“The industry is moving in the right direction”

After internships in healthcare and teaching, former Young MCA Communications Vice Chair, Claire Stidston joined health and social care specialists PPL Consulting. “I was recruited as part of the firm’s expansion and was PPL’s only analyst at that time. The first few days concerned induction, but by the end of that week I was working for a North East London CCG. I don’t remember being nervous. Maybe I should have been! It was quite a full-on role. But I soon found my feet and perhaps my inexperience meant I approached the client’s challenge with fresh eyes.”

Even Claire’s three years in consulting have seen real changes. “Increasingly clients want consultants’ skills and knowledge embedded within their organisation, creating a legacy of improved capability once projects have finished. Client needs are becoming more complex. This in turn drives another change: partnership working. Collaboration between consulting firms has always mattered, but it is becoming more prevalent. Alliances of firms with complementary capabilities offer clients greater value. It’s a welcome, if challenging shift. Firms must think carefully about what they need to do to partner effectively.”

For Claire, the MCA’s value consists in providing a forum for the industry’s diverse capabilities. “Our member firms compete with each other. But a network like the Young MCA represents consulting as a whole. It facilitates exchanges of ideas, improving the industry’s standing and collective abilities. That’s good for us and for clients.” 

The digital transformation of consulting, Claire argues, necessitates even greater sensitivity to human factors. “In training and development we give emotional intelligence too little prominence. Yet in truth, you can only get clients to adopt new approaches, especially threatening ones, if you use it.” Claire argues that proper use of emotional intelligence should not constrain innovation. “Great consultants develop innovative ideas. But to ensure those ideas ‘land’, they must understand the client’s perspective and be sensitive to it.

“Of course, in challenging the status quo, innovations can be unsettling. Many great innovators can hardly be described as sensitive. That’s why emotional intelligence is something we need to nurture. Sometimes this has to be done at a team level to achieve the desired outcome, by combining radical thinkers with more diplomatic consultants, sensitive to client concerns.” 

Claire expects that the feel of consulting will change over time, especially in relation to diversity. “I’ve never experienced discrimination as a woman here at PPL. I am however aware of the glass ceilings others encounter in the industry. Evidence from the recent Young MCA survey, and other initiatives, suggests that the industry is moving in the right direction, but still has a way to go. The basic point, however, is this. My generation will not tolerate discrimination and a lack of diversity. Indeed we see embracing diversity as fundamental to delivering the most value. I hope we will move the debate on from restitutive initiatives to a diversity of real difference, a richer palette of perspectives from which we can draw to offer clients the best services possible.”

This interview was conducted as part of the MCA's 60th anniversary celebrations.

The 60th anniversary brochure 'The story so far, celebrating 60 years of the MCA' is available as a free download.