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.