Consulting On the Bench – Still Part of the Team

Consulting on the bench
Consulting on the bench

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.

Internal projects

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.

Recruiting

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.

Business development

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?

Miscellaneous

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.

Conclusion

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.

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 

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