Consultancy 'Bodyshopping' is okay - if it solves the problem...

As the Consultancy+ business has grown over recent years I have seen all manner of different challenges presented to us by clients.

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As the Consultancy+ business has grown over recent years I have seen all manner of different challenges presented to us by clients. Alongside the day-to-day bits around supporting IT Transformation and Organisational Change, we have been asked to look at airport runway extensions, whale bone excavations, county-wide cultural change and even some bereavement services. These are examples of real organisations with real challenges that are looking for practical and effective solutions. And what has become apparent is that there is not a one size fits all approach to solving these problems, and from a consultancy and outsourcing business, there is not one way to support clients in accessing the skills they want. There’s also no place for snobbery.

Take the term ‘bodyshopping’ for a moment. This term seems to make people writhe in anger and it conjures up connotations of lies and deceit and of sneaky companies trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes. And rightly so, as this does happen. However, that’s not the fault of the model, that’s the fault of the company selling and delivering the model. For clarity a quick Wiki search shows, “Body shopping is the practice of consultancy firms recruiting workers in order to contract their services out on tactical short to mid-term basis”. Often these skills will be provided as part of a wider project team and managed through the provider’s Programme Management Office (PMO). So that gives a client the skills they want, the control over the project they need, visibility of the project and resources through one PMO and the opportunity to share risk with an external provider. Doesn’t sound like too bad a plan so far. . .

As we see UK companies increasingly required to deliver and manage change – new technology, changes in consumer demand or legislative change – or just the need to continuously improve and diversify their service offering, they are turning to specialist external experts to support this change. So wouldn’t a partner who offered you access to the best skills on the interim market, provided under a services agreement (to share risk as required) and supported by a centralised PMO (to manage milestones, deliverables, budgets, knowledge transfer) be a pretty good way for organisations to deliver some of these projects? The answer is yes, sort of. Yes, as long as that partner is being honest about it. As there comes the challenge. Bodyshopping is not the same as a consultancy service whereby the service provider is offering their own in-house expertise, process methodology and intellectual property. And it shouldn’t cost the same. It belongs on a spectrum between recruitment and traditional consultancy – and therefore so does it’s price. Get that price right then the model can be very effective.

Take the example of the organisation that is looking to bring in that whale bone excavation expertise. That’s a niche skill with only a handful of suitable providers. A permanent role won’t work for either party as it’s a short-term need. A temporary role is likely not to provide the flexibility around the working approach (could be remote, flexible hours and delivered through a ‘micro-buisness’). And a Consultancy firm will either not support it or will likely be over budget. So wouldn’t a specialist interim provided under a services contract (or Statement of Work) be a good solution?

And that’s where I am seeing organisations change when it comes to solving challenges like this. Don’t be drawn in to what the model or service is called, just understand the problem and understand the best way to solve it. And then make sure the price matches the service.

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James Bridgland
Consulting & Solutions Director

James Bridgland leads our consultancy business. James has over 10 years' experience in delivering projects and services to clients across a number of areas including: HR and organisational change, IT transformation, and remediation and compliance.

Across this experience he has worked with clients ranging from UK based SMEs through to global blue chip organisations, in order to support the delivery of outcome based consultancy and work package solutions.

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