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The Secrets of Consulting

… have been revealed. Well, sorta (hat tip: A. Phan).

Pamela Slim from the blog Escape from Cubicle Nation did a guest post on I Will Teach you to be Rich about the consulting profession and some classic consulting pitfalls to avoid for those who are just starting (like me, I suppose). I picked out three of the most interesting:

1. I have seen consultants swagger in to a new company with the sensitivity of slave traders. They view the existing employees as stupid and “backwards” and do little to hide their disdain. This attitude will guarantee that employees will do whatever they can to sabotage your project. You may disagree with the way the organization is run and get frustrated by the attitudes of resentful and complacent employees. But never think that you are superior by virtue of your role as an outside “expert.” You aren’t.

Pamela makes a very good point. Consultants oftentimes expect that through sheer force of will and brilliance, they will “shock and awe” the client into some magical conception of a perfect business. The reality is very different from this fairy tale. The senior management team probably have their own misgivings over whether or not the expensive consulting fees will be worth it, while the employees are probably nervous at the thought of total newcomers judging and picking apart at their routines, and some may even be resentful at what looks like a lack of faith in the firm’s own employees by senior management. One intern at my firm who was helping out with client interviews was even asked by a senior VP, “Am I about to lose my job?

Learning to deal with people from the client (and help them put their fears to rest) is not only polite, but very important for the success of a consulting project. If you can’t get the client to be invested in the solution you’re developing, it doesn’t matter how brilliant your solution is, it will neither be implemented nor respected.

2. There is an infectious plague propagated by large consulting firms that compels new consultants to create huge, incomprehensible presentations and reports. Your executive sponsors love them because they justify the huge rates they spend. The problem is that these 400-slide PowerPoint presentations are decks of death for the poor souls who have to view them. Many consultants see the creation of these presentations as their core work output. This misses the point! The key responsibility of a consultant is to offer clear, timely advice and help an organization implement it as quickly and efficiently as possible for the best business results.

You don’t say.

3. My best friend Desiree, who used to work at both IBM and Accenture, would laugh with me at the “uniforms” we saw on young consultants. I don’t know if there was anything explicitly written in corporate policy, but everyone at Accenture seemed to wear the same black pants (or skirt) and purple-blue button-down collared shirt. What the outfit screamed was “no personality” and “member of consultant flock of sheep.”

I have no idea what she’s talking about. I clearly have lots of personality.

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