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.
For any consultant, reporting to the client executive can be difficult. Clients don’t always specify what they want and how it should be reported. Even when things are agreed upon early on, it sometimes takes time to refine status and other reporting to a point where it satisfies the client.
Although it takes some time and effort, the more you learn about the client, the clearer your reporting becomes. You also eventually develop a better relationship with the client.
Understand what she wants when she makes a request
Clients, especially busy executives, often give what I like to call iceberg instructions. They expose just a little bit of what they want. They can envision the entire thing – at least to some degree. But the consultant listening to these directions only can see what is provided. Continue reading Effectively Reporting to the Client Executive→
It happened almost by accident. Jim was presenting his change request to the change review board. He had to expedite it to make the deadline. He needed approval from Paul, his client manager, in order to expedite it. He tried calling Paul a few minutes before the meeting but he didn’t answer.
He decided to attend the meeting anyway.
“Why don’t you have Paul’s approval for this?” one of the board members asked.
I’m very fortunate to work for a consulting firm in which my engagement manager and client communicate on a regular basis. That hasn’t always been the case. Engagement managers get busy. They assume that you as the client-facing consultant are there to provide communication. The client also gets busy and doesn’t have time to meet with the engagement manager. The EM is usually just trying to sell more services anyway so they often just avoid them.
Maybe so. Engagement managers are often motivated to increase sales at their existing clients. And when that gets in the way of providing the best client service possible, communication breaks down. That is when the consultant that has daily access to the client is most needed.
When a consultant begins a client project, there is a desire to keep a laser-beam focus on that project. It seems logical. Whether you are managing the project or simply a cog in the great wheel, that project should be the one and only thing to focus on.
However, it is likely that that client project is one of many efforts in progress for your client. And those efforts almost certainly are interrelated with your project.
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.
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→
I had a friend once who had several years of experience. He decided to give consulting a try. He knew a friend in the industry and made an agreement to consult for him. It was a handshake agreement. They were friends after all. It would have been insulting if either side insisted on a signed contract.
My friend worked for his friend for a few weeks and submitted an invoice for his services. His friend balked. He had no idea the cost would be so high. He didn’t agree to that.
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→