The Future of Consulting with Richard Moran and Shannon Adkins

Innovation + Transformation Purpose Readiness Work Culture

Two innovative leaders in business and consulting compare notes on the future of work and the consulting industry.


Richard A. Moran is a top LinkedIn influencer and President Emeritus of Menlo College in Atherton, California. A noted San Francisco-based workplace pundit, bestselling author and venture capitalist, he is best known for his series of humorous business books beginning with the bestseller Never Confuse a Memo with Reality, which launched the genre of “business bullet books.”

Shannon Adkins is the CEO of Future State, a leading consulting firm in Oakland, California, that works with global organizations at the forefront of the health care, life sciences, tech and consumer goods industries. Adkins is a skilled facilitator, transformational leader and innovator who is adept at guiding organizations through radical change. A women- and employee-owned company, Future State focuses on the people and purpose behind innovation and transformation, guiding large-scale mergers, transitions, enablement and readiness.

In this interview, Moran and Adkins compare notes on the rapid changes happening in the business and consulting industries today.

Why is consulting still important?
Richard Moran: The value consultants bring is that they tell clients the truth. If the baby is ugly, they say so, and they still have their jobs the next day. The other value is implementation skills. Consultants know how to create plans and meet deadlines. They get shit done.

Shannon Adkins: I agree. Our greatest value is as execution partners. Our clients need a team that can jump in and adapt to a fast-paced, complex world; add value; and deliver results. Today most of my clients are doing at least two full-time jobs. In the 10 years since the 2008 economic crash, the economy has recovered but most corporations haven’t brought the workforce back to the level it was at before. And the high performers that took on additional accountability are the same people tapped when large-scale transformations need to be driven. That’s when they can turn to us for support.

What innovations are most crucial in the workplace moving forward?
RM: Hierarchy is being replaced more and more by teams. Bosses may soon be gone. And the physical element of the workplace has changed. The workplace is wherever you are and whenever you want to work. Today the focus is on getting things done, not showing up.

SA: For me, the most important innovations happening today are business-model innovations—the emergence and growing volume of social enterprises that are not only surviving, but thriving. Now we are seeing some of the world’s biggest organizations and investors recognizing this: Look at Facebook’s recent explanation of its algorithm change, or the letter about corporate governance by BlackRock CEO Larry Fink.

RM: Yes. The most important change is that organizations will be held to a standard when it comes to making the world a better place. Whether it means environmental or social impact, profits alone just won’t cut it if you want to attract talent.

SA: The fact is that businesses that use a triple bottom-line model have to be more innovative and stakeholder-focused to make the model work.

What conventional business skills shouldn’t be left behind?
RM: Professionalism and results. Results will always matter.

SA: In any and all cases, the skills needed to drive new ways of working are all about relationships, self awareness, empathy, connection and commitment.

What’s your top advice for business leaders today?
SA: Lean in to the places where you’re not knowledgeable, and get curious. In my case, after nearly 20 years in business, I’m trying to become more deeply engaged in how our government works. As businesspeople, we have to have a seat at the table and offer our insights and skills to government and nonprofit partners in order to tackle our great social challenges.

RM: All good jobs have three things in common: A chance to develop meaningful relationships; the opportunity to learn something important; and a sense that you’re making an impact or helping others. Make sure the job you’re doing and the jobs you create for others include these things.

What advice would you offer younger workers?
SA: No. 1: Always, always ask for and listen to feedback: from everyone, about everything, and without defensiveness.

RM: Agreed. There are many things to learn from others if you listen.

SA: And No. 2: Aim for something that makes you feel engaged and passionate. You will be a better performer in a role that excites you, with team members and mentors you can learn from, working on problems you care about. And you deserve that.