I once worked for a man that had a defined process for everything. He tracked everything with a spreadsheet. Everyone was expected to follow all of his processes to the letter. People became so bogged down following process that they got little else done.
It was also a drain on morale. They did so much mindless administrative work that their brains never really got a chance to create anything meaningful.
At another time in my career, I had another boss who went to the other extreme. He didn’t believe in process at all. He thought that if we establish core principles, people should be enabled to make decisions on their own.
The movie “Eight Men Out” is about the 1919 “Black Sox” scandal in which several members of the Chicago White Sox fixed the World Series by losing games on purpose. They did this based on an agreement with two gamblers who promised to pay them more for losing than they would have gained by winning the World Series.
Eddie Cicotte was a pitcher on that team and had a $10,000 bonus clause in his contract if he won 30 games. When Cicotte reached 29 wins, White Sox owner Charles Comiskey ordered the manager to bench him for the remaining two weeks of the season.
And such is the world of business. People are provided incentives to reach milestones that can be manipulated, preventing them from being reached. In other situations, the carrot is set so far out of reach that few, if anyone on the team can reach them. Continue reading The Boss’s Unreasonably High Expectations→
Boy, did I screw up last week. We had a big opportunity for one of our biggest clients. They asked if we could help them place a very specific resource. They only needed this resource for about two or three months. It wasn’t going to result in a lot of direct profit for the placement itself.
But this was still a big opportunity for a number of reasons. It was an opportunity to show them how responsive we could be. The company I work for has a vast network of IT resources. We could have proven that to our client by providing them exactly what they were looking for. Continue reading I Took My Eye Off the Ball→
If somebody mentions consulting, many things may come to mind, mainly because there are so many types of consulting. There are consultants in virtually every industry that will provide any number of services needed by their clients. But regardless of the industry or service sector, there are three primary categories of consultants.
Staff augmentation (Staff Aug) consulting: This is a filler role. It’s usually used when a person or a group of people with a specific skill is needed for a temporary project or a peak time. This can be handled by an individual, but they usually work with intermediary firms that connect people and skills with an organization’s needs. Continue reading 3 Skills Required to Get Hired in Management Consulting→
My son, a senior in high school, is a pitcher for the school’s baseball team. He’s been playing since he was five years old. I’ve watched him and many of his teammates grow up playing baseball.
It’s been fun watching these boys develop as young men and as baseball players. Some have a natural talent. Others have worked very hard to make the team and continue to be competitive. I’ve seen some that got to the point where their talents didn’t allow them to go to the next level and be competitive.
These boys continued to go out for the baseball team every year. Some years they made it and sat on the bench for most games. Others simply didn’t make the team. In his junior year, the coach transitioned my son from catcher to pitcher. He sat the bench most of last year as a result. But was told he would play more this year.
Playing baseball from the bench
My son had a couple of friends who went out for the team for their senior year and didn’t make it. He felt bad for them. I told him it was probably better in the long run not to make the team than to sit the bench for their whole senior season.
He disagreed. “Even when you sit the bench, you’re still part of the team,” He countered. I thought about some of the stories he told of games when he was on the bench. He talked about working the field with the team.
He talked about joking with the other players. He didn’t have stories of great plays or winning hits he made. But he had stories of the fun he had. He had stories of contributing in ways other than playing baseball.
Consulting on the bench
That opened my eyes a bit. I hated watching him sit the bench last year. But as much as he would have rather been playing, he still had fun because he was part of the team. He felt good when they won and was sore when they lost.
It made me realize a situation I was dealing with – or not dealing with – at work.
I had been on a project that started out behind and went downhill from there. After some time of spinning our wheels, the client complained. My firm responded by making some changes. One of those changes was to take me off the project. They were very clear with me that they didn’t blame me for the problems. They just needed to demonstrate to the client that they were serious.
I was kept on the project to help with transition and to help wherever I could. But I was clearly on the bench.
I started out doing what I could do to help. But as my replacement came more up to speed, he didn’t need as much help. I went in to a funk. As much as my teammates were struggling with a difficult project, I felt like I was on the outside looking in.
I felt like the guy whose girlfriend broke up with him, but he couldn’t afford to move out yet. So he had to sit there and watch her have sex with the new boyfriend.
Everyone in the firm knew I was taken off of the project. I wasn’t billing, which is never good in consulting. In our daily stand-up meetings, I was the one who didn’t report doing much. It was a pretty humiliating experience.
Boo hoo. Woe is me.
Adding value from the bench
The conversation with my son resonated with me. He wasn’t out in the field playing. He wasn’t getting any RBIs. He could have been humiliated and quit. He could have come home sulking after every game about his lack of glory. Instead, he talked about his friends on the “bench crew” like they were their own team.
He added value where he could. He helped rake the field before and after every game. He cheered the team on when they won. He consoled them and shared in the disappointment when they lost.
He found ways to add value.
I looked around me and saw that there really were a lot of things I could do that would add value consulting on the bench.
There are usually a few people in the office that are unassigned. Consulting firms have to maintain some form of a bench to keep a staffing pipeline for the sales pipeline. I got together with few unassigned coworkers (our own “bench crew.”) We worked on designing a second release of an internal application that the firm used.
At least we could add value for future projects.
Most consulting firms fuel their growth in three ways. They have to sell projects to clients to make money. They have to deliver those projects in order to bill the clients. And they have to hire competent people in order to deliver those projects. You can’t be good in only two of those areas.
So I kept my eyes open for anyone in my network who might be in the job market. When that happens and I’m busy on a project, I might refer them to my favorite head hunter or send their resume to our firm’s recruiter.
Since I had time, it gave some back to them. When people told me they were looking for a job, I’d meet them for coffee and find out what they were looking for. I tried to find people who might be a good fit for our firm that I could refer. If they weren’t a good fit, at least I had done a little networking. You never know when they might be a fit down the road.
In the old days, we used to call it sales. But that sounds so used car-ish. It’s really about developing relationships though. I kept my eyes open for new opportunities from my network. When there was something that looked like an opportunity, I referred it to our business development team.
I also talk to them about anything I could do to help. Could I provide delivery expertise in a proposal or in a prospect meeting? Was there any running they needed that they were too busy to do?
In addition to the above items, there is usually a lot you can do to help out if you just look around. Is there any testing you can do for any of the teams before they hand things over to a client? Can you help out the receptionist with anything? Does anyone, anywhere in the office need a hand with anything?
Get over yourself
Most consultants associate their value with billable hours. If they aren’t serving a client, they feel as though they aren’t adding value. They think of a client project team as their team.
But consultants are also on a firm-wide team. You might be on the bench, but there are other ways you can serve that team. If you feel that you are above that kind of work or that it is outside of your job description, you’re wrong. There are many other ways you can add value to your firm.
Perhaps your ego has been bruised for being taken off of a project, or for just going a period of time without a billable assignment. Work on developing a thicker skin, get over yourself, and figure out ways to help in other ways. It might just get you your next assignment.
I always thought my son and his friends felt left out sitting the bench. But I realized that they would have felt much more like outcasts if they were not part of the team.
For whatever reason you find yourself unbillable, consulting on the bench can allow you to do some other consulting-related activities that you don’t otherwise have the opportunity to do. It also might help you turn humiliation to humility.
What have you done to add value when consulting on the bench?
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.
In the 1990s, I rarely missed an episode of Seinfeld. I still watch repeats when I find one while I’m channel surfing. I remember one episode where the consummate loser George Costanza gives a tip at the counter of a fast food restaurant. The server didn’t see him put the money in the jar. When he realizes that his good gesture was not witnessed, he reaches in to get the money back so he could put it in for the server to see him tip.
Unfortunately – and predictably – for George, the server sees him taking money out of the tip jar and thinks he’s stealing from it.
For George, it wasn’t enough to tip the server to enhance his earnings. George needed the server to see that he was tipping so he could get the recognition of appreciation.
Seeking recognition for our hard work
In the business world, we thrive on getting credit. Sure, we all get that paycheck every 15 days, but we also seek recognition for our accomplishments. Managers are taught to give recognition in kind words of praise and in monetary terms.
We learn early in life with our siblings and classmates how unfair it is to see someone get recognition and praise for something you did. If I had washed all of the dishes and my mother had praised my sister for it, I would have raised some serious hell.
In high school or college, you may have worked on group projects in which the entire group received the same assignment. Even if that one guy in the group did little to nothing to contribute.
We expect recognition to be fair. And we rarely deal well with someone taking credit for our own hard work. A consultant, however, must sometimes deal with not getting credit for his or her hard work.
Getting the job done, but not getting credit
Clients hire consultants to get a job done. The consultant is paid for his or her expertise. Come in and make the client successful. If you did what you were paid to do, you get paid. If you did well enough, you might even get additional business.
The client manager will usually take the work you did, present it to the boss, and boast about his or her accomplishments on the project. The boss usually knows there was a team involved. But the boss hired the manager to get things done. And that’s what the manager is evaluated on.
If the manager is good, he or she will make sure the executives know that there was a hard working team that was a big part of the success. A good leader deserves a lot of credit for directing the team the right way and motivating them to get the most productivity out of them.
Payment for expertise
Consultants are often brought in for their expertise in a certain area. Sometimes that expertise is that they just know how to get things done. The client team is so bogged down in politics that they can’t get anything done. While they deal with the back-stabbing, positioning, and CYA emails, the consultants are busy doing the work.
The client manager gets praise from the executives for a “job well done.” The praise the consultants get is another contract. That may come from the client manager, or other managers who see how effective the firm can be.
Internally, the consulting firm should be giving the consultants the praise they deserve. Firm management should also train the consultants not to expect that praise from the client. It may come, but it should not be expected.
We can claim that we don’t need to get credit for everything, but deep down we all want the love. We certainly like to see that direct deposit notification whenever we get paid. But nothing beats that pat on the back and an “atta boy” from the boss. Consultants just need to realize that the client may claim all the credit for the work. And that’s just how the game is played.
It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.
– Harry S. Truman
How much credit do you demand?
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.
I’ve written before about how to deal with one’s removal from a project. But when it actually happened to me, I gained a better insight into what causes it and the best ways to deal with it.
Set up to fail
We all knew it was going to be a tough project. It was a program actually; five projects that were supposed to interact with each other. But they didn’t. The client had a program manager. He collected information from the various projects. But that information wasn’t shared well among the projects.
The project I was assigned to manage didn’t have an initial scope defined. Our first task was to define the scope. There were many other issues that should have raised red flags from the beginning. It was a very political environment where many people were in fear of losing their jobs. That always creates additional work, frustration and general hoops to jump through. Continue reading How I Handled the Removal from a Project→
Our family was watching a movie the other night. One of the actresses was familiar. My wife and I had seen her before. We sat there racking our brains for a few minutes when my daughter finally blurted out that she was in a TV series we used to watch.
We looked over and saw her there with her iPhone in hand. She looked the actress up on IMDB and found it. It hadn’t even crossed our minds. But my daughter saw no need to waste time, effort, and frustration messing around trying to determine an answer that was at her fingertips.
It made me realize two trends that are taking place. First is the fact that the millennial generation (those born during the decade leading to the change of centuries) automatically thinks of Googling, IMDBing, or Wikipedia-ing the answer.
Those darned kids
Some old-timers may complain that this generation doesn’t figure anything out on their own. They have to look it up. They’re never going to remember anything.
I don’t think it’s a bad thing. If it is a fact that you can look up, why not. There is a saying in consulting that you have to be smarter than Google. This means that you can’t be a good consultant if you just know a bunch of facts. The client can Google it and get that much.
To be a good consultant, you have to be able to take those facts, combine them with your knowledge, and be able to solve problems that apply to your client’s business.
Millennials aren’t hurting themselves by looking up facts. They’re getting a head start on the information. Then they will be better prepared to solve the problems.
The second trend is the fact that we find computing everywhere. Going back to just the early nineties, people had personal computers. But any software that was loaded probably came from a 3½” floppy disk – or a stack of them. We used computers for word documents, spreadsheets and games like Leisure Suit Larry.
In the mid-nineties, the internet became available for public use. It gave us access to the outside world through our computers. It gave us access to shopping and a lot of information that was previously more difficult, if not impossible to access. But we still needed to go to our computer to find it.
In 2007, Apple introduced the first iPhone, which led to the smart phone generation. Three years later, they introduced the iPad, blazing a trail for tablets from many other companies.
This mobility allowed people to create applications (apps) specifically for use on these mobile devices. Combine this with the millennials’ comfort with mobile devices and the internet. More mobile apps drew more people to use them. More people using them, bred more apps.
Now, it is expected by many for a company to have a mobile app. Moreover, the expectation is that it be informative, entertaining, and rewarding.
The mobile app should provide information about the company’s products and services. It should be fun and entertaining, preferably with a game that can be played that relates to the product line. Finally, the app should provide badges or some other reward that the user can collect to purchase products or redeem for some other value.
Mobile apps have become “loyalty tools,” enticing users to return to the app on a regular basis. Continued use is designed to seduce them to purchase products, share their experience with others, and develop a loyal customer base.
Other apps allow the user base to collectively provide their content. Apps like “Yelp” allow individuals to rate their experiences with restaurants and other retail stores. A user in an unfamiliar location can use the app to find a nearby hair salon or a pizza restaurant. Based on the rankings of previous patrons, they can find what they’re looking for and select a retailer with high user rankings in minutes.
Crowdsourcing is used in real time also. Traffic apps like “Waze” allow users to provide up to the minute traffic information to update users of police locations and traffic backups in the same area. This allows users to avoid congested areas during their commutes.
IT: Integrated instead of involved
Companies are finding that information technology is no longer a support function. Instead of taking orders for a new order entry system, IT is working with marketing. The company’s marketing strategy is tightly integrated with IT. A mobile app should not be treated as an add-on feature. It is part of the company’s overarching go-to-market strategy.
A company that “scrapes the screen” of their website to make it mobile-friendly will miss the boat. Users aren’t looking for the website on their device. They want an app that was intended for device use and for device users.
A great opportunity for consultants
Any new trend in technology is a boon for consultants. When the World Wide Web was introduced in the 90s, it was a windfall for consulting firms who had developed web development capabilities.
When Google began changing their algorithms for search engine results page rankings, search engine optimization (SEO) became the big target. SEO consulting became the next in-demand opportunity for the consulting industry.
Now it is mobile. Mobile strategy and mobile application development are the latest opportunities for the consulting industry. It is one of a number of areas that companies will need help figuring out over the next several years.
Disruptive technologies like mobile cause many businesses to step back, re-plan, and change direction. These disruptions are what keep consulting firms in business, as long as they stay up to date with those disruptions.
Is your company computing everywhere?
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.
I had lunch with a former client the other day. As we talked, I realized how different our careers had evolved. We both got our undergraduate and MBA degrees at the same universities. But he got a corporate job and I chose consulting.
By looking at his LinkedIn profile – and his face – I would guess him to be around 50 years old. He started working at his company right out of college and has worked there his entire career. By contrast, I’ve worked for seven different firms in about the same period of time.
While his approach to stay at the same company over the course of his career is becoming less and less common these days, it is almost unheard of in consulting. I was once at a large consulting firm for six years and people asked me why I stayed so long.
It highlighted the fact that managing one’s career in consulting has some unique considerations than other occupations.
The sky is the limit
When you graduate from college, the world is your oyster. The potential is entirely up to you. Large corporations and consulting firms come to most universities and try to recruit the top graduating students. Those students have to make a lot of decisions for their life. One of which is whether to go into consulting or the corporate world.
You may not have the option. Consulting firms usually seek the top ten percent of students. Some only go to the top schools to recruit. If you didn’t go to a selected school, or didn’t get good enough grades, you may not be considered.
Consulting firms also hire experienced people. If you aren’t able to get in as a college grad, you may be able to get a corporate job, get a few years of experience, and reapply.
One of the bigger differences you will see in consulting is that it is usually a series of projects. Clients usually hire consultants to help them run a project. Consultants may serve on a project for a few weeks or months and move on. You may get assigned to a multi-year project where you’re at the client for an extended period, but that’s fairly rare.
Most projects have a deadline and interim milestones where work products need to be completed on time. Many consultants find that they are always on a sprint to meet one deadline or another. When the project is finished, or your work on the project is finished, it’s on to the next project, probably at another client.
Consultants should be aware that they are only as good as their last project. Providing good work occasionally will rarely work out well. Consultants need to be at the top of their game at all times. Clients expect it and the consulting firm expects it.
You have great skills? That’s nice
So you think you should get a job in consulting because you have an advanced technical degree or some expert skill in some technology. That’s nice, but it’s not enough to make you a good consultant. Consultants need to be top performers and manage their career accordingly.
Consulting is a growth industry. When a project is sold to a client, the firm immediately begins looking for more opportunities to sell more projects. If someone at the client leaves for another company, they immediately begin seeking consulting opportunities at the individual’s new company.
Consultants are expected to grow as well. If you are a software programmer, you will be given more and more responsibility over time. You may have people reporting to you, or be put in the role of a technical lead. Doing the same thing for most of your career is rare in consulting.
Learn from failure. You will inevitably make mistakes throughout your career. Rather than hiding them and forgetting about them, learn from them. It’s hard to grow and learn if you don’t take advantage of your mistakes and learn from them.
Continuing Education. You may work for a firm that sends you to training and professional conferences on a regular basis. If they do, take advantage of it. However, it is your responsibility to stay up to date with your skills. You will have to do the minimum of reading books, blogs, and articles to maintain your skills and remain aware of the latest trends. You may also have to attend training at your own expense. Consultants more than most occupations need to be willing to invest in their own career advancement.
Up or out. Moving up to the next level is something that is on most every consultants mind. In other industries, one can find a job they like, that they may be good at, and work in that job most, if not all of their career. It’s true that many others are climbing the ladder, but it’s a personal choice. Many consulting firms have an unwritten rule that you should always be moving up. If you’re not, you must be complacent. Firms will often weed out the ones that don’t have the ambition or the ability to grow to the next level in their career.
Although it is rare these days to find people who work for one company for their entire career, there are plenty in existence. The thing I’ve noticed about these people is that, if they do have a LinkedIn profile, they have very few connections. People who stay in the same job with no intention of looking for a job, see no reason to use the networking app.
I once knew such an individual. I looked him up and saw that he did have a profile. But there was no picture and he had only 27 connections. A year or so later, he lost his job due to a merger. I now see that he has a professional picture and over 300 connections.
LinkedIn is a great tool for networking to look for a job. But waiting until you need the job is almost too late. Your network should be a pipeline. You meet people and develop quality relationships with them. You help them out with efforts like connecting them with others and providing articles they may be interested in. Someday, if you need them, they may be able to help you out.
But networking is about more than just a job search. Companies are always looking for quality people. Having a strong network can help you help your company with staffing and recruiting. If you meet someone who would be a good fit at your organization, you can have some say over the people you work with.
Business development is another reason to develop your network. In consulting, everyone is responsible for some sales. Even at the lowest levels, you are expected to have contacts that you can introduce to the higher levels. And the more you advance, the more you will need to seek out your contacts to develop new business.
When you think of Nike, it may evoke images of their famous swish logo or perhaps Michael Jordan. Those images are due to the intentional marketing of Nike. Just like Nike and Coca-Cola, you have a brand. It might just be the unintentional result of your personality.
Smart consultants are intentional about their brand. They have defined how they would like to be perceived by others and behave in a specific manor to perpetuate that image. Consultants know that their credibility is an essential component of success. They need to be seen as credible internally by the bosses and their coworkers. They must also be seen as credible with clients. Having a personal brand strategy helps the consultant be seen in the way they desire.
While professionalism is important in many businesses, it’s critical in consulting. Consultants are usually under the watchful eye of clients. In an effort to be seen as credible with clients, consultants must act professionally. This includes the way they dress and how they behave with the client. It includes responding to client requests promptly and showing up to meetings on time.
Another aspect of professionalism is knowing when to play politics. Consultants will deal with politics within their firm and at the client. Politics generally occur when people have conflicting priorities. A professional gets involved in politics only when necessary. Using politics for political self-gain is a short term strategy that usually won’t work for the long term in consulting.
Being successful in consulting involves a lot more than having a skill. It’s less of a matter of what you do than how you do it.
Attitude. It’s important to have a positive attitude as a consultant. He must approach everything with the can-do attitude of a good problem solver. Negativity and a pessimistic attitude that we are all doomed whenever a problem occurs will rarely result in success.
Be prepared. Like a good scout, a consultant is prepared for anything. Going into work every morning can bring about new and unexpected challenges. Being prepared for anything to happen will help you deal with those unexpected moments.
Flexible. A consultant can find out on one day that he’s being taken off of a project and be expected to be in another city, for another project the next day. Consultants should be flexible enough to make quick changes of their assignments at a moment’s notice.
Focused. Someone who meanders through his day and through his career should probably not try consulting. Consultants should be consistently engaged and keep a strong focus on work at all times.
Leadership is one of the most critical skills a consultant should carry. Clients look to their consultants for leadership in many aspects.
Decision making. Consultants need to be decisive in how they will lead projects. Clients may have the final say in many decisions that they make for their organization, but they lean on the client to provide sound advice to help in those decisions.
Mentoring. Consultants have a lot of business and industry knowledge to share with clients. It is important for them to share that knowledge to make the client better at what they do. They also need to share their knowledge internally to help develop the next generation of consultants and leaders.
Problem solving. Consultants are generally hired to solve a problem. Consultants should seek out business issues and enjoy solving problems.
Consultants rarely become consultants because it is a job. Consultants recognize it as a career. The successful consultant approaches that career in a strategic fashion. Managing your consulting career successfully involves planning, developing a network and behaving in a manner which clients and coworkers take you seriously.
What mistakes have you made that have helped you learn about managing your consulting career?
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.
Career minded individuals always seem to be trying to chart out their next success. That may include striving toward the next promotion. It could mean making more money. It could mean simply making more people happy.
Whatever your definition of success, most of us set goals and strive to achieve them. That pursuit can be fraught with landmines. We face political pressures that force us down other routes. We struggle to balance family and our personal lives with our career goals. Sometimes things just don’t go our way. We have to exercise flexibility and go a different direction at times.
All of these, and many other factors contribute to career risk. You can receive setbacks and never recover. But all of these factors are external. Your greatest career risk actually lies within. Continue reading Your Greatest Career Risk→