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    Q&A with Nicola Mansfield on the Value of Specialists

    We speak to Nicola Mansfield, founder and CEO of TheDesignThinkers and Brand Advisor to XpertiseNow, about the value of specialists in the consulting industry. 

    Q: Management consulting was originally all about bringing experts into all sort of businesses to make real improvements. What has changed to get us to a slightly different place with the large consultancies? 

    A: The complexity of the business landscape has increased, and so, whilst the management consulting firms were set up with experts to solve traditional problems, as the complexity increased, the range of challenges that those management consultants needed to address also got broader, and there was a shift from specialist to generalist over the course of that. There are still experts within the management consultancies, but it’s almost impossible for any firm to have experts in every field. So people do get stretched.  

    Q: Clients often find themselves employing people who are generalists and not giving them the advice they need. How have they dealt with this?  

    A: That becomes an enormous frustration for the clients. They find themselves having to direct more closely, having to work into problems more closely, they feel as though they’re spending a lot of money but not necessarily getting value. And if they’ve got generalists assigned to their program, the quality of the advice is reasonably generic. After the advice is handed over, there is often a need to progress the issue with other partners who are specialists.  

    Q: Based on your experience, why are individuals who went in to big consulting groups as specialists getting frustrated?  

    A: If you are a specialist, and you go into a big consultancy with a specialism, you end up getting deployed on things that are outside your core specialism. So as a specialist, you go into a firm with an area that you are very geared towards. But often, you can’t sustain ongoing engagement in that area. Then you find yourself working outside of your core specialism, looking at other areas, and that can be very frustrating. You can end up feeling like you’ve been bent out of shape. And what you what you went into that firm as being famous for, is not always what you end up doing all day. 

    Q: What does a true specialist look like? 

    A: I think a genuine specialist has had multiple perspectives, be that from management consulting be that client side, and they bring those different lenses about the one topic to bear. That’s what a specialist looks like. When a true specialist who doesn’t end up working on lots of different things sees that problem in numerous instances from many, many different clients and therefore has deep experience. It’s also the range of client contexts that specialist can consider that problem from.

    Q: If you’re a specialist in a small or even mid -sized consultancy and company has got a complex problem, how do you deal with the fact that you can’t solve a piece of their problem? 

    A: That’s one of the biggest challenges. You can find yourself getting dragged into an area where you are not expert. But the best specialist consultancies will know when to say: “actually this has gone beyond my true area, I can work into this from this perspective, however, I’m just making you aware, in full disclosure, that’s not something that I do a lot of”. I have those conversations with clients regularly, invariably they’re absolutely taken aback that I am so candid with them. That demonstrates that very few people might be prepared to have those conversations. You might have a network of specialist consultancies with whom you often partner, and having those relationships is critical to ensure that your client’s needs are well met. 

    Q: So how does XpertiseNow plan to solve that problem? 

     A: XpertiseNow is a ready-made network of qualified validated consultancies where you can be sure that the quality is at the standard you would want for your client. It gives you access to an even broader array of specialist consultant areas so that you can reach further for your clients.


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