We often hear that the only thing that stays constant is change. But if that’s so, why are people so averse to change? Just listen to the nervous gossip that begins to swirl around when a group gets a new boss or some other leadership change occurs within a company.
Getting in a routine
Human beings are creatures of habit. We get our routines down and take the same route to work, stop at the same coffee shop or have lunch with the same people every day. We get comfortable with the predictable.
When change occurs, it threatens to disrupt our daily routines. A new boss could mean big changes. Will there be layoffs? Will we still have our weekly status meetings on Tuesdays? Will we still have yoga on Thursdays?
While changes occur in every business, they are predominant in consulting. Consultants, by nature, are agents of change. When consultants come in to a client, they often lead the implementation of a major initiative representing change within that organization. The arrival of consultants often starts the rumor mill. Either the client team members fear that the consultants will replace them with the new technology they implement resulting in the elimination of their jobs.
Embracing the change
Consultants need to be even more amenable to change than their clients’ employees. Consultants often don’t have the luxury of routine in the long term. Although, I’ve known consultants to have the same client for multiple years, that’s more of an exception than a rule. While every consultant’s experience is unique, it’s been my observation that consulting gigs go anywhere from three to nine months. Sometimes you serve on the project from beginning to end; sometimes it’s just for a few days or weeks.
Someone new to consulting may feel like a nomad, getting jacked around from project to project without any continuity. But that’s the life of a consultant. If you don’t like change, it’s not the right role for you. Most consultants prefer the variety of moving from client to client, working on interesting projects and technologies. For consultants, that beats sitting at the same desk, doing the same type of work for years on end.
A typical consulting gig may be to join an existing project to serve in a role they only need for a few months. You complete your work, they thank you (or not), and you report back to the firm to either get assigned to your next assignment, or sit on the bench waiting for another project that requires your skill set.
A consultant can serve at a client on several projects over several years. Even in this situation, each project can serve a different business group within the client, resulting in moving to different locations at the client’s workplace, reporting to different executives.
Flexible and adaptable
Consultants usually travel light. They may be given a cubicle or office to do their work. Often, they are co-located in a team room; a converted office or conference room in which the team sits around the conference table to do their work. Their desks are not filled with a lot of personal affects like family pictures or other trinkets that often adorn one’s desk.
This is for two reasons. First, they usually don’t have a lot of room. They’re usually given enough room to do their work and not much more. Secondly, they may need to pack up and move on at a moment’s notice.
When a consultant rolls off a project, they usually have some form of warning. A roll-off date is set and they begin doing some knowledge transfer to some designee.
But client priorities can change at the drop of hat. New management, financial concerns, or any other change in strategy within the client can cause the immediate cancellation of a project or a significant cut-back in consulting. It can be related to a consultant’s performance, but most often is due to client issues.
Most consulting firms will establish in the contract, a notice period to give them time to find another project for the consultant. Whatever the warning, the consultant needs to always be aware that they could be removed from a project at any time, due to no fault of the consultant. Clients often bring in consultants for that very flexibility. Clients bring in consultants for a temporary duration to utilize their services, and then release them when they no longer need those services.
Employees get fired or laid off when they’re no longer needed. Consultants get rolled-off. That’s part of their service. It’s just time for a change.
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