Category Archives: Communication

4 Ways to Market Yourself within the Consulting Firm

Imagine that you have developed a soft drink that tastes better than Coke.  It has fewer calories, comes in a biodegradable can and contains nutrients that will make its users healthier.  Everything about this product is better than Coke, Pepsi or any other soft drink on the market.  Unfortunately, you have no marketing budget to promote it and have to rely on word of mouth.  The current market seems perfectly happy with the soft drinks they’re already drinking and your new product never gets off the ground.

This fictional scenario can happen to you in a consulting environment.  You may be the hardest, smartest worker in your firm.  But if you don’t get your name out to the decision makers who staff projects or have influence on that staffing, you may get passed up for high-profile projects.

This is not as much of an issue at smaller firms where management already knows you.  It’s more critical for larger firms and critical for 1st & 2nd tier firms like McKinsey, Deloitte and McGladrey.  It’s easy to get lost in firms like that.

You may do a bang-up job on a project and impress the partner and the project manager.  If their next project requires your skill set, they may lobby to get you assigned to their project.  But they may move on to projects that require a completely different skill set.  In larger firms, it’s very important to market yourself within.  Some of the things you can do are:

  • Volunteer to speak at firm meetings. – Most firms hold all-hands meetings on a quarterly or semi-annual basis to update the staff on their progress and provide an overview of a couple of their latest successful projects.  If they showcase a project that you have served on, offer to give part of the presentation.  It’s a great way to get your name out.
  • Make an effort to meet the firm leadership – Understand the firm hierarchy and figure out who the decision makers are (Partners, VPs, Directors).  Get to know their names and faces and introduce yourself in a non-intrusive way.  Selling yourself like a used car will backfire like a… well, like a used car.
  • Volunteer to work on sales proposals – When unassigned (on the bench), show that you are willing to do whatever it takes to make the firm successful.  It exposes your skills to others and increases your chances of being assigned to the project if the proposal wins.
  • First and foremost, do your regular job well – You won’t get assigned to any high-profile projects or proposals if you haven’t already developed a reputation for doing quality work.

About the author: Lew Sauder is the author of Consulting 101: 101 Tips For Success in Consulting (www.Consulting101Book.com)  He has been a consultant with top-tier and boutique consulting firms for seventeen years.

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Filed under Communication, Consulting, Meetings, Networking, Personal Branding, public speaking

What are you afraid of?

Many people have an irrational fear lurking deep within them that limits their ability succeed.  Whether it’s fear of public speaking, confrontation or the ability to ask for the sale, they let that fear limit their ability to achieve their goals.  I’ve experienced some of the same fears and have learned to overcome them.  The amazing thing I’ve learned about it is that overcoming fear is so much easier than living with it. The key steps I’ve learn about overcoming fears are:

Recognize the fear – Some people live in denial about their anxiety.  They may claim that they are fine with public speaking and that they have done it many times.  But when opportunities arise to speak, they suggest others who may have more knowledge of the subject matter.  I’ve seen them even chide the others for being afraid if they resist.  The first step to overcoming a fear is to recognize it and admit that you must take action to overcome it.

Convince yourself that you can overcome the fear – I remember performing in concerts when I was in the high school choir.  We would perform songs as a full choir, some ensembles and then a few students were chosen to sing solos.  I was fine when we sang as a full choir or ensemble, where I could share the stage with others and they could hide any mistakes I might make.  But when I was selected for a solo, I was nervous.  It’s not as if I thought my parents or my friends’ parents would throw rotten tomatoes if I missed a note, but I would get serious butterflies leading up to the performance.  At one concert, I turned to a friend who was also scheduled to sing a solo and asked him if he was nervous.

“No” he said, “I’m looking forward to it.  I love to sing and I enjoy performing for others”

That gave me a new perspective on it.  Instead of going into it with a mindset of fear, I approached it as an opportunity to share what I enjoyed with others.  Whatever fear you may be harboring, if you teach yourself to enjoy it and look forward to it, it will significantly reduce the anxiety you feel.

Confront the fear – Most people deal with fear by not dealing with it.  They spend amazing amounts of energy figuring out ways not to confront their fear.  When I was in college, despite what I learned in high school about singing in front of an audience, I still had a fear of public speaking.  Once for a group project assignment, we were tasked with giving a final presentation of our findings to several teachers and the department head.  No one in the group was excited about giving the presentation, so I volunteered.  I didn’t have anything to lose.

I prepared well and studied the presentation several times.  When the time for the presentation  came, although I was nervous at the beginning, I eventually relaxed and ended up doing a pretty good job.  I learned that if I just jump in and attack it, it’s not as bad as it seems.

Over the years, I’ve felt the same butterflies at times.  It’s usually either because I wasn’t as familiar with the subject matter, or there was an important person in the audience.  I’ve found that if I prepare as much as possible and tackle it with the attitude that I’m stronger than the fear, that I can get through it fine and feel better about myself when it’s over.

Regardless of your age or experience level I’m convinced that you can overcome any fear that is inhibiting your career advancement.  Mark Twain once said “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.”  You may always have that fear lurking inside.  But you can always overcome it.

What are you afraid of?

About the author: Lew Sauder is the author of Consulting 101: 101 Tips For Success in Consulting (www.Consulting101Book.com)  He has been a consultant with top-tier and boutique consulting firms for seventeen years.

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Can Consultants Have a Sense of Humor?

I’ve always had a pretty good sense of humor.  I can find irony in a lot of things and have used it to my advantage.  In my school days it would get me in trouble occasionally when the teacher thought I was auditioning for class clown.  As I’ve grown into adulthood, I’ve tried to mature only as much as necessary.

As a consultant – and in any business – you spend a fair amount of time in meetings.  Meetings can be long and tedious.  Business people always seem to be concerned about their professional image and joking around can give the impression that you are not serious about your work.

But an appropriate joke placed at the right time can lighten up the environment and refocus people from being glazed over from statistics on endless PowerPoint slides.

The timing and content of a joke must be appropriate.  Some guidelines to follow are:

  • Don’t overdo it.  Telling a joke and giving a stand-up routine are two different things.  The point of telling a joke in a meeting or any professional situation is to lighten things up, not to entertain the troops.
  • Keep it appropriate.  Although I hate the term ‘politically correct’, it describes the approach fairly well.  If there is any question of it being offensive, don’t say it.  Avoid references to politics, religion and sex at a minimum.  Michael Scott can get away with saying “That’s what she said” on The Office, but it’s not advisable in a business setting.
  • Don’t put people down. People can be very sensitive.  Telling a joke at someone else’s expense, particularly in front of their colleagues or their boss can have serious ramifications.  If you tell a joke at anyone’s expense, it should probably be at your own.  But doing that too often can give the impression of a lack of self-confidence.
  • Read the audience.  Some people have no patience for people joking around in a business setting.  If you try to lighten things up with a joke and get no response or a cold stare, back off.  Taking them as a challenge to make them laugh will most likely backfire on you.  If they want to be serious and all that their consultant seems to be focused on is joking around, your chances of success at that client are low.
  • Beware of a double standard with the client.  Some clients have a set of acceptable standards for their own employees and another set for consultants.  This stands to reason to some degree.  They’re usually paying a lot more on a per hour basis for their consultants and they want them to be as efficient as possible.  You may see client employees get away with joking around and having fun, while you get reprimanded for not being serious enough.

Having a sense of humor can be a great asset.  Much of success in consulting is about building relationships and much of that hinges on just being likable.  The ability to make people laugh can endear them to you. It can also make your own work day more pleasant.  But everyone has their own idea of what is funny and what’s not.  Make sure that you don’t turn a client off with your sense of humor.

About the author: Lew Sauder is the author of Consulting 101: 101 Tips For Success in Consulting (www.Consulting101Book.com)  He has been a consultant with top-tier and boutique consulting firms for seventeen years.

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Filed under Business, Communication, Consulting, Credibility, Etiquette, Meetings, Morale

Accountability vs. Blame

Everyone makes a mistake on occasion.  I’ve seen the smartest and most meticulous people write down the wrong time or date for a meeting.  It happens.  And as long as it’s not habitual, most people tolerate small mistakes.

Then there are major screw ups.  Perhaps someone didn’t anticipate a key risk on a project or realized during step 9 that step 3 in a process was skipped, causing major rework and embarrassment with the client.

The real issue is how organizations deal with mistakes of this nature.  Many organizations talk about not focusing on blame.  Certainly, when a major faux pas is made, the first thing to focus on is how to make amends. 

Once corrective actions begin, you start to hear people saying things like “We have to determine who is responsible and hold them accountable.”  To me, that sounds a lot like “We need a scapegoat to shoulder the blame.”

I’m all for holding people accountable.  But people have different opinions of what that means.  Some see it as identifying someone to punish while others see it as a teaching moment.  Some see punishment as a form of teaching, assuming that if an employee knows they’ll face a severe punishment for messing up, they will be extra careful.

This negative reinforcement may make employees cautious, which can be good.  But it may make them too cautious, causing them to avoid any type of risk that could help them – and the organization – excel.

Performance evaluations tend to start someone with the expectation of perfection, and then ding them down to their realistic level after identifying everything they did wrong.  This can create a negative environment, where people either cover up errors or begin passing blame on other people as soon as things go south.  In this type of environment, people learn that the sooner you can pin the blame on a co-worker, the quicker you can save your own ass.

There are positive environments that have tolerance for errors, some that even encourage people to take risks and make errors in the interest of learning.  This creates an environment of honesty and accountability.  As soon as someone realizes something is wrong, they feel confident going into the boss’s office and saying “I made a mistake that could cost us (time, money, credibility, all of the above)”. 

A good leader will both work with an employee to help figure out how to correct an error, and hold them accountable in a positive way.  They will help them identify lessons learned – what they could have done differently to avoid this happening again?

Organizations like this tend to be more transparent with their employees and with their customers, creating an environment of trust within the organization and with everyone that interacts with them.

How does your organization hold people accountable?

About the author: Lew Sauder is the author of Consulting 101: 101 Tips For Success in Consulting (www.Consulting101Book.com) He has been a consultant with top-tier and boutique consulting firms for seventeen years.

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Filed under Accountability, Business, Communication, Consulting, Credibility, Mentoring, Morale

Consulting’s Three-Headed Monster

By Lew Sauder

A good consulting firm needs to be successful from three aspects: Delivery, Sales and Recruiting.  This is often considered the three-headed monster of consulting

Delivery, the act of providing services to clients, is the firm’s primary product.  It relies on a defined methodology and qualified people to deliver those services.

Sales are necessary to bring in paying clients that put the food on the table for everyone involved.  Most firms rely on the delivery folks to provide leads, develop relationships and develop proposals in order to sell projects to clients. But they also have a sales department with account reps to develop new leads and ultimately sell their services.

You can develop all the methodologies and sell all the projects you want, but without someone to recruit qualified people to deliver those services, no client billing takes place and no food gets put on that proverbial table.

If a firm is only good in two of those aspects, they will most likely fail.  Firms that are good in all three of those aspects can fail if they don’t figure out a way to make them work in concert with each other.

If you speak to someone from each area, they will most likely tell you that theirs is the toughest job.

Sales professionals will tell you that their job is tough because if they don’t bring in business, they don’t get paid.  Most make a modest base salary, but primarily rely on their commissions.  They also know that if they don’t perform, the consultants on staff will begin losing their jobs when the projects dry up.  There are cold calls and relentless rejections before getting to a yes answer.  It requires a special skill to get in the door to sell something intangible like professional services.

A good recruiter seeks to understand the needs of the project in order to staff it with qualified people.  Most projects are staffed with a core of existing employees that have been with the firm long enough to understand the firm’s service offerings, methodology and culture.  But new employees are often needed to fully staff a project.  The recruiter needs to know the skills required for each resource, the experience level needed, the approximate time frame each will be required and the expected salary or hourly rate they are willing to pay.  If candidates with those specific criteria are not available, the recruiter needs to determine which of the criteria can be sacrificed.

The delivery folks are the front line team that has to face the customer.  The sales team may promise the world to make the sale, but the delivery people have to figure out a way to get it done on time and within budget.  They need to communicate their staffing needs to the recruiting team, interview and approve each new staff member.  If recruiting provides four candidates for a position and none of them meet the needs, it’s back to the drawing board and they have to reiterate their needs to recruiting.  This can delay the start of the project.

These teams can’t run as separate silos.  A well run firm, where all three groups work together requires strong management that unites them as an integrated team to insure optimal employee and customer satisfaction. 

Management that is partial to one group at the expense of another eventually erodes the morale of  all three groups.  The critical skill for any manager in a consulting environment is to keep each component of the three-headed monster playing nice with each other.

About the author: Lew Sauder is the author of Consulting 101: 101 Tips For Success in Consulting (www.Consulting101Book.com)  He has been a consultant with top-tier and boutique consulting firms for seventeen years.

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5 Things My Mentors Taught Me

By Lew Sauder

When I started out in consulting, I decided early on that I would seek out a mentor.  I must have been like the little bird in the children’s book “Are You My Mother?” that goes from animal to animal seeking out its mother.  I had in my mind that there would be one person that would extol his or her wisdom to help me to launch my career.  After a few years, here is what I learned:

Mentors are human, not heroes – One of my first designated mentors was someone I idolized.  I hung on every word he said and thought he was infallible.  I soon found that he made mistakes and wasn’t the erudite I thought he was.  I was disappointed and thought I had made a mistake in selecting a mentor.  But he was still a great manager and I still respected him for his abilities.  I just needed to accept that a mentor can screw up and still be respected.

Have multiple mentors and combine ideas from each of them.  Once I realized that my mentor wasn’t the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi sent down from on-high to bestow his wisdom upon me, I realized that there are many people around me that I can learn from.  I could draw upon one’s advice on one day and someone else’s on another day.

You can learn from anti-mentors.  I’ve worked with managers and people that I didn’t like or respect.  I have a philosophy that you can be a good manager without being an asshole.  But I’ve known people with a quite different philosophy that disrespect their subordinates or act in unethical ways.  I’ve observed these people and from them I’ve learned how not to act and how not to treat others.

Don’t tell a mentor that they are a mentor.  I once told a colleague that I considered them a mentor.  From that point forward, our relationship changed.  It seemed to go to his head.  It was as if we couldn’t be friends anymore because he had assumed this role of being my mentor.  He had to give me advice every chance he got.  It got very tiresome and I got to the point where I would avoid being around him because I got tired of the constant spray of advice.  After that, I would ask mentors advice or learn by observation, but I never formalized the role with them.

Be your own person.  You can get all the advice you want from as many mentors as you choose.  But you have to filter for yourself what works best for you.  Just because you asked someone for advice doesn’t mean you have to follow it.  All advice is optional.  When I was a senior in college, I was fortunate enough to have three job offers to consider.  I went to my number one mentor, my father, to ask his advice.  Although one of the offers would have kept me close to my parent’s home, he refused to give me advice.  Instead, he told me to think about the things that were important to me and to decide for myself.  He helped me make my own decision rather than giving me his opinion.  A true mentor will resist giving you advice, but will ask you the right questions to make you think so that you make decisions for yourself.

It’s a good practice to identify mentors at any stage of your career to help you steer your career.  But mentors are guides, not a replacement for using your own judgment.  You need to decide whether their advice is worth following based on your own values and the direction you want your career to advance.

About the author: Lew Sauder is the author of Consulting 101: 101 Tips For Success in Consulting (www.Consulting101Book.com)  He has been a consultant with top-tier and boutique consulting firms for seventeen years.

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Filed under Business, Communication, Consulting, Mentoring, Networking

Removal from a Client Project

By Lew Sauder

It happens every once in a while.  A consultant is working with their project team and sometime during the project, the account manager speaks with the consultant and informs them that they are being rolled off of the project.

It can happen to ineffective consultants and they don’t usually last long with the firm.  But sometimes, the person just doesn’t mesh with the team or the client.  I’ve seen consultants taken off of projects for a number of reasons.  Perhaps they:

  • Talk too much
  • Don’t talk enough
  • Dress funny
  • Handed in a task late
  • Didn’t appear focused in a meeting
  • Didn’t reply to an email on time
  • Looked at the CEO funny

It has amazed me throughout my career that top-level executives, who had the strength and perseverance to get to that level are as sensitive and insecure as they sometimes are.  I knew of one CEO who wanted a consultant removed from the project because he didn’t push all the chairs back neatly to the conference table after a meeting.

When removal from a project occurs due to client request, it’s not necessarily the end of your  consulting career.  Firms understand that you can’t please everyone all of the time.  If it happens more than once, they may see it as a trend and deal with it as a performance issue.

Sometimes, it happens in the natural course of the project.  A large project can go from several months in duration to a couple of years.  Different skills are needed at different times in a project so people are swapped out of projects based on the matching of their skill set and the skills needed at the time.  The firm may decide that your work on the project is near enough to completion that someone else can pick it up.  They may need you for another client project or to work on a proposal. 

Project economics may also play a role.  Some projects are sold as ‘Fixed-bid’, meaning the firm receives a set amount in fees and must deliver the project while trying to burn as few consultant hours as possible to maintain their target profit margin.  Fixed bid projects are often run on a tight budget.  Depending on your billing rate, they may want to get you off of the project as soon as possible to ease up the budget.

Very few people serve on a project from beginning to end.  Project managers are even switched out from time to time.  Rolling off of a project is a natural occurrence that can happen for any number of reasons – good or bad.

If you are taken off of a project due to a client issue, the firm may say something to you.  They may wait to see if it is a recurring issue or just an anomaly. It’s always best to try to find out the real reason you’ve been taken off of a project, but it’s not always for a bad reason or anything within your control.

About the author: Lew Sauder is the author of Consulting 101: 101 Tips For Success in Consulting (www.Consulting101Book.com)  He has been a consultant with top-tier and boutique consulting firms for seventeen years.

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Filed under Business, Communication, Consulting, Employee Review, Morale