Category Archives: Meetings

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

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

Is Celebrity Apprentice good business training? By Lew Sauder

I don’t watch a lot of TV, but one of my favorite shows is Celebrity Apprentice.  Not that I think it’s quality TV by any means; I just get a kick out of seeing how petty some of these washed up rock stars and former Playboy models can act on national television.

I started watching it with my kids thinking there were leadership tips they could learn for when they get into the business world.  Instead I generally use it to teach them how NOT to act when they get in the real world.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the premise, the typical season starts out with a team of eight men against a team of eight women.  Each team is given a task per episode to raise money or market a product and Donald Trump announces at the end of the show which team won.  One member of the losing team gets fired.  They continue to eliminate one person each week, redistributing players to other teams if it becomes lopsided, until it comes down to two finalists.  Those two compete against each other in the season finale to determine the Celebrity Apprentice.  Some observations I’ve made about the show are:

  1. Since the object of the game is to avoid getting fired, the participants are playing not to lose rather than playing to win.  It’s an interesting dynamic as teammates pretend to be team players, trying to win for the team, but knowing that if their team loses, they could be singled out to be fired.  The project manager knows that they are responsible for the task, but if they lose, they can choose two people from the team to bring back into the board room to argue why one of them is the scapegoat – I mean reason – the task failed.  This is not an environment that induces risk taking.  If the project manager decides on a bold approach and it fails, the PM is most likely to be the one fired.  If a team member has an opportunity to take a risk to help the team, they’re better off playing it safe and going below the radar.
  2. Few celebrities are good leaders. Perhaps the most entertaining part of the show is watching a former actor try to direct a diverse team of people who are more interested in showcasing their own capabilities and looking good, than in helping the team succeed.  It results in a team with three or four people vying for control, when there is supposed to only be one designated leader.  The test of wills often ends up with a weak leader submitting to one or more of their team members. If the team loses, the team members throw the PM under the bus for being a weak leader.
  3. Unprofessional behavior in the board room. Donald Trump’s board room has the appearance of a very formal setting.  A long beautiful conference room table where Trump and his two offspring advisors, Donald Junior and Ivanka, sit on one side while the participants submissively sit (or stand) on the other.  It’s a beautifully decorated room in the prestigious Trump Tower in New York City. Despite its solemn setting, this is where the team members get nasty.  F-bombs and other obscenities are regularly bleeped out, team members make accusations of others’ behavior and lack of assistance and team members have been known to cry.  The Donald often sits and lets two or more team members go at each other, essentially enabling the petty back-biting.

 

So I sit watching this circus with my family and criticize the above behaviors pointing out to my kids the poor management and leadership skills that the various contestants display.  But the more I think about it, the more I realize how real world it is. I see these violations in the business world all the time.

People are always worried about either getting fired or getting passed up for promotion for screwing up.  It’s much safer to keep your head down and just do what you’re asked than to try something bold and risky to increase the odds of failure.  And why make a suggestion for a new way to innovate your organization’s process and risk pissing off the manager that designed the current one?

A former actor may have been nominated, or even won an Oscar, but it’s no indication that they can manage.  The same can be said for business managers.  Usually the most productive worker bee gets promoted to be the boss when the opportunity arises.  It’s no indication they will be good at managing.  It’s a completely different set of skills. Leadership requires a combination of confidence, humility, empathy, decision making and many other abilities.  Assuming that a good research analyst can lead a team is as illogical as assuming a good actor can do it.

Professionalism is no better in the business world than in Trump’s board room.  I’ve heard f-bombs in the nicest mahogany lined offices and in the offices of corporate presidents.  And people get thrown under the bus on a regular basis, both privately and publicly.

So it brings me to the question I should ask myself before I use it as a business lesson for my kids: Does Celebrity Apprentice simply prepare us for how business works? Or does it point out all that’s bad about corporate politics to teach us how not to act?

I’d love to hear your take on this.  In the meantime, maybe we should just switch to watching The Office.

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, Emotions, Employee Review, Meetings, Morale

Preparation

It has often been said that success occurs when preparation meets opportunity.  It’s always been one of my favorite sayings and I’m amazed how often it rings true.

Preparation as a meeting attendant: One of the most obvious settings where this occurs is in meetings.  Most business meetings are scheduled through Outlook, Lotus Notes or some type of integrated calendaring software.  Along with the invitation that comes in your email, there may be documents attached.  This can be as simple as an agenda, or any number of documents that are intended to be reviewed during the meeting.

If the document is sent in advance of the meeting, it’s a good assumption that you are expected to review it prior to the meeting.  Otherwise, the meeting organizer would just bring copies to the meeting.  I’ve had this become an issue with clients.  I’ll send out a meeting invite with a document attached, intending for them to read it and to provide feedback at the meeting.  There isn’t time in a 1-hour meeting to cover the whole document.  I often have people show up without having even looked at it.  They see the document for the first time in the meeting.  We end up spending an hour to get through the first couple of pages.  To reduce the chance of this occurring, I often send a separate email with the document, specifically asking them to review it and bring comments to the meeting.  While this improves my hit ratio, I still have to spoon-feed some of the meeting attendants on the documents contents.

This is where there is a big double standard for consultants.  When clients come to a meeting unprepared, you need to deal with it.  A consultants coming to a meeting unprepared is unacceptable.  If you are invited to a meeting, check for any attachments that need to be reviewed.  Whether you print them or review them online is a matter of personal preference.  The first check should be to understand your role in the meeting.  If they want feedback, you must be ready to provide it.  If you are just there for informational purposes, you still should be familiar with the content of all documentation.  If your role us unclear, contact the meeting organizer to get an agenda or to find out what your purpose is in the meeting.

Prepare to be on time: Another important factor in preparing for a meeting is allowing enough time to get there on time.  Showing up late is an excellent way to show the other participants your disregard for their time.  Even if most of them habitually show up late, you should not be in that group.

Prepare for questions: Finally, while in the meeting, be prepared for any questions.  Try to anticipate questions that could be asked of you.  Stay focused so that when a question comes your way, you’re not caught thinking about what you’re going to wear to your friend’s party next weekend.

Prepare to run the meeting: If you are the meeting host or organizer, there is additional preparation involved.  If you plan to use a projector, sufficient time should be allowed to have it set up and running prior to the meeting.  Additionally, if there are agendas or other documents that need to be printed, print them at least an hour prior to the meeting.  Printers seem to be programmed to go down or jam in the last minutes of the hour right before a meeting starts.

Emails: Preparation goes beyond meetings too.  Staying up to date on emails ensures that you can avoid the embarrassment of being uninformed with someone who runs into you in the hall and asks about the email he sent to you three days ago.

Project planning: If you are in charge of a project plan, it’s a good idea to review the current tasks at least within the next week to be able to answer a manager or a client that asks for an impromptu status.

Staying current in your industry: Preparation also means staying current with technology and trends in your industry.  There is no way to stay current on everything at all times, but subscribing to – and reading – online trade magazines from your industry will allow you to speak intelligently about many of the concepts that come up in meetings and other conversations.  If top management brings up one of those topics that you just read about, that is a big opportunity that could meet with your preparation.

What about your experiences?  When has your preparation – or lack thereof – intersected with opportunity and affected your success?

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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