Agile Xceed builds to deliver business change
“Can I ask you – what do you do exactly?” If every consultant had a pound for every time they’d been asked this they could give up consultancy or at least spend more time on the golf course.
It’s a fair question at a party, but probably not the best way to approach a consultancy project, as Dan Russon, services director of fast-growing consultancy Xceed, points out:
“Our approach is ‘what’s the question?’ and we’ll do whatever it takes to answer it,” he says. “We try not to tie ourselves down with narrow definitions.”
This intense desire not to be pigeonholed is one of the things that marks Xceed out – although the consultancy is certainly neither formless or dilettanteish. Operating mainly in the area of IT infrastructure but moving into more mainstream business change, it has built up a strong and loyal following in financial services. However this sector bias is to an extent a reflection of how far the apple has – so far – fallen from the tree and the firm’s goal is to play on a much wider field.
Xceed was set up 10 years ago by a small group of colleagues with very strong personal networks – RBS was a foundational client – and for the first half of its existence Xceed’s growth both in clientele and staff followed the web of those networks.
“We don’t have a sales team and 100% of our business has come from recommendations,” says Russ. “That’s very powerful but it’s also a limitation – we have some very powerful tools which could strip millions of pounds of cost out of data centre networks , for example, but we’re not set up to knock on a thousand doors.”
Because of this strong foundation in “who you know”, Xceed is acutely aware of the danger that all consultancies face of being seen by clients as a high class body shop, and perhaps more honest about it than most:
“If you look at what Office Angels do and what McKinsey do, they’re not really that far away,” says Russon. “It’s about allocating a resource you don’t have in-house.”
But five years ago the company realised that, if it wanted to be seen more as the deliverer of “big change” than “good people”, it would need to expand its gene pool. This was where Russon came in, and he is proud of the journey the company has made, not just up the value chain, but from a mainly associate base to having 60 permanent staff.
The firm’s innate aversion to being pigeonholed also applies to its staff: it is very keen not to label individuals as the “go-to” person for particular skillsets, but to encourage adaptability. “We have strategy of hiring for attitude, we don’t really hire for skills,” says Russon. “We need people who can do a fantastic job on a data network optimisation one week and put them on process optimisation in financial services the next.”
What Xceed looks for, says Russon, is “the ability to understand data and make intelligent decisions and implement change” – and this applies to all staff:
“The people we need in head office and support also need to be change people, because of all the internal change programmes,” he says. The key question asked of a proposed new hire is ‘do they get it?’: “We’ve rejected some very good people but they wouldn’t have worked brilliantly in our environment.”
Over its 10 years Xceed has grown at an average of 50% year-on-year and Russon says he is keen to maintain that aggressive trajectory. Until recently the firm has mainly recruited from client-side people with delivery experience in large organisations, but is now looking to inject some professional service experience into that mix – ideally people who have worked in its “happy hunting ground” of the FTSE 250.
Although Xceed’s starting point was IT, the company is also moving more in the direction of business change, addressing the concerns of the CEO as much as those of the CIO:
“We try to pooh-pooh that whole business-IT split: they’re not two separate entities,” says Russon. “A lot of people in the IT world take their eye off what works for our clients’ customers – we try to talk about what works for the business.”
Russon says that, along with organic growth, the goal is to develop more IP, more products and value propositions while remaining nimble and agile. The focus also remains intensely pragmatic:
“When we develop tools that help delivery we’re not sitting back in the office and thinking what is the best way to go about something,” says Russon. “We’ll have been doing a big change project and say, that’s a useful tool we have developed: let’s use it again.
“We’re more a blue collar than a white collar consultancy – although we can certainly do strategy, we’re more about making it happen.”
In recent years the consultancy world has possibly stressed “subject matter expertise” and “domain knowledge” at the expense of the broader business disciplines that underpin the delivery of lasting change.
It’s refreshing to see a consultancy turn this on its head, and potentially very attractive for the individual consultant who doesn’t want to be asked (as one disaffected consultant put it to me) to repeat their “stupid human trick” ad infinitum. Xceed’s overriding goal is to build a mature, but still agile consultancy firm. It will be interesting to see where that takes them.
To find out more about Xceed, the kind of consulting professionals they hire and to register your interest in joining the firm, please click here.
All views expressed in this article are those of Mick James and do not necessarily reflect the views of Top-Consultant.com and Consultant-News.com.
Contact Mick with your views or suggestions at: [email protected].