Drive or be Driven: Podcast #2: Common Mistakes of Consultants
From the series: Drive or be Driven: How to manage your career like a consultant
Remember the context of the annual review process and performance feedback. Most of the firms use this to drum out the weak and promote strong salespeople. The reality is that driving revenue is pretty key for almost every business. Getting new donors for a higher ed or non profit. Attracting new customers or sales prospects. Converting a lead to a software sale. Almost every role has some element of serving a customer somewhere down the line that differentiates success from going out of business.
The consulting industry commonly refers to time in dog years. Every year of experience in consulting equals 7 years of experience in industry. Trust a consultant to make an egotistical comment that builds up self worth (and allows for inflated billing rates). That said, the turnover for new hires that enter consulting and leave in under 12 months is staggeringly high. At my previous employers, 70% turnover for experienced hires was average. They would get through one review cycle and decide that enough was enough.
Here are common mistakes that people make in consulting, especially those that are new to the field:
Prioritizing the wrong thing
In our "Up or Out" podcast, we talked about the need to be a Value Creator, Business Operator, and Thought Leader to be considered in the top 5% during performance reviews. The competition is fierce.
I managed career counselees for several years at KPMG, Accenture, and Deloitte. I proactively managed my counselees to ensure that they put their best foot forward.
Without a doubt, they had to focus on delivering their core project responsibilities. The conversation would end if they were underperforming according to their project leads.
Since we were usually assigned to different projects, I would ask on a monthly basis how my counselees were doing. For example, I might be at Exelon and my counselee might be at AT&T. If you cannot deliver on time, with quality, and manage expectations, do not bother to write white papers or volunteer to help with client proposals. No one will want to give you extracurriculars if you fail at the day to day.
Leaving problems unclear
"Could I ask a few clarifying questions?" "Do you have a template that I could use?" "I found this copy of a template in our playbook, I'd appreciate your input to make sure that I get this right."
The best consultants define poorly defined problems. It was a question in the annual review forms. "Does this person quantify and clarify poorly defined problems?"
Think about this as a software engineer. A few years back, I saw a proposal for CVS. They were identifying problems in testing their software. 40% of their business requirements were being identified for the first time during testing. This meant a lot of frustration, rework, and waste.
You can argue if the requirements were actually identified or not. I've seen both sides of this story. You cannot argue that the core problem was not fully understood or solved in the situation at CVS. More development time for the task isn't the answer. More time understanding the desired outcome and what is wanted is the root cause solution.
Most consultants dive right into the project or deliverable. They will create pages and pages of material, cobbled together from documents that they find on the knowledge exchanges, sharepoint, Drive, or on the company wiki.
Bonus mistake: The wikis are garbage. The best content lives and breathes on the local hard drives of active consultants who don't have time to clean up their deliverables before moving onto the next assignment. In 20 years of consulting for the Big 4, every single firm had this problem.
Clarify the desired outcome. Confirm what you have heard from the client or senior team member. Review a draft deliverable or a template. Get their comments or suggestions and address each point.
In a cutthroat environment, it is difficult to ask for help. Yet after hours, the people that you are working with frantically are the same people who will go to dinner and drinks with you in a far flung town. You spend a lot of time together on the plane, in the car, or in the bar.
Only the real assholes will not help a colleague who is struggling. Those people are usually in the office 24 x 7 and kissing the partner's butt every time she comes to town.
Oddly enough, these individuals also tend to be obviously craven and irritating to the very people who they are trying to impress. They will accept a load of outside responsibilities and commitments to pad their resume, but they'll put their core delivery at risk.
Most of your colleagues are in the same boat. Come annual review time, it is time to compete, but in the thick of a project in Springfield, IL, everyone is on the same team. Ask for feedback once a month from your team lead. Schedule the time. Do not accept "you're doing fine" and a brush off, at least at first.
Ask "what can I do to exceed your expectations?" in the context of earning a 1 or a 2 (top 20% ratings). Ask for specifics at the beginning of the engagement. Before taking the assignment on a project, ask how the role will help you be successful at the firm and what can you expect in support from the project lead to settle in quickly. Project managers looking for bodies will give you a pat answer. Avoid them. Project managers or partners that have a warm response and a supportive explanation are teams that you want to join.
My old boss used to say drive or be driven. The biggest mistake that you can make is to let someone drive your career for you, assuming that they will take care of you. They will not. Drive or be driven.