This year, German companies will spend well over 32 billion euros on consulting services. In fact, the German consulting market is the biggest in Europe, with nearly 19,000 providers vying for potential clients. This highly competitive market is made complex by the difficulty of assessing the service quality of many providers. acondas has made the leap from unknown newcomer to valued and reputable mid-sized consultancy in a remarkably short time by establishing and living professional principles which promote and sustain consistently high-quality consulting performance.
“Leading corporations including six DAX-30 companies as well as numerous well-known medium-sized enterprises trust us when undertaking challenging fundamental change projects” Andreas Florissen notes with confidence. “We have successfully supported our clients in more than 250 implementation projects ranging from post-merger integrations to carve-outs to digital transformation processes. Our client satisfaction levels are excellent and our recommendation rate is at 98 percent” Jörg Fengler adds. Together with Florissen he founded the consultancy seven years ago. Today, the two are the managing directors of acondas.
The key to this success story? Florissen and Fengler both point to an “extremely high degree of professionalism when working with clients”. Which leads to the follow-up questions, what exactly does professionalism mean in this case, how is it showing and especially how is acondas-professionalism differing from similar promises made by their competitors.
“Our internal code of conduct for cooperation in teams builds on four strong values: development, freedom, open-mindedness and team spirit,” both managing directors note. “These values encourage team spirit and ensure a positive and collaborative work atmosphere.”
However, this is only one side. Florissen and Fengler describe seven principles that guide acondas’ client work. “These founding principles act as a professional and ethical compass for interacting with clients,” both say. “These professional principles define us as a client-oriented consultancy, give us criteria and rules for making difficult decisions, and define model conduct with clients.”
These principles are a framework for day-to-day operations, but also a guide for training teams and recruiting consultants, and are woven tightly into processes surrounding employee development, leadership and performance evaluation. Florissen adds that “our adherence to these principles is judged every day by the most critical jury: in continuous feedback from our clients.”
The seven principles are quality, reliability, client focus, expertise, empathy, confidentiality and confidence. “Our quality standards guarantee excellent work results” states the first of seven acondas-principles. Florissen emphasizes that “quality is the basis of our reputation. If our work isn’t of consistently high quality, we risk losing our clients’ trust, which is built on real and sustainable results.”The managing directors have set a high bar for their colleagues: after all they are supposed to compete with the claim of being the best implementation consultants. This does not mean, that they must tell their clients what they want to hear. On the contrary: “We expect that our colleagues critically reflect the goal set by the client and point out alternative solutions if the specifications are unrealistic” Fengler clarifies.
Principle number two is reliability and connects to quality: “Our strong commitment and absolute reliability advance projects” is stated. For this to be more than a simple marketing promise, Florissen and Fengler also describe what exactly they are expecting from their consultants. In their projects they are supposed to “play an active and reliable role in driving the project and creating added value for the customer. We commit ourselves to adhering to individual task and larger project deadlines and to transparently tracking project progress, even when there are hurdles”, both managing directors explain the guiding principle.
These days, it seems that every service-oriented company claims that customer is king, but many only pay lip service to this important idea. At acondas, our customer focus is very specific and real and that is why it is also stated as one of the principles. “We make our clients wishes our own and consider ourselves a sparring partner.” At the same time, “we expect our colleagues to reflect critically on the goals set by the client, consider all alternatives, and develop and follow a bold but realistic path forward together with the client” Fengler clarifies.
Something else adds to the mix and this is not always obvious in the consulting world: “Participation and teamwork on equal terms is the base of working with the client” both managing directors emphasize. There is no room for diva antics and instrumentalizing knowledge in client-focused consulting. On the contrary, consultants are expected to share their knowledge and experience with clients, including access to their own networks. When required the teams provide contact to other companies with similar problems. Solutions are not imposed top-down, but rather developed together.
Expertise is the foundation of the consultancy business: “Our knowledge and experience make us implementation experts”, the fourth acondas principle declares. Lifelong learning entails keeping up on modern methods, honing the ability to grasp complex problems quickly and across industries, and adapt to strong and changing economic forces. “We develop tailormade solutions on the basis of hypotheses grounded in deep knowledge and extensive experience”, the acondas managing directors promise.
The last three principles focus on the relationship between consultant and client, including elements such as confidentiality in the handling of information and client data and ensuring that only pre-approved content is communicated via approved channels.
Two other characteristics the acondas-founders have stated in their principles are not that self-evident in the consulting business: “We expect confidence in their conduct from our colleagues, while also showing empathy when dealing with clients and their employees.” This is a reason to listen up and take notice, since consultants are generally not known for their empathy. Consultants are often called on in the face of a crisis, which may involve restructuring and layoffs, possibly leading to feelings of frustration and fear, for which consultants are sometimes blamed.
On the other hand, the industry is partially to blame for itself – the damaged reputation of consultants sometimes also stems from their own behavior: “When young consultants try to mask their insecurity and lack of experience by acting arrogant or disrespectful, it can only backfire” Florissen warns. Especially difficult projects require empathy, and thoughtfulness regarding company culture and affected employees. “As we consider applicants, being respectful and down-to-earth is just as important as having professional competence,” adds Fengler.
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