Today’s world of strategy is evolving to incorporate the “latest and greatest tactics” to get ahead of the competition. Before we dive into the recent trends, let’s clarify what strategy is. A 2018 McKinsey article defines strategy as “a way of thinking about your business, not a set of procedures or frameworks.” This simple, yet effective definition encapsulates the dynamic nature of the strategic process. The idea that there isn’t “a set of procedures or frameworks” makes for an exciting opportunity for companies to find key points of differentiation. Here are four key points of differentiation and how they are changing the consulting landscape as we know it.

The Dawn of Artificial Intelligence

According to a recent CxO Pulse Survey conducted in June 2023, 97% of executives said generative AI will be transformative to their company and industry, yet many of its capabilities remain a mystery to most. AI is no longer a secret stowed away by the biggest and most powerful corporations; it’s now reaching all facets of society with the help of accessible models like Chat GPT and even art-generating AI like DALL-E, both created by OpenAI.

Now that accessibility to AI is easier than ever, industry leaders provide fascinating insights into the tremendous capabilities specifically for the field of consulting. In fact, the CxO survey provides great data suggesting these trends regarding Artificial Intelligence:

  • 67% of organizations plan to increase their level of spending in technology and are prioritizing investments in data & AI.
  • Seven out of ten organizations have specific training programs planned for 2023 to ensure workers are prepared to use generative AI tools.

Ultimately, companies must pivot to using AI to keep up with competitors whether they like it or not. Knowing this gives consultants a great opportunity to get ahead of their opponents as well. By adopting these AI practices in their organization, they can learn how to apply the same practices to their clients’ companies – a win-win for both consultants and their clients as both ultimately become more efficient and productive.

Embracing the Digital Shift

Another key trend in consulting is that independent firms have begun to differentiate themselves by no longer suggesting digitization for clients, but rather being the ones to implement the game-changing services themselves. Like Artificial Intelligence, digitization is a revolutionary shift in the field of consulting. In an April 2023 survey conducted by RSM, 82% claimed that implementing digital technologies has improved the analytics available to the board. This one example displays the great amount of potential in digitization that we are just beginning to exploit. Even simple adjustments – like transferring copies from paper to a database – can create significant value. For example, rather than spending hours searching for a specific document, with simple search workers can dig up files with a few quick keystrokes. Additionally, digitizing these files helps make the creation of a summary (or any further directive) easier to tackle with AI. This is a dramatic timesaver for companies; simple reports can be generated within a minute rather than hours of research and typing. And, because of this increase in digitization, SEO and data, is more powerful than ever when thought about as a strategy. Winning in the digital age can be difficult to maneuver, but leveraging SEO and data to defeat competitors can become a key advantage. In fact, the earlier mentioned RSM survey also mentions an additional two data points that provide valuable insights.

  • 77% believe that digital technologies have helped their companies compile better data.
  • 72% believe that digital technologies have helped them visualize/understand the data better.

These findings illustrate how dramatically digitization has impacted their ability to collect data. Also, because they can collect and visualize data better, business owners can ultimately make the best possible decisions moving forward with the greatest accuracy. One final advantage of digitization is that by transferring files to a digital document it reduces paper waste in meetings. This type of environmental concern leads me to my next topic.

Sustainable Strategies

With the environment in more distress than ever, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has taken a more serious and important place in companies today. Don’t just take my word for it, a 2021 Harvard Business School article proves the value of CSR with a few key statistics.

  • 70% of Americans believe it’s either “somewhat” or “very important” for companies to make the world a better place.
  • 77% of consumers are motivated to purchase from companies committed to making the world a better place.
  • 41% of millennial investors put a significant amount of effort into understanding a company’s CSR practices, compared to 27% of Gen X and 16% of baby boomers.

Let’s take a deeper look at these stats. Seventy percent of Americans concerned about companies making the world a better place is no figure to scoff at. Companies can no longer get away with ignoring environmental responsibilities without facing public backlash. Additionally, the data point suggesting 77% of consumers would rather buy from companies committed to bettering the world presents a fantastic opportunity for business owners. Creating campaigns related to “bettering the world” is extremely appealing to consumers –especially if the company is focused on selling to younger consumers. The final statistic suggests a trend among recent generations for greater concern over companies’ CSR goals. This means that any company hoping to sell to millennials and younger are missing out on opportunities without a focus on CSR. The field of leadership is seeing a similar shift with younger generations.

Leadership of Today

Although leadership is an intangible aspect of a business, it arguably defines an organization’s culture, teamwork, and ultimately success. In two recent interviews with consulting professionals, a common theme presented itself: Bosses can no longer “boss” their employees around. In today’s workforce there are more flexible rules than ever for employees, including generous PTO and giving workers significantly more say on their schedule and work environment. As a result, business owners can no longer push their employees around unless they want to push the employee to another company. The bottom line is that people want to work for a leader who genuinely cares about their employee’s well-being. This continues to be one of the top reasons people stay at their companies today. A motivating leader can give people a reason to want to go to work and accomplish goals for a greater cause. A valuable 2023 Market Data Report conducted by Gitnux uncovers some unfortunate trends regarding leadership:

  • Only 10% of people are natural leaders. Another 20% show qualities of basic managerial talent that can be trained into high-quality leadership.
  • More than 80% of organizations are faced with a leadership talent shortage.
  • 77% of organizations report they are currently experiencing a leadership gap.

These bleak statistics present a scary reality considering how valuable leadership is in today’s corporate environment. Thankfully, there is a simple and effective solution – leadership training! That’s precisely why we created Stretch Academy – a six-session “in-person” training for STRATEGY + LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT. With training, that 10% statistic of natural leaders can grow and take advantage of that additional 20%. An investment in leadership can yield a dramatic return as leaders in every sector of their company inspire employees and get the very best of them. The trends in this article can help unlock the full potential of your organization. I only touched on the surface capabilities of these tools, but with the help of a well-planned strategy, you can transform your company.