I’ve had the good fortune to work for some great leaders during my career. Some have been better than others. But most were very good from one aspect or another. I learned from the best and the mediocre. I once had the misfortune to work for someone who was put in a leadership position without any leadership skills whatsoever. I decided quickly that I had made a big career mistake. I then had to determine my back-out plan.
The realization: This leader can’t lead
Having spent most of my career in consulting delivery, I decided to make a change that took me outside of my comfort zone. I accepted a position with a small but growing firm in the hopes of learning a new aspect of consulting. It took only one interview and the quick decision for an offer was made. That should have been a warning sign. It was only after I joined that I learned that my predecessor walked out without a notice. Continue reading When your leader can’t lead→
One of the greatest fears anyone can have in their career is an impending layoff. It usually starts as a rumor.
“Hey did you hear they’re planning layoffs?” There is always that person who seems to always have the inside track. Sometimes the rumor comes to fruition. Sometimes it ends up being just that – a rumor.
Everybody needs to try to be aware of how things are going with the financial health of the organization they work for. It’s even more important in the consulting industry.
Every industry has its own indicators that things may not be going well. It is the employee’s responsibility to follow those trends and to decide whether to stick with the organization and ride out the storm, or to find a firm that is in more stable condition. Continue reading 3 Signs Your Consulting Firm will fail→
Successful consultants know that there are two critical success factors to consulting: Provide quality service and sell more of it. It is hard to sell more services if the ones you deliver are of poor quality. But providing top quality does not guarantee additional consulting business at that client.
Selling more business at an existing client is a skill all by itself. On top of providing high quality work, the consultant needs to keep her eyes open for other opportunities. Growing an existing account is important for consultants at every level
Consultants should think about what is best for the client and not the consulting firm. If the consultant reaches that pinnacle – being the client’s trusted advisor, he may not have to worry about selling. The client will come to the consultant with issues to solve without any need for the consultant to go into sales mode. Continue reading Please the Client or Please the Boss→
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→