I worked as an external consultant for the first five years of my HR career. Consulting allowed me to play to my strengths and it gave me an opportunity to do some decent work. It also enabled me to get exposure to various domains in HR and to the various roles in a consulting firm. So it was a good way to invest the initial years of my career. I moved on to other kind of roles after that to broaden my perspective/expertise.
I still want to go back to consulting at some point in my career. However, the kind of HR consulting that I look forward to do is somewhat different. In the initial years of my career, the kind of consulting that I was doing was mainly at the level of applying tools/ techniques/ methodologies/ approaches. Of course it also involved choice of the tools/approaches & customizing them to suit particular contexts, and, in a few areas, developing new tools/approaches. Still it was essentially tool/methodology driven. This is likely to happen in most large consulting firms, as this (tools/methodology driven way of functioning) helps the firm to create leverage and scalability that are essential for profitability and growth/size.
The kind of HR consulting that I now look forward to do goes beyond tools/ techniques/ methodologies/ approaches. It is highly customized (to the client context) and highly 'personal' (that would enable me to 'bring more of myself into the work'). In addition to the difference in terms of the degree (of customization /personalization), there is also a difference in terms of the intention (see the note below). This way of consulting mainly uses patterns/broad principles (and not methodologies) so that effective solutions can be developed and implemented in complex and dynamic environments. While it uses tools/analysis as an essential input & to validate the output, the core of diagnosis/solution design is driven by a highly intuitive/non-linear/apparently discontinuous process perfected by years of individual experience/capability building/evolved consciousness ! The output reflects simplicity at the other side of complexity !! This is what I call 'wisdom-level' consulting !!!
I am not saying that 'wisdom-level' consulting is appropriate in all contexts/for all problems. It is needed only for special problems in complex contexts where a purely analytical/ methodology-driven approach can't arrive at the optimal solution. Now, many of the typical HR consulting assignments do not fall into this category and hence it is appropriate that they are handled in a tool/methodology driven way. My point is just that there are situations that require a type of consulting that goes beyond tool/methodology driven consulting and that I hope to do that kind of consulting (wisdom-level consulting) at some point in my career.
Even in methodology-driven consulting, some degree of personalization happens by default (as the work is being performed by a particular human being/consultant). However, in the case of large consulting firms, in the case of 'main-stream assignments' often the implicit attempt is to play down the personalization aspect. This is useful for managing risk (after all it is the firm's reputation that is at stake and hence the deliverable can't get too person dependent) and for creating leverage (so that less experienced people can be trained to do most of the work). However in the case of 'wisdom-level' consulting, 'personalization' of the output (by a highly skilled consultant) becomes a key part of the consulting value proposition. Similarly, the pressure to ensure scalability (across many client contexts) makes too much customization (beyond the absolute minimum required) not so attractive for large consulting firms. More importantly, customization requires a relatively higher level of skill and hence it works against 'obtaining leverage' objective . Thus, similar to our discussion on the aspect of personalization, high degree of customization of the output to the client context (by a highly skilled consultant, who is not looking to maximize the volume of work) becomes a key part of the consulting value proposition in the case of 'wisdom-level' consulting.