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From Pele to poetry, world's leading firms are handing out the advice - for free

Opinion

The world’s top management consulting firms are publishing free advice online. Is it worth the price? It could be, especially if you like Brazilian football or the poetry of Robbie Burns, writes Robert MacDonald

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If you’re running a business and wondering how to survive in a post-COVID-19 world, draw inspiration from the Brazilian soccer team’s failure at the 1966 World Cup.

That’s a suggestion from one of the world’s biggest management consulting firms, McKinsey.

Or if you’re more literary-minded, take heart from the poetry of Robbie Burns.

That’s a thought from another of the big consultancies, Deloitte.

If you’ve ever wanted some top-end-of town business advice but couldn’t face the thousands of dollars a day in fees, you’re in luck.

All the big consulting firms have been filling in their  COVID-19-induced spare time publishing commentary, insights and advice on their websites – all for free.

Skimming through their offerings makes you realise several things, among them, there is only so much you can speculate about such an unknown future.

And there’s really only so much you can say about preparing for that unpredictable future. Words such as “agile”, “nimble”, “resilience”, “adaptability” and “pivot” appear frequently.

With that said, there’s plenty of practical, if sometimes obvious, advice amid the corporate speak.

Boston Consulting, in an article on “Communicating leadership during COVID-19” urges leaders to “use down-to-earth language that shows humanity and compassion as well as professionalism.”

You wouldn’t think you’d need a pandemic to remind bosses not to be jerks when talking to their staff but it can’t hurt.

Other recommendations sound like great ideas but challenging to implement, even in the best of times.

Bain & Company suggests that companies trying to make up ground post-crisis, “can develop a plan with four critical components: excel in key customer interactions; sharpen the value proposition; provide easy, convenient sales and setup; and rip out bad costs”.

Easier said than done of course, but still, it’s free advice from a company that charges thousands of dollars a day for its bespoke services.

The top-tier consulting firms, like everyone else, are facing intense competition in an uncertain market.

And if their online offerings are bait, then they have to be sure it’s bait that catches the eye.

And so, McKinsey turns to Brazil’s national soccer team for inspiration.

McKinsey reminds us that the 1966 World Cup marked a low point for Brazilian soccer. The team, which had won the two previous tournaments, was eliminated in the first round. Star player Pele failed to perform.

The end of an era many said, but just four years later, Brazil not only won again but also with a team widely regarded as the best ever and with a  beautiful style of play.

What’s that got to do with steering a business out of the low point of a pandemic?

McKinsey explains:

“Making this turnaround required innovation, in particular, the creation of a unique attacking style of soccer. It required building a cohesive team, even as most of the roster changed.”

But most of all, “it required leadership, both in management and on the field.”

And, to get to the punchline:

“By reimagining everything, Brazil came back stronger,” which, McKinsey notes, “provides food for thought.” Yes,  indeed it does.

Deloitte found inspiration in Robbie Burn’s 1793 poem, poem Scots Wha Hae commemorating Scottish victory over the British at the Battle of Bannockburn 700 years earlier.

In particular, the line, “Now’s the day, and now’s the hour.”

“That quote could not be more precise for our current situation: We need to act, and we need to act now,” Deloitte writes.

And just to remind us there is some distance between poets and the highly paid purveyors of business advice, Deloitte continues with “five practical steps to achieve a human-first approach as you recover and thrive.”

Here they are:

“Understand your customer deeply, bring empathy and humanity, embrace digital acceleration, be open to collaboration, and build for agility and adaptability.”

Good advice perhaps and not exactly poetic.

But still if it’s free, who can complain?

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