Tag Archives: Networking

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

Lessons Learned from a Master Networker

Robb was a master networker
The master networker and me in our college days

One of my best friends died last week. As toddlers, Robb and I played together in the nursery of our church. We were in the same kindergarten class. We were friends through high school, college and throughout our adult lives.

Over the past decade or so, even though our lives got busy with family and career, we would get together every three to four months for dinner. We would have some dinner and a few beers and share our lives with each other for just a couple of hours.

It was usually Robb who initiated those meetings. He’d send me an email or a text and suggest a time and a place. Sometimes, he would bring someone he thought I’d be interested in meeting. He introduced me to a young man that was going to the same college as me. And he once introduced me to someone that wanted to get into consulting.

The Last Dinner

The last time we met for one of those dinners, we talked about our families and careers a little, as usual. We tormented Joe, the waiter a little. We discussed some of our old friends. I talked to him about how I kept up with many of them with social media.

Robb had social media accounts, but he was almost never on them. He told me that he just didn’t get Facebook and Linked in. “What’s the point?” he asked. I tried to explain to him how much fun it was for me to learn what friends – old and new – were up to.

Then three days later, at the age of 51, he died of a heart attack in his sleep.

A Realization in the Eulogy

As I sat in the church, I listened to the minister eulogize my friend. Fortunately, he was also a close friend with Robb and he spoke of their relationship. He explained that Robb would call him every few months to meet for coffee. They would get together and just talk.

It amazed me how similar it was to my experience with Robb. Then, I heard other people speak. They too remarked how they’d meet with Robb occasionally. The minister talked about how Robb was a connector of people. And I realized that my relationship with Robb wasn’t unique at all. He did that with many other people. He regularly maintained his relationships and built new ones by connecting people in his network.

The Lesson Learned

Many of us connect with friends, coworkers and business acquaintances, thinking we’re networking. But most of us are just playing a numbers game. Few of us spend the time to get to know the people in our network. And we probably rarely connect people with others out of the blue, just because they may have something in common.

When we do make contact with those connections, it’s usually when we need something. “Hi Bill, I’m looking for a job. Do you know anyone who is hiring?” Or maybe, “I’m looking to sell to this company and was wondering if you could introduce me to this guy.” I admit that I’ve done that before.

So moving forward, I pledge to take a page out of Robb’s book. I’ll try to develop deeper relationships rather than increase the number. I will focus on quality instead of quantity.

I don’t know if I’ll ever leave a legacy as rich as the one my friend Robb left behind. But when I leave this world, if there are people who remember me as a connector of people, I know that I will honor his legacy.

That’s enough for me.

What have you done to develop your relationships this week?

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.

If you would like to learn about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com

Other Reasons to Network

reasons to network
Other reasons to network

A year or so ago I was speaking to a client and suggested that we connect via LinkedIn.  He shook his head and told me that he wasn’t on LinkedIn because he didn’t want his boss to think he was looking for a job.

I shuddered at that, considering I’ve been connected on LinkedIn with every boss I’ve ever worked for. And while people do use it as a job search tool, networking – whether you do it on LinkedIn or in some other way – is about so much more than looking for a job.

Additionally, if all you use it for is to find a job, you probably won’t be very successful.
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Good Project Connections

project connections
Good project connections are like good plumbing

I recently completed a home improvement project to install an underground sprinkler system in my yard.  After digging trenches up and down and around the house and running tubing in each direction, I needed to splice the tubing at several points with a tee or an elbow requiring various joining connectors at each bend.  At some points, I needed to connect different sized tubes at various angles.

I was amazed at how many different configurations they make of the tubing connectors and how many I purchased that didn’t fit my needs. When I calculate the total cost of the project, I’ll need to reduce it by the amount of the refunds when I return all of the wrong sized connectors I bought.  I should also factor in all of the gas I burned running to Home Depot, Lowes and all of the other stores trying to find the right parts.
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The Art of Schmoozing

schmoozing
The art of schmoozing

One of the things that has always made consulting so interesting to me is the multi-faceted tasks a consultant performs.  I’ve found that roles in non-consulting companies have a tendency to get pigeon-holed. This is your job and that’s what I expect you to do. People also tend to restrict themselves by saying things like “That’s not my job.”

But I’ve known a few people outside of consulting that love their jobs, never have a dull moment and enjoy a variety of responsibilities.  They have never been interested in entering the realm of consulting.
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Why Do You Want to Work From Home?

Work from home
The home office

Working from home is a growing trend in the business world.  In an effort to cut back on office space and other overhead costs, many companies have set up their employees with the technology they need to do their jobs in their home offices.

The big issue that management has with WFH arrangements is trust. How do they know their employees are working if they can’t see them working? One could argue that perhaps they shouldn’t hire someone they don’t trust, but that’s a topic for another blog.
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Befriending Your Enemies

befriending your enemies
Are you befriending you enemies as Lincoln did?

Hate has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet

– Maya Angelou

I recently had the pleasure of seeing the movie Lincoln. I’ve always had an interest in American history and had already read Team of Rivals  the book on which the movie was based  The book, written by Doris Kearns Goodwin, discussed in more detail how Abraham Lincoln developed his cabinet during his first term by bringing in rivals that had run against him for president.

Befriending your enemies

Rather than surrounding himself with people who would agree with him even when they really didn’t, Lincoln wanted a team of advisors that had differing opinions. He was more interested in having a team that would push back on his ideas, disagree with him and introduce alternative viewpoints than having his ego stroked by yes-men.

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Are You Keeping in Touch or Networking?

ID-100120762My son recently had a baseball tournament in a town where I used to live.  While there, I looked up some old friends.  I met one friend for coffee.  We exchanged stories of old friends and memories of the old days.

I had an opportunity to meet another old friend for a beer.  We had similar fun reminiscing, sharing stories about each others’ kids and generally getting reacquainted.

Keeping in touch

In previous generations, this was just called keeping in touch with old friends.  If you were even just passing through town, you were expected to touch base with friends even if it was just for a quick cup of coffee.
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The Proactive Job Search

Proactive Job Search
The Proactive Job Search

You’ve probably known people who are in perpetual job-search mode.  As soon as they get a new job, they’re actively looking for their next job.  I’ve known people who don’t even hide it.  They talk to recruiters on the phone right out in the open as if to advertise that their current job is just a stepping stone in their quest for more money and a higher position.

I’ve always found that to be unprofessional.  My father worked for the same company for nearly 40 years. To be sure, this is not our fathers’ economy.  People complain that there is no loyalty left in the corporate world anymore.  But like it or not, that’s just the way it is.  Companies are quick to lay people off when times get rough, and employees are prone to leave when they feel they can get a better opportunity.
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A Young Consultant’s Sales Responsibilities

Sales Responsibilities
A Young Consultant’s Sales Responsibilities

I remember early in my consulting career when it was explained to me that, although my primary responsibility as new consultant was to keep my utilization (my percentage of client-billable hours) up to a certain percentage, I was also responsible for sales.

You want me to sell?

I wondered how I could be expected to sell consulting services.  First, I was an IT programmer – a techie.  What did I know about consulting sales?

Secondly, I was expected to keep my utilization at around 90%.  After maintaining that and using what little vacation time I had, when was I supposed to sell consulting services?
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