Q5’s Managing Partner Olly Purnell and Marketing Director Annabel Tonge spoke to Consultancy.uk about the firm’s investment in becoming the leader in “Organisational Health,” and the “art and science” behind this.
Olly Purnell co-founded Q5 during the great recession in 2009. Over the last 13 years, the consultancy has grown to a team of nearly 300 consultants, working from offices in the UK, Australia, Middle East, and the US.
Like many consulting firms, Q5 has undergone a strong phase of growth during the pandemic. “I think most consulting firms have performed quite well since 2020. It’s less to do with our collective genius, but more to do with dealing with an explosion in demand!”
Purnell continues, “Lots of things are happening at the same time, such as the impact of the pandemic on businesses, dealing with the way Brexit has affected trading relationships in Europe, getting to grips with sustainability … these are key structural events,” said Purnell, “big things that trigger conversations with CEOs.”
Whilst many consulting firms have enjoyed a mini boom over the last 24 months, Q5’s growth has been pronounced, doubling in size in terms of headcount, revenue and profit. As a result, in the recent ‘Best Companies’ assessment, Q5 has moved from the ‘Small’ firm to the ‘Mid-size’ category, and the firm is working hard to balance its growth ambitions with its long-held reputation of nurturing a caring, team-focused culture.
“Recruiting excellent people is at the forefront of most consulting leaders’ minds at the moment,” Purnell says, “Fortunately, we held tight during 2020, when a few of the Big Four let people go. Like everyone else, we had no idea what to expect with the pandemic but having spent years hiring brilliant people … the last thing we wanted to do was let people go because of a sudden slowdown in projects.”
“So, our partners used profit from FY20 to ‘buy some time.’ Fortunately, this strategic bet paid off.”
The decision not only helped Q5 retain its team but also made the company an attractive place to join, whilst others were shedding roles. “We picked up quite a few people who were let go rather prematurely by other firms. With the benefit of hindsight, I know a few firms rueing their decision to lose people, given the rapid surge in consulting demand.”
“In light of those pandemic job cuts, they’re finding it harder to recruit, and you’re now seeing a lot of consultancy M&A to make up the talent gaps.”
Why art, science and organisational health matter
2021 was a busy year for Q5, building their operations in Leeds and Cardiff, and moving into a new London HQ in Smith Square. The firm also put a renewed focus on its brand and marketing as Annabel Tonge, Q5’s Marketing Director explains. “The pandemic dialled everything up in life, and one of the things it highlighted in the business was our need to be more on the front-foot from a digital point-of-view.”
“Traditionally, 70% of our firm’s business came from longstanding relationships and face-to-face interactions. People liked what we did and brought us back for more projects, or they referred other people to us.”
“In a virtual world, however, digital presence and identity becomes paramount. We designed and launched a new website and have invested in platforming our organisation assessment tools and org design approaches. The firm has grown so quickly over the last five years, that we needed a better brand presence, articulation and digital product set, to more fully reflected how we had evolved.”
One of the things that Q5 has focused on since the Pandemic is their pro-bono “Pop Up Consulting” offer – an initiative which the firm launched in April 2020 to support charities and SMEs who needed advisory support due to funding crises. Q5’s achievements with Pop Up are “a great articulation of how by giving back we look after ourselves and own internal culture.”
“We’ve served over 100 charities and not-for-profits through Pop Up, alongside 120 commercial clients through Q5. In many ways, Pop Up not only helps smaller charities, but it also acts as a bit of an R&D function for our wider consulting firm, helping us test out new thinking and tools,” says Purnell.
Tonge was also quick to explain Q5’s finely balanced approach to consulting; “Emphasising the Q in our name, we have always put EQ and IQ at the heart of our work, but we haven’t necessarily showcased this externally.” Under the new brand strategy, “The art and science of organisational health … we’re looking to be loud and proud about this now!”
“Companies are facing a different post-pandemic future. That is why a broader perspective on organisational health is really needed right now.”
Leading by example through art and science
Tonge and Purnell pointed out that organisational health is paramount in Q5’s identity.
Purnell states, “The name Q5 is about looking beyond the fourth quarter of a business year to make your organisation healthy, and sustainably so. Clearly, it must be commercially healthy, but there are so many other things at play. The focus on ESG over the last few years has thrown a spotlight on the impacts of organisations and why a broader perspective on the importance of organisational health is really needed right now.”
When it comes to ensuring organisational health, Purnell says, “Companies coming out of the pandemic need to make sure their business models are robust, that their strategies are coherent (and understood across their different stakeholder groups) – and that all people that they employ are organised effectively, with the right skills and capabilities to deliver the work. Finally, they need to be engaged, supported and motivated to do so.”
“With our art and science approach we’re focusing on the twin tensions that every organised has to contend with. There’s always science, rigour, method and logic in what we do – but we also have to bring human qualities to our work; passion, humour, empathy, common sense and compassion.”
2022 promises to be another busy year for the firm, with a growing focus on its international operations in Australia, the Middle East, and the opening of a new office in the US (in Houston, alongside the existing operation in New York).