The most common feedback I get from my book Consulting 101, or from this blog, comes from experienced consultants. Invariably, they say something like, “That’s great advice. I wish I had known this ten years ago.”
As we recover from the Great Recession of 2008-2009, unemployment continues to inch downward. Lingering effects remain, however. Many people who were unable to find jobs with traditional employers became consultants. Some were consultants in name only. They had no paying clients, but showed the title to fill the resume gap. Others were successful in finding clients. But were they successful in keeping those clients?
Consulting involves more than just offering your labor and knowledge for a fee. A consultant must focus on the client’s issues and make the client’s success a priority. You may call yourself a consultant. But it is still possible that you suck as a consultant.
Here are six ways that could mean you suck as a consultant.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
If you follow how people behave in movies and television, you would think that management is a series of orders barked out by managers with the obedient, if not disgruntled, employee following those orders.