I remember the performance evaluation I received after the first year of my career. My boss was a great guy. I liked him personally. But he was a bit non-confrontational.
The review was outstanding. Anyone reading it who didn’t know me would think I was going to be CEO in just a couple of years. I was great at everything.
But I knew that wasn’t the case. I had one year of a professional career under my belt. I felt like I did well. But I had a lot of things to learn. I walked out of his office with a nice feeling. But more than anything, I felt a little empty. Continue reading A Personal Weakness Assessment→
Our current president has been given the opportunity of doing something that many new presidents do. With his party holding a majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, he has leverage.
This gives him the ability to push legislation through congress with relative ease. Bill Clinton and Barak Obama both started their presidencies with majorities in both houses.
This led them to use their leverage to push legislation through congress as well. But those two former presidents lost those majorities in the mid-term elections two years later.
While there are many factors involved, it is safe to say that taking advantage of their majority leverage may have offended some voters. This could have caused them to swing to the opposite party when voting for congressmen two years later.
I’ve seen similar occurrences in the business world. Someone has a very powerful position and uses it to manipulate people. Sometimes they mistreat their employees, making them do unpleasant tasks or publicly berating them. Sometimes they force policy through to the chagrin of their peers within the company.
But the same thing can happen that happened to the former presidents. Someday that powerful manager is going to need something from some of those people he was so abusive to. Then they learn a valuable lesson: Overplaying your leverage has political consequences. Those people may be a lot less willing to cooperate with someone who showed them no respect in the past.
While working in business and politics are different animals, we all know that there are plenty of politics that go on in the business world. It may be necessary to “play nice” with people even if you have the power to be otherwise.
As a parent, some of the best advice I received from a friend was to pick your battles. Kids get out of line a lot. If I had reprimanded them every time, that’s all I would have done. And the kids would probably get pretty tired of my demands.
I learned that you let some things go and pick the fights that are worth fighting.
Two types of power
The same thing goes for getting things done at work. You could force things through with all of your power. But that could be short lived. In the business world, you have two types of power, official and unofficial power.
Official power is the power that the company bestows on you for your position. If you’re the boss, you have official power over the people that report to you.
Unofficial power is what you get from people that will help you out. If you are nasty to the people that work for you, they will probably do the minimum work that they must do under your official power. But if you treat them well and they respect you, they will give you additional unofficial power. This will likely get more done for you by your people.
You get unofficial power from other people within the organization. When you cooperate with your peers and help them get what they want, they will likely grant you unofficial power. You will get their cooperation for help on a project or to help get a policy changed.
Overplaying your leverage can hurt both types of power. You don’t get much unofficial power if you are seen overplaying your leverage too often. It could also stunt your growth in the company. Make enough people mad and the word gets out that you’re not a team player. If that gets back to the executives, they may be more likely to pass you up for that next promotion. That’s a big hit to your official power if you can’t build on it.
So here are some tips for balancing your power in the workplace.
Play nice. Perhaps you have a powerful position. You may be able to get your way at the expense of another department’s manager. But you may need that manager’s help someday. Establishing a reputation as a team player could give you more unofficial power than your official power. And that could come in handy.
Treat people like you would like to be treated. Some see it as a sign of weakness to be nice to people. “I’m not here to be liked. I’m here to get things done.” But being kind and fair is not being weak. In fact, it could give you enough unofficial power to make you much stronger.
Give and take. Some people see everything as a competition that they must win. They don’t stop to think what the other person may want. That type of person doesn’t see win-win scenarios very often. They only see things as win-lose and they don’t want to lose. Open your mind and negotiate with people in a way that will make them want to deal with you again.
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.
I remember when my wife and I had just graduated from college and were beginning our careers. I was a consultant and she was a middle school teacher. We were both filled with optimism and enthusiasm. We had the potential to change the world.
As a teacher, she was learning new approaches to education and couldn’t wait to start applying them. We went to my home town for the weekend to visit my parents around that time. At my parents’ church, we ran into one of my teachers from middle school who was near retirement. He and my wife got into a conversation about these new teaching approaches.
Today, we observe a phenomenon that makes the United States unique and special. We will observe the peaceful transition of power of the United States presidency. Regardless of your politics or whether your candidate won, this is a process that has gone smoothly for over 200 years.
The outgoing president works closely with the newly elected president to facilitate a smooth transition of power. I’ve always been impressed by this. Even when the successor defeated the incumbent (which has happened ten times in our history), the two work together in the greater interest of the nation.
Although it rarely matches the levels of significance and national security, I’ve seen this occur in consulting environments many times. A team member on a project is to be replaced by another. When this happens, the incumbent team member is expected to transition his or her work to the incoming person.
Transitioning to your successor
One of the great things about consulting is the variety. Consultants thrive on moving from project to project. Some even like to have a variety of clients. After some time on a project, they are ready to move on. This can be a pleasant process in these situations. The incoming consultant is excited about the new assignment. The outgoing one is just as excited to start something new.
Sometimes, a client will change contracts with their preferred vendors, needing to transition knowledge from one firm’s consultants to another. This can be based on cost savings or an effort to consolidate work to fewer firms.
A transition like this is comparable to an incumbent president losing the race, required to transition to his opponent. While the outgoing firm may resent being replaced, they must do the professional thing. They need to provide the knowledge transfer necessary to make their replacement successful.
This should not be confused with the story in 2016 regarding Disney employees training replacement workers. That was about permanent employees losing their jobs because cheaper consultants were replacing them. A consultant-for-consultant swap is much more common and more acceptable. Consultants expect to be temporary and to move on to another temporary assignment.
Interviewing your replacement
I’ve been in the situation where, as part of my transition off of a project, I was to interview candidates to take my position. On one hand, that is an almost ideal person to do the interviewing. No one knows the position like the incumbent.
There could be a potential conflict of interest, even if the consultant is leaving willingly. He could fear a newcomer showing him up. He could focus on hiring someone less qualified to make his previous work appear better in comparison.
But like the incumbent president focusing on a smooth transition of power, a consultant needs to think of the client and their project. Sabotaging the project, no matter how subtle, will tarnish the reputation of the consultant and his firm.
Handing off the work
Once the new consultant has been identified and brought in for the transition, it can be awkward. The replacement may feel uncomfortable taking the place of the outgoing guy. The new consultant may be present when people say their goodbyes and show their disappointment to see the old guy go.
It is up to the outgoing consultant, regardless of the purpose of the staffing change, to make the process go smoothly. All documentation should be shared and authorized access provided to the new consultant.
Key stakeholders should be introduced in person, if that is possible. Contact information should be shared and background on each individual’s role and responsibilities. The ultimate goal should be that your replacement is never heard saying, “My predecessor never mentioned anything about that.”
It’s just how it works in consulting
Some people may find it bad form to require someone to train their replacement. The Disney scenario is extreme because permanent employees had to transition to their replacements before their firing took place. Because of the temporary nature of consulting, transitioning to your successor is a fairly common occurrence. It may create uncertainty for the outgoing consultant, but it’s just the way consulting works.
Have you ever been replaced by another consultant?
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.
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.
Early in my career, I worked for a small consulting firm as a software developer. I liked the company and I like the work. I had a very supportive manager. Perhaps because of those factors, and some credit to my small town, mid-western roots, I worked hard on my projects. I put in long hours and ate at a lot of food out of paper bags from carry-out restaurants.
I was there just short of four years before the company went out of business. Another consulting firm came in within days to interview anyone who was interested. I interviewed with them and was hired by them. I learned later that when they talked to my boss about me, he told them “Lew will do whatever it takes to get the project done right and on time.” Continue reading How to Create Your Personal Brand→
I grew up in a small town of about 2,000 people. My high school graduating class size was 63. It was a small, tight-knit community and still is. I don’t live there anymore, but enjoy my visits back.
There was a woman who worked in the high school office for over 40 years. I knew her well and waited on her often at the restaurant that I worked at in that small town when I was in high school. I knew her kids growing up. She was a nice sweet woman.
She recently pleaded guilty to embezzling over a million dollars from the high school over the period of about a decade. Along with my former community members, I’m shocked. No one ever suspected her of such a thing. Now, instead of enjoying her retirement years, she may serve the rest of her life in prison.
I once had a new consultant join my team who entered the client site as if he owned the place. He was expected to share a cubicle with a fellow consultant but refused.
“I need a desk to myself to spread out.” He exclaimed. In fact, he lobbied to get an office with a door to himself. The client’s managers didn’t even have such a perk.
An aloof consultant
That was just the beginning. This aloof consultant claimed to be a database expert and criticized every aspect of the client’s database design that was different from his own design preferences. Continue reading The Aloof Consultant→
I’ve been working since the age of 12 when I became a busboy at an Italian restaurant in my hometown. I still remember my dad dropping me off on my first night. As I got out of the car, the last thing he said to me was a rather emphatic “Do what you’re told” (as though I’d had a history of not doing that with him). Continue reading Are You A Rule Follower?→
I’ve always had a pretty good sense of humor. I can find irony in a lot of things and have used it to my advantage. In my school days it would get me in trouble occasionally when the teacher thought I was auditioning for class clown. As I’ve grown into adulthood, I’ve tried to mature only as much as necessary. Continue reading Can Consultants Have a Sense of Humor?→