When I started my career in consulting, I was part of a consulting team. We went to the client and worked as a blended team where there were approximately half of us as consultants and half as client employees.
It wasn’t long until I realized that some of the folks that I considered client employees were actually consultants, either independent contractors or employed with other firms. I didn’t know if a person was an employee or consultant.
It struck me as strange. Weren’t we the only consultants? Are these guys our competitors? How do I interact with these consultants differently than I do with clients? Should I be leery of these other consultants? I eventually learned that it wasn’t strange. Companies rely on consultants for a number of reasons. All of my questions were eventually answered:
Weren’t we the only consultants?
Clients rarely deal with one consulting firm on a monogamous or exclusive agreement. They contract with many consultants for many different reasons. The client may work with one consulting firm to provide a team of individuals to manage and staff a large project that the client doesn’t have the expertise or staffing to do themselves. The consulting firm’s team is there for the duration of the project and then moves on.
A client may hire another firm with different expertise to implement different project. The two consulting teams may interact when some functionality of the two projects intersects. Additionally, the client may hire individual consultants with skills they lack or do not want to invest in permanently. All of these separate consultants may interact on various occasions.
Are these guys our competitors?
The standard consulting answer is “it depends.” You may have competed with this firm when you proposed for this project. You may have competed with them on different projects at different clients. Even an independent consultant may be providing a service to the client that you or your firm is capable of.
But some consultants have such a specialized set of skills that multiple consultants and consulting firms may complement each other to serve the client. Some consulting firms will hire subcontractors to help on a client project that requires a knowledge set that the firm lacks.
How do I interact with these consultants differently than I do with clients?
You may compete head-to-head with the other consultants that you see on a day-to day-basis at the client. But now, you work on a project for this client and they work on another one. Your focus should be on the client and their needs rather than worrying what your client is up to.
When meeting with competing consultants, you should treat them with the same respect you would the client. If they need information to make their project successful, keep in mind that you’re making the client’s project successful. Withholding information to diminish the success of their project will only hurt the client. It could inadvertently help the competing consulting firm if you end up generating more billable hours for them.
Should I be leery of these other consultants?
When you work around a competing consultant, they generally have their own jobs to do and will not spend an inordinate amount of time spying on you. However, if you make it easy or enticing, you may create a temptation they can’t resist.
Whenever you are at a client, you should take care to never leave any of your firm’s confidential information (timesheets, contracts, rate sheets, etc.) laying out or available to competitors or clients.
Care should also be taken when holding conversations that could contain confidential information. This could include status information reported to firm management or issue discussions with team members. If you are within earshot of any competing consultants, consider moving to a more confidential location to avoid being overheard.
When you work at a client as a consultant, chances are good that you will work with client personnel and other consultants. It is important to remember that your purpose is to serve the client, which may include serving the other consultants. Those consultants may compete with you at various times outside of the project. It is important to always hold your guard up to avoid exposing any confidential information to potential competitors, or to the client.
Have you ever wondered if someone was an employee or consultant?
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.