How Herding Cats Allows Consultants To Get Things Done

herding cats
Herding cats: Getting things done

I’ve worked with clients who had their own project methodologies. In most cases it was a binder or two somewhere on a bookshelf. It might have even been distributed in binders on everyone’s desk.

Unfortunately, that was often where it ended. It has been my experience that many clients don’t follow methodologies even when they have them. At least it is not followed consistently. One person may follow a few aspects of it and another person may use other features. Meanwhile, the general population of project leads all do things their own way. Their approaches are gathered from a collection of practices and habits from previous jobs.
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6 Ways Consultants Can Impact Organizational Change

Organizational Change
Improving Organizational Change

Ask any random business people what first comes to mind when they think of the word “consultant.” Some will tell you that they steal your watch to tell you the time. You might hear that they train their people on one client in order to charge higher rates at the next client. But some may utter a single word and most people will know what they are talking about: shelfware.

What is shelfware?

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How I Learned that Burning Bridges is A Career Limiting Move

burning bridges
Why you shouldn’t be burning bridges

When I was in high school, I had a job at a restaurant. At one point, being a mature 16-year old, I wanted to quit. I didn’t just want to quit. I wanted to tell the boss off and storm out of the place.

I was talking to my dad about it. He told me that I shouldn’t be burning bridges like that.

“Dad, I’m not going to set anything on fire.” I responded.
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6 Reasons Client Employees Hate Consultants

hate consultants
Why client employees hate consultants

When a consultant shows up at a new client, it’s always a good idea to have one’s guard up. It’s very possible that he or she is entering hostile territory. It’s nothing personal. Okay, maybe it’s a little personal. You did decide to become a consultant after all.

I used to wonder why clients distrusted us consultants so much. Over the years I learned that it was a combination of past experience, confusion, and a little over-generalization. One of the major causes is, like any category of people, there are always some people in a group that give everyone a bad name.
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5 Things I Hate About Consulting

hate about consulting
What I hate about consulting: Enemy status

Since I wrote the first edition of Consulting 101 in 2010, an updated 2nd Edition this year, over 200 consulting-related blogs, and recording over fifty podcasts on Consulting and Professional Services Radio, I have done a lot to profess my love for the consulting profession.

As in any profession however, there are a few things that I hate about consulting.

1) Consultants that don’t “get” consulting. People are drawn to consulting for various reasons. Some see it as a stepping stone to another career goal. Others think it pays better than other jobs. Still others think it’s an ego boost to be an expert and tell others how to run their business.

While having a deep expertise in an industry or technology is an important factor in being a good consultant, it doesn’t stop there. A good consultant also has to have good communication skills. This includes being diplomatic. A consultant doesn’t tell a client how to do their job or how to run her business. Good consultants make suggestions, provide the pros and cons of each option, and allow the client to make the best decision for her organization.

A good consultant is focused on the client’s success. The consultant could make a lot of money on a big new project. But if it isn’t in the client’s best interest, he will suggest the right thing for the client.

2) Dual Politics. Virtually every job involves politics of some kind. Politics exist when people try to serve multiple, conflicting priorities. The company has a strategy and vision for where they want to go. Every manager follows some level of the company’s priorities, but not at the expense of his own career. Many people will betray what is best for the company for their own gain. If you want a promotion from that person, you will need to support his priorities while giving the impression that you support the organization’s priorities. It gets complicated in large companies.

A consultant deals with those politics within her firm, as well as at the client she is serving. Juggling both becomes confusing and wasteful when one really just wants to focus on getting the job done right.

3) Marketing and Sales. There seems to be an ongoing debate in which billable consultants think their job is most important because they bring in the revenue. Marketing and Sales people contend that the delivery team wouldn’t have any billable hours if they didn’t get out there and sell the projects.  And they are correct. Marketing and Sales people are worth their weight in gold.  Unfortunately, many of them think they are worth about ten times that amount.

4) Enemy status. The best way to sell projects to clients is to develop a relationship. The higher-ups at the consulting firm develop relationships with the higher-ups at the client. They develop trust and eventually, they sell the project.

Leadership at the client then tells their management something like this, “This firm has some great ideas and knows what they are doing. So I’ve asked them to come in and turn things around.”

The managers and their teams see the incoming consultants as a threat. Were we so incompetent that we had to have these strangers come in and tell us how to do our jobs? What was wrong with the way we did things before?

The result is immediate enemy status. The client employees see consultants as a threat. Maybe they’re spies, reporting back to management. Maybe they’re bucking for our jobs.

I can’t speak for every consultant in the industry, but most consultants are just there to get a job done. We have no interest in making employees look bad. Bad employees do that well enough for themselves. If they’re stuck in the past and unwilling to change and try new things, they will look bad. If they focus more on their own success at the expense of other teams and, ultimately, the organization as a whole, they will look bad.

The bottom line is that a consultant’s job is to help the company improve without consideration of their own position or ego. If the consultant doesn’t focus on that, they’re probably not a very good consultant. If the client employees’ priorities are not aligned with that, they will probably look bad.

5) Leaving the client. Although one of the things I like best about consulting is the variety of moving from project to project at different client sites and learning new industries, it is always hard to leave the client. Despite any politics I’ve had to deal with and initial distrust from client employees, I’ve developed good friendships with most of the people at all of my clients. In a consulting environment, there inevitably comes a time when you roll off of your project, and move on to the next project at the next client. Saying goodbye is always bittersweet.

What do you hate about consulting?

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.

How the Client Senses the Consultant Spy

consultant spy
The consultant spy

In the book Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the 5th book of the insanely popular series by J. K. Rowling, a new teacher is introduced. Professor Umbridge becomes a formidable antagonist in the story.

She is appointed by Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge, initially as a teacher of Defense against the Dark Arts. She later becomes Headmaster of Hogwarts. During her tenure, she was known to hold a clipboard as she observed the students’ behavior, taking notes, but not revealing any of her thoughts.
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How Conflicting Objectives Cause Office Politics

conflicting objectives
Conflicting objectives leads to office politics

On the morning of January 5th, Tom Parks, director of application development, filed into the company auditorium with the rest of his co-workers to hear the president give his “state of the company” speech. It was a routine Tom knew well. The president gave this presentation annually during the first week of the year. He spoke at length about Morrison Manufacturing’s performance over the past year. He thanked all of the employees for their hard work and talked about how bright the future looked. This opened the door for him to present his audience with the company’s top objectives for the coming year.

The president proudly announced that in the year ahead, Morrison Manufacturing will:
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Consulting Downside: Separation Anxiety

consulting downside
A consulting downside

When I began interviewing with companies during my senior year of college, it was important for me to find a company that had a good culture. I had an outgoing personality and liked to have fun. I wanted a corporate culture that closely matched my personality.

Consulting upside

I interviewed with consulting firms and other business organizations. I was lucky to find a consulting firm for my first job that had the culture I was looking for. After a few weeks of orientation, I came back to the office for a couple more weeks, waiting for an assignment. I had some time to develop some relationships with people in our office. Some of them were in the office full-time (overhead), while some of the people were consultants like me waiting to get their next assignment.
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Is That an Employee or Consultant?

employee or consultant
Is that an employee or consultant?

When I started my career in consulting, I was part of a consulting team. We went to the client and worked as a blended team where there were approximately half of us as consultants and half as client employees.

It wasn’t long until I realized that some of the folks that I considered client employees were actually consultants, either independent contractors or employed with other firms. I didn’t know if a person was an employee or consultant.
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101 Tips for Success in Consulting