10 professional development trends for the consulting industry

A recent survey of programme participants conducted by MCA Associate Member PSfPS suggests the fundamental skills and behaviours required in consulting are not intuitive and still need to be codified, learned, practiced and refined, especially in relation to critical thinking, analytical problem solving, communication, presenting with impact and business development.

Using critical thinking as an example, findings suggest that despite the clear benefits, before attending a formal training event, individuals do not regularly use a structured analytical thinking process in their everyday work.

Individuals that do have prior knowledge of the required process and skills, frequently find an inability to apply the theory in everyday activities often due to a scarcity of time and senior management support.

With regards to instilling behaviour change and embedding the learning, participant data shows that culture and prevailing mindsets in professional services firms still create barriers.

There continues to be a disparity in some firms between the new behaviours and processes that employees learn, which should be to the benefit of their firms and how their performance is actually measured and rewarded once they are back in the workplace.

Similarly, Senior Managers often do not embody the behaviours or know the same processes that they are asking their more junior employees to utilise.

Participants’ responses suggest that behaviour change in professional services is not being effectively achieved because:

i. The act of sharing best practice and learning is not widely encouraged and mechanisms for sharing are rarely in place. Hence, employees simply go “back to the way we have always worked”

ii. The prevailing culture in many professional services firms (short-term, metric-focused, ‘activity-driven’) means behavioural change is not always supported.

Based on the findings, PSfPS have determined 10 key trends that will affect the consulting industry in 2016 and beyond and the possible implications for firms with regards to learning and development strategy, managing client relationships and behavioural change:

Key trends and implications for consulting firms in 2016 and beyond:

  1. Success in professional services is now about adopting an ‘advisory’ approach and finding new value for clients: The cognitive and behavioural skills required to achieve this ambition are not intuitive
  2. Traditional metrics of professional services performance ensure prevailing cultures remain: As a result, firms will struggle to change behaviours
  3. Leaders and senior managers have to embody new behaviours from the top: Only then can cultural change really happen
  4. Professional services firms should develop a consistent analytical approach to resist any perceived commoditisation of their services
  5. Digital, analytics, big data and new technologies will continue to dominate agendas for professional services firms. Develop ‘bilinguals’ who understand complex areas but also communicate in business language
  6. Competition for talent remains fierce: Use on-going training and development to remain a destination of choice for top performers
  7. Developing cognitive and behavioural skills is as important as refreshing technical knowledge and should not be seen as a discretionary spend
  8. Clients are more knowledgeable than ever: How employees perform in critical ‘moments of truth’ will define your business performance and brand
  9. Employees have to take personal responsibility for ensuring behaviour change: Training should not be viewed as a standalone ‘learning event’
  10. How to develop and manage Millennials should remain high on the agenda for professional services firms. Millennials are the future leaders of your firm but key skills are lacking


The full Behavioural and Cognitive Professional Development Report 2016 can be accessed here.

About the report

Last year, hundreds of participants from some of the world’s top and best-known consulting firms attended PSfPS behavioural and cognitive development programmes.

Following every programme we ask participants how they plan to embed the learning at their firms and what difficulties they anticipate in applying what they have learned.

Having analysed over a thousand participant responses to these questions from the past year, we have been able to gain a snapshot of the key issues facing the top professional services firms in the world today with regards to professional development and behaviour change.