A few years ago, I made a comment to a co-worker about an episode of the TV series Grey’s Anatomy. He quickly cut me off saying that his sister-in-law is a doctor at a hospital and it’s nothing like the way they portray the life of a doctor on that show.
TV is not reality?
Really? Next I suppose you’re going to tell me that The Andy Griffith Show wasn’t really about law enforcement.
So when the Showtime network recently introduced its new series House of Lies starring Don Cheadle about the inner workings of a management consulting firm, I had to tune in, interested in how they would portray the industry.
I find the show very entertaining. I’ve always like Cheadle. He and his supporting cast do a great job. The show is funny, edgy and definitely not for the puritans among us.
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The lies in House of Lies
Just in case people unfamiliar with consulting watch it and think that’s how it works, I thought –as a public service –I’d point out a couple of lies that House of Lies portrays about consulting.
- A team doesn’t serve a new client each week. On HOL, each week the same team of four individuals meets a new client, learns their business in one meeting, decides on a solution, prepares a proposal, presents it, wins the business and magically gets a new client for the next episode to do it all again the following week. In the real world, when a client asks a firm to propose on a solution – a Request for Proposal (RFP) – it’s usually after several months of developing a relationship. A proposal team is pulled together based on the expertise and availability of various individuals within the firm. An initial meeting, or series of meetings, will be held to make sure they understand the problem. Then a proposal is developed and presented to the potential client. The sales cycle usually takes several weeks or months to close.
- The client rarely, if ever decides on hiring the firm in the proposal meeting. When a large project is being considered, the prospective client usually reaches out to at least a couple of firms and has each of them propose a solution. After all presentations have been presented, they review the merits of each, go back with questions and make a decision. There are situations when the client knows which firm they’re going to select before the process begins, but they have to solicit at least two or three competitive bids. Even then, there is a period of negotiation and decision making before a decision is made.
- Consultants rarely have the same team across multiple clients. It’s neat and clean on HOL when Marty, Jeannie, Clyde and Doug maintain their consistent sales and delivery team from week to week. In reality, a consulting team is an amoeba-like group where availability and expertise play big roles in who will sell and who will deliver. Every once in a while your paths will cross on different client assignments. But even in small firms, the same group of people rarely serves together on multiple projects on a consistent basis.
- Consulting teams don’t fly first class and don’t arrive at the client in stretch limos. I’ll admit, I’ve spent most of my career in small, lower-budget IT consulting firms. But I did spend six years at a top-tier firm. The only time I flew 1st class was when I got bumped or used points to upgrade. I also randomly ran into the firm’s partners on the plane and they consistently sat in business class at best. We would occasionally hire the services of a limo company to take us to and from the airport, but would never have been pretentious enough to arrive at a client in a stretch.
- Sex and drugs are not as prevalent in consulting as HOL portrays. Let’s face it, if we did that half as much as they do, most consultants would have already died of AIDS or overdoses. Along the same lines, sex is not the topic of discussion that so dominates Galweather & Stern’s employees. Maybe that should be obvious. Didn’t we all know that Andy would have weighed 300 lbs. if he ate half as much of Aunt Bea’s sweet potato pie as they pretended?
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.