Incentives for producing thought leadership – where does quality come in?


We know from our conversations with firms and our recent survey1 (see chart), that many consultants are being incentivised to produce thought leadership, albeit often implicitly rather than explicitly. On the surface it’s not a bad idea. After all, “what you measure is what you get,” is a widely recognised adage for good reason, and consultants are busy people who have demanding managers and clients to keep happy. If the perceived benefits of producing thought leadership aren’t clear, then chances are that the mandate to ‘create compelling and insightful reports’ will fall to the murky depths of the to-do list.

Unfortunately, in some firms the incentive is very heavily skewed towards quantity rather than quality. Consultants are well aware of the need to tick the thought leadership box, and while they no doubt wish to produce something that meets expectations, they often have little incentive to put in the hours to produce the kind of thought leadership that clients really value. We’ve seen this quantity-driven approach backfire on many occasions, leaving consulting firms awash in low-quality material that in turn hides the really good stuff that target clients should be seeing. So what’s the solution?

Firstly, and perhaps most controversially, we don’t think consultants should be left alone to design and write thought leadership. We do think, however, that they should be getting involved in generating ideas and bringing insight. So the question becomes one of how to incentivise consultants to contribute to thought leadership.

With this in mind, things get a little easier. Thought leadership owners can feed information about the consultant’s contribution into performance reviews, and firms can celebrate successful pieces, naming and thanking all those involved. And like any cultural change, senior managers can support the initiative by visibly demonstrating that this matters with actions like asking the right questions and rewarding the right behaviours.


1. In the spring of 2014 we contacted the authors of the material we’d featured in our thought leadership digests to ask them to complete a survey about why and how
thought leadership is created within their firm, and what advice they’d give other authors about creating the best quality, most effective, material. Our respondents came from some of the world’s leading consulting firms, including A.T. Kearney, Accenture, The Boston Consulting Group, Capgemini, Deloitte, IBM, Infosys, KPMG, PwC, and Strategy & (now part of PwC, formerly Booz & Co).

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