach us at bts.com. Thanks again.

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About the show

The Fearless Thinkers podcast, hosted by Rick Cheatham and Masami Cookson, personalizes BTS’s perspective on the people side of strategy.

Fearless Thinkers is produced by Masami Cookson, Nicole Hernandez, Taylor Hale, and Aron Towner. Special thanks to Joe Holeman, Chris Goodnow, Meghan McGrath, and Roanne Neuwirth for their invaluable help.


Show notes

Read about our Change & Transformation services here.

Find this episode on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Vimeo.

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