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Our Favorite Consulting Books – The first half

In addition to being an enthusiastic and passionate problem solver, a good consultant has a great thirst for knowledge. We’ve never known a good consultant that wasn’t also a voracious reader. We’ve often been asked to recommend books for consultants to read and have available in their personal libraries. This week Lew and I will discuss some of our favorite consulting and business related books. Just to demonstrate how important it is to be versed in good books and other resources in your field of expertise, I heard of an incident recently where a client was speaking with a consultant, and at their initial consultation the client asked for recommendations of some books on the subject they were working on so she could get some initial insight. When the consultant answered with “sorry, I don’t know of any” the client was taken aback. This simple misstep has undermined the consultant’s credibility in the clients mind from day one. So, be well read within your specialty, on current and evolving issues and on general business matters it helps build credibility and trust with your clients. We’ll take turns discussing books that we would recommend to consultants or aspiring consultants. (Lew) Getting Naked by Patrick Lencioni. It’s Lencioni’s style to write a story, a parable to make a point and teach a lesson. Getting Naked is not about being unclothed. It’s about being vulnerable with the client. Saying ‘I don’t know’ when you don’t know and not being afraid to ask a dumb question. He also advocates being their advisor as a sales approach. His advice is ‘Consult, don’t sell’. Meaning, when you begin talking to a client, let them talk. Ask them questions about their business and the challenges they’re facing and help them. If they like your help, they’ll keep coming back to you. In most consulting firms, a sales call is a PowerPoint that brags about all of their experience and how many offices they have. Clients just aren’t interested in that. They want their problems solved. The story in Getting Naked shows how a consultant in a traditional consulting firm sees the light. It advocates selecting good clients. He says a bad client is worse than having no client at all. It prevents you from finding other good clients.  And it’s unlikely to get a good reference. It destroys your culture. It points out 3 fears that consultants have when it comes to selling: – – fear of losing business – – fear of being embarrassed – – fear of feeling inferior This is an important book for consultants because it very clearly points out that selling services is not like selling a tangible product. It’s about developing relationships and developing a collaborative approach so that they come to you for help rather than you always hawking your services to them. (Jeff) Lincoln on Leadership (currently reading – after seeing the movie ‘Lincoln’) Written by Donald T. Philips who says early in the book “Curiously, with everything that has been written about Abraham Lincoln, little is known about his extraordinary leadership ability”. Donald uses examples of Lincolns own work from speeches, letters and so forth to explain his principles of leadership in 4 sections: a. People b. Character c. Endeavor d. Communication Although so many of his anecdotes and doctrines are in the context of the 19th century and governing a nation at war, the underlying messages apply in almost every instance to a consultant client relationship: Get Out of the Office and Circulate Among the Troops – Today we might call this networking…. Or maybe hand-on management. Persuade Rather Than Coerce – Relationship selling Keep searching until you find your ‘Grant’ – Building strong teams and mentoring leaders. There are so many principles in this book that when you read the title initially it can be easy to dismiss as obvious or trite, but Don Philips does a great job bringing out Lincolns deeper thoughts on each subject. (Lew) The three signs of a miserable job – Another parable by Patrick Lencioni of a man that retires as the CEO of a large company, gets bored and decides to manage the local pizza place in a vacation resort town. He goes through the culture shock of having people work for him that are not career minded and he begins working on figuring out – regardless of what kind of work you do – what is it that motivates people and makes them happy in their jobs. This applies directly to consulting for a number of reasons. For one thing, you need to figure out what makes you happy. If you’re not fulfilled in your work, you’re not going to perform well. So you need to figure out if consulting is for you or if it’s just the situation you’re in. It’s also important to know if you’re managing people on a team. I think this is a must read for any manager to help them understand how to motivate a team of people and make them as productive as possible. And finally, if you’re at a client and part of your responsibility is the help them solve problems, the source of many clients’ problems often root from employee satisfaction, morale and the effects it has on productivity. So this is important information for consultants from many different perspectives. (Jeff) Flawless Consulting by Peter Block. For many years this has been considered by some as the Consultants Bible. I’m not sure if it’s in this book or other writings, but one point has always stuck in my mind from Peter and that is “People don’t hire experts they hire those they want to work with”. – This fundamental is so important for a consultant to understand and apply. Of course you need to be an “expert”, or at least your firm does, but more importantly, as far as the client is concerned, you have to make them want to work with you. Another point he makes is that all organizations are political systems and hierarchies. Instituting change and reform from a consultants perspective needs to acknowledge this from the context of where they sit outside the hierarchy and who they are working with inside the structure. All in all this is a great book, I have to admit it’s many years since I’ve picked it up but this weeks episode has motivated me to do just that. (Lew) Seeing the Big Picture: Business Accumen to Build your Credibility, Career and Company by Kevin Cope. This book discusses business from two primary aspects. In part I, Cope covers the 5 key drivers of business and how to influence them. He discusses areas like cash, profit and assets. In part II, he discusses financial statements such as the annual report, the income statement and balance sheet. Cope uses a fictional business called Austin’s Cycle Shop to relate these concepts in meaningful terms. He takes some of the things you probably learned in finance and accounting classes and simplifies them, putting them in meaningful contexts and shows how they’re all interrelated to the big picture of business. In each chapter, he relates that concept to how it affects decision making in the business. This is important for consultants to understand so that they know the building block to how and why business managers at their clients make decisions. It’s imperative to understand this in order to frame issues and their resolutions in business terms. (Jeff) Grown up digital by Don Tapscott. I guess the best way to summarize this book is that it addresses the issues and differences of the Baby Boomer generation versus the Millenials, mostly people born from about 1980 onward. These are the people that have “Grown up Digital” – Technology as the Boomers know it is simply a way of life for this generation, the internet is like running water, it’s just there. There’s no direct correlation between this book and the profession of consulting, but the impact of Millenials in workplaces created by Baby Boomers and Gen X’s is creating a new dynamic that consultants need to understand and embrace. Don Tapscott does a great job at pointing out some things that we have all observed but rarely acknowledge. Next week: About being ‘On the Bench’ as a Consultant.


8 Feb 2013

Rank #1

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Reporting Status to the Client

One of the critical skills a consultant must have is the ability to communicate.  Those skills are put to the test frequently, but rarely as much as when the consultant reports project status to the client.  This week we will discuss some of the specific approaches a consultant should use when reporting status to the client. What does a consultant need to be aware of when reporting status to a client? First of all, they need to have the ability to summarize.  In most cases, you’re talking to an executive, or at least a high level manager.  Although some may be detail people and want to get into the weeds, for the most part, they’re most interested in high level status. They are in a much more strategic situation where the project the consultant is reporting on is one of the tactical aspects of their grand strategic approach So it’s important to provide them a status based on how the project is progressing from their strategic perspective – based on how it affects them. They want to know how it affects their strategic direction. In addition to that, you want to make sure you talk in their terms.  That can apply to using the industry terms that they use.  I was just in a meeting recently where we were talking about health insurance.  Someone used a term and the project management consultant asked what the difference was between that term and another she had heard. The client manager answered that they’re essentially synonymous, but that he used the other term.  That prompted a mental note that we should use his term moving forward. Speaking in their terms also applies to their preferences for any other terminology.  You may refer to a project’s utilization referring to how many hours are being used to date on the project.  The client may call it burn-down.  It’s important to use their term to make sure they understand what you’re talking about. Finally, related to talking to them in more strategic terms, most status reports list accomplishments from the past week and tasks planned for the following week. In order to make it meaningful for the client manager, do not just list tasks completed.  You need to think in terms of what it means to them. For example, early in my career, I managed projects based on a Microsoft Project plan and any tasks in the plan that were finished by Friday, I listed in the accomplishments for the week.  I did the same for any tasks in the plan that I planned on completing by the next Friday. I sat down with the client manager in the status meeting and went through all these great accomplishments and he turned to me and rather bluntly asked “What the hell does that mean to me?” I was a little dumbfounded.  Well these are tasks in the project plan that we accomplished.  I even started to bring up the project plan in my laptop to show him. He was quick to explain to me that he wasn’t interested in reading a Microsoft Project plan.  He said, “That’s your tool to manage the project.  You need to translate what the accomplishment of these tasks means to me as far as project completion.  If John Smith finishes a programming task, how much closer are we to finishing the project?  Or, does it mean he can deploy that code for our users to start using it?” It opened my eyes to the purpose of the status meeting.  I wasn’t just regurgitating facts and tactical accomplishments.  I needed to tell him how our accomplishments translate to value to him. How is it different than reporting status within any other company? Many of the differences are subtle.  If you work for the company that you’re reporting status to – instead of reporting as a consulting outsider – you want to consider those aspects of the status reporting. Consultants are supposed to be in the trusted advisor status.  If they aren’t, that’s what they should be striving towards. So the consultant is expected to be speaking and reporting status to the client executive as a peer.  And part of that is raising their view by a level or two to say “This is what was accomplished this past week, and this is what it means to you.” Also, as a consultant, you may be more likely to report to a steering committee level, which is usually comprised of higher level stakeholders.  This audience has no interest in the weeds of the project. What it really comes down to is knowing your audience and what they need to know in order to make decisions. So the difference is from a consultant reporting status and a project manager within their own company is often the audience that they usually report to. What are the pitfalls of reporting status to the client? You’re an outsider at the client looking in.  This gives you a third-party view of the project and the client.  But it also can put you in the middle of their politics and blame. For instance, if you are reporting status and there have been significant delays by one group of people at the client, you need to come up with a way to communicate that without throwing that group under the bus. You want to make sure that group is aware of the status you’re reporting and that you are diplomatic about it.  You don’t want to sugarcoat the issue, but you can’t just say “This group screwed everything up”. You also want to give that group a heads up to say, I have to report this delay and I’ll be listing this as one of the root causes.  In some cases, this will give someone in a political organization just enough ammunition to deflect the blame – and they may direct it back at you as the consultant. Part of your preparation is being aware of that and being ready for it if and when it comes. But as a consultant, hopefully one of the reasons they chose an outside firm is for some objectivity.  If something is wrong, you need to diplomatically call it out.  Consultants need to be transparent and honest with the client on  the status. Peter Lencioni calls it speaking the kind truth.  That’s actually a big consulting skill of being able to tell it like it is without being accusative or making unnecessary waves.  And I stress unnecessary.  Sometimes you have to make waves to point things out, you just don’t want to do it unless it’s warranted. One final point about this is that executives don’t like to be surprised.  Status meetings are not the right place to spring things on executives. I like to use the Red-Yellow-Green approach for, not only the status of the project but of some other major components. I usually give a red-yellow-green status on budget, staffing and dependencies.  That way if the project is yellow or red, it helps to show where that is coming from. And getting away from the surprises, it’s important to call out a yellow when it’s necessary.  Too many people avoid the yellow hoping it gets better.  Then after, say, two weeks of green, it’s suddenly red, which is a surprise to the executive. Do you prefer a specific format when you report to the client? I have a specific format that I use, but it’s more about the various pieces of information that I report.  If a client has a format that they prefer, I don’t have a problem with it. I just want to make sure it reports the status accurately so that it’s understandable to all of the stakeholders receiving the status. If they have a preferred status and it’s missing a key piece of information – for instance there’s no section to report the current risks of the project, I’ll ask if we can either add the section to the report, or at least figure out how we can communicate that information within their preferred parameters. I’ve found that both clients and consultants get hung up a little too much on formats and templates.  What they need to do is step back and realize that the status report and the status meeting are tools to communicate the status of a project up to the client’s executive stakeholders. And as long as you’re performing that communication and getting the right information across, you’re doing what you need to be doing.  The tool is just a container for the information – the information is the key component. What are the key inputs that you make sure to include? I like to start with a red yellow green indicator.  (some people call them RAG indicators for red, amber and green) That’s an easy visual that the executive can look at and immediately know the general status before reading anything. You can do that for the whole project or my preference is to break it down.  I have red-yellow-green indicators for the schedule, resources and dependencies.  That way the executive can see immediately where the problem is if you have a yellow or red. The next section I have is an executive summary.  Again, I break it down by schedule, resources and dependencies so that if there’s a yellow or red, there’s an immediate explanation for the cause of that. Now one thing about the yellow and red.  Yellow should be used when there are big risks that need to be discussed that could cause project delays or additional costs to the project. I’m a little quicker to go to yellow than most, but I always want to avoid hiding any potential issues and I never want to surprise the executive.  Some people try to avoid yellow because it can just bring undue attention to a project that’s not late. You want to make sure you’re not always saying that the sky is falling, but the yellow is a warning sign and you need to make sure you’re warning them appropriately. For the red status, if anything has caused the project to fall behind schedule or if certain resources are pulled way or haven’t been assigned yet, I’m not afraid to set it to red and tell them we’re in trouble.  You should always have a plan for how you’ll pull it out of red, but you never want to hide true issues to the project. That’s the most important section.  After that, you provide information that supports that section.  I list the accomplishments over the last week – as I mentioned earlier, not just tasks completed, but true accomplishments that show we’re making progress.  I also list our major goals for the upcoming week. Then I list all of the project risks and issue that the executive needs to be aware of.  I don’t provide every risk and issue in the log, just the ones that should be on their radar. Then I list any change requests that have been approved or suggested. You should be able to get all of this information in two pages.  If it’s a huge project with a lot of risks and issues and changes, you may go over that, but in most cases I try to keep it to two pages. What is the ultimate goal of a status report to the client? Visibility and transparency.  Many times, this is the executive’s only access to the status of the project.  You need to make sure they know exactly where the project stands and what they need to do. And that may be difficult because sometimes you have to tell them that you screwed up.  Some project managers try to hide things and just report that everything is fine.  Then when it gets so out of hand, you report red without any reportings of yellow. With that in mind you need to make sure the executive and any of the interested stakeholders attend the status meeting.  I’ve been on projects where the executive has so many meetings throughout each day, that they bow out of the status meetings. You need to at least make sure they read the status report and they should attend the meeting.  That’s sometimes easier said than done though. Any final thoughts on reporting status to the client? One thing you want to do is avoid surprises.  Yellow should be a warning before you report a red status.  There are situations where things happen that cause a project to go from green to red in one week. When that does happen, they should not find out in the meeting or when the status is emailed to them right before the meeting. It’s important to get the executives involved so that they’re informed prior to the meeting that they’re facing a red status for the project. So the more communication you can do the better.  You don’t get anywhere hiding information from the executive, so make sure you’re clear and informative and don’t give them any undue surprises. Next week’s topic: Reporting Bad News to the Client Recommended Books: The Lost Art of Project Status Reporting, by Thomas Ghantt http://www.amazon.com/Lost-Project-Status-Reporting-ebook/dp/B00ATGA1X6/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1359669258&sr=1-1&keywords=status+reporting


12 Nov 2013

Rank #2

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The Importance of Being Organized

Consultants often work with multiple clients at the same time.  Even when they work with a single client, they deal with a myriad of documents information and schedule issues.  In this week’s podcast we will discuss why it is imperative for one’s consulting career to be organized and to stay that way. Is it more important for a consultant in particular to be organized? As you mentioned, a consultant often times deals with multiple clients.  When that’s the case, the consultant needs to be able to keep these clients and their information separate. As an example, I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I had a situation once where I was in charge of five or six different clients. It was a very hectic day.  I need to gather some data in some spreadsheets for each client. It was the end of the day and I sent out each spreadsheet in separate emails to each client.  In my rush, I attached the spreadsheet of one client in the email of another. I was very fortunate that the client who got the wrong file graciously responded saying she didn’t think it was her data, but she could have escalated that to my management and notified the other client. If I had been in healthcare consulting I could have violated HIPAA laws.  Either way, that could have been what we used to call a CLM, or a career limiting move. Another reason that a consultant needs to be organized is the client’s expectation that they always be on top of things.  When a consultant is organized, they know where things are and can quickly refer to them.  Whether that’s paper files they have in their desk or electronic files on their laptop. And when you’re organized like that, you also are more organized in your head.  You can think more clearly and organize your thoughts as you communicate with your client. One final reason that organization is important to a consultant is that we tend to be nomads.  Even if we have a single client at a time, when we are at a client site, even when they give us an office or a cubicle, it’s a temporary site.  You never just move in.  So it’s important to be organized because of that mobility. My son is in high school and he has one teacher that doesn’t have a classroom.  They meet in another teacher’s classroom.  She teaches at two different high schools in the district and uses the classrooms of different teachers for her classes.  I was talking to him about that class and he said the teacher seems really disorganized.  I wasn’t too surprised about that once I heard she doesn’t have a classroom.  She’s mobile and always on the run. She needs to be more organized than the typical teacher because of that. And the same goes for mobile consultants.  They don’t have the luxury of the office with bookshelves and file cabinets.  They need to be much more nimble. What consequences have you seen of a consultant being disorganized? I once knew a woman whose desk was always literally covered with papers, strewn about to the point where you could not see the top of her desk.  When her manager commented about it, she defended herself that she knew where everything was. Over time, he realized that that wasn’t the case.  She consistently asked him to resend emails that he had sent before and if he stopped by to ask for something, she would dig through the piles, wasting her time as well as her boss’s time looking for it.  And it was a 50-50 chance she would find it. And it goes beyond just piles of paper.  I had a guy that worked for me once that kept all of his electronic documents in his ‘My Documents’ folder.  This is really the electronic version of the piles of paper on the desk. I would ask him for a document from a certain client and he would peruse through his one and only directory looking for it.  He’d open one and say ‘No, that’s not it’ and keep looking. Both of these people had a history of slow performance.  I heard complaints from clients that they were slow to respond.  They simply couldn’t serve their clients efficiently because it took so much additional time for them to do anything. One of the biggest consequences I see is that disorganized people are late on a consistent basis.  Now there are many reasons that people are late.  Some people are just inconsiderate of other peoples time and some people, I’ve learned just don’t have a concept of timeliness. Three o’clock to me means three o’clock.  But it’s meaningless to someone who just doesn’t have the concept down. But I’ve found that it’s almost impossible for disorganized people to be on time on a consistent basis. I’ve watched them.  They wait until the last minute to go to a meeting or wherever they need to go. Then they start gathering the things they need for the meeting, which takes longer because they haven’t thought about what they need and they don’t know where the hell it is once they think about it. Then they realize they need some input from someone else for the meeting, so they stop by their office and ask the question.  And all of this piles up causing them to be anywhere from five to fifteen minutes late for a meeting. What are some tactics a consultant should follow to be more organized? As an organized person, I break it down into some separate areas.  First, with paper documents, I try not to have too many of those.  Unless you need the document for a signature or to carry it around, I recommend getting rid of it.  If you need to keep the information on it for future reference, I recommend keeping a soft copy. If you have it in soft copy form that’s great, if you don’t, I recommend scanning it and storing it rather than storing the paper document. I used to file away bank statements and investment statements and even paid bills.  I came to a realization that if I ever needed to refer back to them, they’re available online. So I shred everything and scan anything I need to keep for records. If you feel you must keep the paper for future reference, have a filing strategy that makes sense.  Come up with a categorization that makes sense to you and use it. For electronic documents I recommend separate directories for each client and then subdirectories that make sense to you for quick access.  I used the same categories that I use for paper documents so that it’s consistent. I also use a two to three character prefix for files by client.  Even though they’re in the client’s subdirectory, it makes it that much clearer when I’m working with that document where it should be refilled and more explicit who that document goes to. One reason people like to have the paper documents and not keep them electronically is the fear of a disk crash or somehow losing the electronic copies.  I always recommend backing up to the cloud, or better yet, storing it on the cloud and taking it completely off your hard drive.  Regardless of how you do it, having a secure copy on the cloud is critical. One other area that requires good organization is with emails.  In my Outlook account, I create folders for each client and subfolders with the same categories as my electronic and paper files.  I rarely delete an email.  Once I’ve read it and performed whatever action I need to do, I file it away. Having a good filing system for paper, electronic records and emails allows me to quickly access whatever I need. Going back to my example where I sent one client’s spreadsheet to the wrong client, I’ve always considered myself to be organized, but I was in a rush.  And when you rush unnecessarily, you tend to make mistakes. Being organized allows you to be so much more efficient and to get things done faster.  But you have to slow down enough to stop to think about what you’re doing. I can be impatient and in a hurry.  I’ve got this to do list and I want to get through it all by the end of the day.  But there’s no point in getting anything done if I rush and do a poor job of every task. Since that time, I write a list of each email and client name and before I send it, I verify with the list and then check it off to show me exactly which client or which item in the list I’m on. The final major area of getting organized is with time management – I try to follow the 3 P’s of time management: planning, prioritization, and being proactive. Planning is the first thing I do.  I usually type up my to do list at the end of the day for the following day’s tasks.  It makes me think of what I need to do and plan out the day as much as possible.  I always know that things can change at a moment’s notice and I need to be flexible. Then, once I have everything listed I prioritize things as A and B items.  A items need to be done before the end of the day, B items could be put off if the day gets out of hand.  Then I number the A items in the order then should be done. As I said, things happen and you have to be flexible, so you always have to be ready to reprioritize as things happen, but at least you have a plan to go by that’s always open for changes. Finally, being proactive is the third step.  I find it helpful to always be looking ahead.  What do I need to do in the future that I have to plan for.  For instance, if I have something due by Friday and someone will need to review that deliverable.  I need to schedule a meeting with them for Friday.  If I wait until Friday, it will be too late to get on their calendar.  So being proactive and always thinking ahead is another critical step in managing your time and being well organized. What do you think are the biggest factors that keep people from being organized I think one big issue with some people is the aversion of throwing things away.  People tend to keep things just in case they’ll need them down the road.  Those things pile up on their desk or collect dust on shelves and tend to get in the way when they’re looking for the things they do need. Now I’ve been guilty of going through a purge process where I throw things away and it never fails that I need it a week later.  But for things that you rarely use that you may need, they need to be stored where they’re not in the way of your everyday things. For papers, store them away to get them out of the way.  Or better yet, digitize them and store them in separate sub-directories. Another factor is the effort and discipline involved up front, being proactive enough to stay organized.  I’ve seen people set New Year’s resolutions or decide one day that they’re going to get organized once and for all. They create all kinds of color coded filing systems and clear off their desk and get organized.  The only problem is that they don’t have the discipline to keep it up.  A new document comes across their desk and they go back to their old habits of printing it and laying it on the pile on their desk. Before they know it they’re back to the mess they started with. Finally, I think the cool factor gets in the way with some people.  There can be a certain amount of ostracizing from some people who accuse you of being the geeky accountant type for being so organized.  We all know that in the odd couple, Oscar was way cooler than Felix. I’ve been well aware of how not cool I am since about 3rd grade, so that hasn’t been a problem for me.  But some people shy away from being too organized for that very reason. We’ve talked about the consequences of being disorganized, what do you see as the biggest benefits of being organized? One of the biggest benefits is having more time.  It’s something of an irony that some people don’t want to take the time to be organized.  It takes that discipline of filing the document or the email in the proper folder so you can find it easier at a later date. It’s like I’ve told my kids about cleaning their room.  If they’d just hang the clothes up or put them away, they’d be able to find them easier.  Instead they waste time looking through piles of clothes. It’s the same with organizing your work.  It’s like an investment in time.  If you spend the time up front putting it where it belongs, you spend less time in the long run. I also think that when your stuff is well organized and you manage your time efficiently, your brain is less cluttered.  You think more clearly as you work and as you talk with your client. Some of it is confidence that you know you’re not forgetting anything.  But it’s also knowing that you have everything together. Any final thoughts? I want to clarify that simplification doesn’t necessarily mean less stuff.  It’s a matter of having a place for everything and everything in its place. I had a friend from high school who’s dad had a basement full of junk. But if you asked him for an issue of Time Magazine from July of 1962, he could go right up to it. So we talk of reducing clutter and eliminating unnecessary things.  We should be careful to clarify that you’ll likely be more disorganized if you throw everything away. You do need to keep some things. Part of organizing is simplifying and part of simplifying is organizing. Next week’s topic: Reporting Status to the Client Recommended Books Getting Organized by Stephanie Winston:  Getting Things Done: The Art of  Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen: Next week’s topic: Reporting Status to the client


29 Oct 2013

Rank #3

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Looking Back – Looking Forward – Episode 50

Looking Back In this episode Lew and I look back over the previous 49 episodes of this podcast sharing some thoughts on the genesis of the program based on my narration of Lew’s Book, Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting and some of the recurring themes that have come up in our consulting conversations. One of the most common themes has been Lew’s point that ‘Consulting isn’t for everyone’. Even though this theme is covered from time to time, these two episodes tend to capture the essence of the issues: Fears of Consulting What I love About Consulting While the above episodes tend to be focused mostly on experienced consultants, the following episodes were the most popular with recent  College graduates or those new to consulting: Managing your Consulting Career 5 Good Reasons Why Consulting is a Great Career The Consulting Case Interview Consulting Defined    – Our most downloaded episode! At the other end of the statistics spectrum, we noted these couple of episodes as being the least popular. The content is relevant to the Consulting profession in all cases but for some reason listeners didn’t consume as many episodes. This leads us to wonder was this an issue with the title of the episode, the timing / time of year or some other factor. Your comments and suggestions are always welcome. Here are our least downloaded episodes: The Importance of a Thick Skin for Consultants Balancing Firms Standards with the Clients Protecting Client Confidentiality We talked about some of our favorite episodes which were: Social Media in Consulting – This is a subject that Lew and I are both very interested in and will likely re-visit in future episodes. It plays into the episodes mentioned below and the Mentoring  subject covered later in this article. Developing a Professional Network – Another subject of passion and timeless in respect of the core methods that professionals need to apply to building relationships. This episode talks about the importance of relationship building and long term commitment to networking. Sales as a Consultant – We are all sales people. Regardless of your position in the firm, you are always a representative of your firms capabilities, professionalism, service etc. In essence whenever you are in front of the client you are ‘selling’ your firm. This is another subject that I’m sure Lew and I will cover again in future episodes. Our Favorite Books – Part 1 – Part 2 – Lew and I swapped thoughts early in 2013 on some of our favorite books that apply to Consulting and business in general. It was difficult to limit this to a concise list and it could have gone on for much longer. We split this into two episodes with some direction to a great collection of ‘must reads’. Again,  we welcome the involvement of others in this podcast, if you have some expertise to offer on any of these subjects or for that matter anything related to Consulting or Professional services, please Contact Us or leave a Voice Message using the tab on the right hand side of our website at CPSRadio.com Looking Forward Lew shared some thoughts on some of the upcoming subjects we will discuss in future episodes; Managing your career, Better Communications, Project Management and a collection of other, personal and professional growth subjects. I’ve been an advocate of spoken-word audio for many years as a means of motivating yourself or getting out of a slump by listening to basic messages about business and professionalism. The experience that Lew and I bring to these podcasts is based on more cumulative years than we are prepared to admit, and in many cases its obvious, your have heard it before but our intent is to help remind you of some of these basic truths that help make you a better and more productive and effective professional. As in Lews’ Book,  most of the messages we discuss in the podcasts apply to any professional business environment, not just consulting, so please feel free to share this program with your network. One subject we are working on at the moment is; Dealing with resistance to change – The ‘agent of change’ isn’t always the most popular, Consultants need to juggle the technical and human aspects of managing change in the workplace and the negatives that sometimes go with that role. Networking – Although we have been here before, Consultants are unique in many respects when it comes to business networking and Lew is covering some interesting aspects along that front. Importance of being organized – and portraying that image. It’s obviously important to be organized as a Consultant, but it’s equally important to portray and convey that organizational ability to your team and of course the client. Specialize vs generalize – by industry(retail, healthcare, IT etc.) and/or skill set verticals (Project Management, Finance.Change Management etc.) Mentoring Now to the reason why Lew and I have not been podcasting as regularly as we should have been. We have been working on a book called – The Reluctant Mentor. This book came about from a brief discussion about ‘Reverse Mentoring’ that we had awhile ago and the debate over who actually mentors whom in the modern workplace. Generation Y (GenY), those people born between the early 1980’s and the early 2000’s are hitting the workforce at a time when the Baby Boomers are in upper management and facing retirement. This disruption is unlike anything we have seen before and it’s creating both conflict and opportunity for all concerned. The Reluctant Mentor is a business novel, about a Baby Boomer who works with a recent College graduate. They both express frustration at the way the other does business with the ‘old school’ conservative business owner battling with the smart-phone addicted upstart. They eventually find ways to work together and be greater than the sum of the parts. It brings to the reader experiences that both Lew and I have lived through in the workplace and we are confident that it will be an eye-opener for anyone in a professional setting to help you deal with the Baby Boomer or GenY in your work life. The Reluctant Mentor will be available for sale soon – For pre-release notification and a chance to be featured on one of our web-sites and podcast episodes, register now at The ReluctantMentor.com


9 Oct 2013

Rank #4

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Developing a Professional Network

As a consultant moves further up the ladder in his or her consulting career, the ability to sell the firm’s services becomes more important.  It’s difficult to develop trusting relationships with potential clients without having spent time getting to know them.  In this week’s podcast we will discuss the importance of developing a professional network of contacts and how to go about it. Why is it important for a consultant to develop a professional network? As you mentioned, at some point as you move up in your consulting career, you begin to have some responsibility for selling those services. As I’ve explained in some podcasts in the past, when you start out in your consulting career, you’re primarily responsible for your billable hours.  You want to be so good that the managers in the office fight over you so they can get you assigned to your projects. As you begin moving up the ladder and getting more responsibility, you start to get involved in more sales efforts.  At first, you may just help out on a couple of sales proposals.  It’s a way to ease you in and learn the firm’s selling approach as kind of an apprentice. At some point you begin assisting in the presentation to the prospective client. And then, eventually, they will want you to start providing leads for new clients from your network. And if you get to that point in your career and you don’t have much of a network – no contacts for you to reconnect with that are potential clients, it’s hard to start catching up. You want to have people in your network who have known you for a while so that you have developed some form of trust with them. It’s hard to go to someone you just met at a networking event and say ‘Hey, why don’t you let my firm come in and do some business for you.’  It’s like asking a girl out on a date without spending any time getting to know each other. So it’s important to start early in your career meeting people and developing relationships so that when you get to that point in your career, you already have a network of people who know and trust you. I think one of the most important things to do is to have a LinkedIn profile that’s up to date.  If someone looks you up and all you have is your name and a few lines, they may not even bother trying to connect with you assuming you’re not an active user. I would also recommend connecting with college peers who are, or soon will be in the business world.  Then, you should connect with peers in your own office and eventually with client individuals. I also recommend connecting with business people that you might know through your parents. Those are good contacts to have because, since they’re older, they’re more likely to have a larger network that you might have access to. What do you tell people who are reluctant to connect with people once they’ve connected with their peers at work because they’re afraid that their managers will think they’re job hunting? I was just reading an article recently that recommended against connecting on LinkedIn with clients because their management may suspect that they’re networking in preparation to find a new job. Connecting on LinkedIn isn’t just about job search networking. I think people get that idea because it’s the first purpose that they used the tool for, but networking is about meeting people and keeping in touch. Let’s say it’s early in your career and you work on a client project.  You work with some client employees and get to know them well.  Before the project is over, you connect with them on LinkedIn. A few years go by and you’re moving up within the ranks of your consulting firm.  Meanwhile these contacts have either moved up in their own organization or gone on to other jobs with other companies.  They’re starting to move into management positions themselves. If you’ve kept in touch with them, had an occasional lunch or met for coffee once in a while, you have a fairly strong professional connection with them. So at one of these lunches, your connection mentions what a problem they’re having with one of their business processes or a software application. It just so happens that your firm has a practice that could address that.  You arrange a meeting with your boss and her boss and if everything goes well, you’ve generated a lead that will result in some business. It’s true that LinkedIn is a great tool for job search but people use it for business development and many other things.  Some people use it to find articles that help them keep up on the latest news and best practices in their industry. How does a consultant go about developing that network? Well I think I’ve covered the LinkedIn thing.  But one thing I would caution is adding links willy-nilly.  You want to have quality links that you know pretty well. I’ve seen people with thousands of links and think that there’s no way they know all of those people well enough to call on them to see if they’re interested in consulting services. You want to have some ‘memorability’ in each direction.  If anyone in your network contacts you – or vice versa – whoever is contacted should be able to remember who the other person is. Otherwise, there’s no relationship and it’s just a wasted contact because you’re never really going to get a favor from that person. So once you’ve got a contact with someone you’re going to remember knowing, it’s important to stay in touch with them. You can do that by contacting each person every once in a while.  That’s as easy as dropping an email once a year saying I was thinking of you and wanted to drop a line to say hi. A better option is if you’re reading an article and you think someone in your network would be interested in it, email it to them. I make a practice a couple times per week of going through my main page on LinkedIn and see what people are up to.  You may see who they’ve connected to or that they changed jobs. Then you can comment on it to congratulate them on a new position or some other appropriate comment. One other thing that I recommend once you have some experience is to write a work-related blog.  Then when you post it, you can go on linked in and promote it to your network.  That accomplishes two things. Hopefully, you’re providing information that may be valuable to them.  That’s the whole purpose of publishing any content. Also, it maintains your awareness in their mind.  You may not have contacted them in several months, but they’ve seen your updates on LinkedIn and they still feel a closeness. So it’s not about quantity as much as quality. It’s much more about quality and having contacts that will know and remember you.  But with that being said, quantity can be good, especially when you start looking at that valuable second level. I mentioned earlier that you should connect with friends of your parents if you know each other.  You may never do business with them, but let’s say there’s a business you’re targeting that you’d like to do business with. You search out LinkedIn for employees that work there and you find that one of your mom’s friends at work is a first level connection with them. You may be able to call that friend and ask if they can introduce you.  Now your mom’s friend may be one of those with a thousand connections and may say, I don’t even remember that person. But hopefully she knows that person well and is willing to bring you two together. So you want to focus on quality connections, but you want to have as many quality connections as possible.  The more first level connections you have, it exponentially increases your second level connections. And if those first level connections are quality connections, they’ll be more likely to introduce you to their connections when you request it. What are some of the mistakes you’ve made or seen others make that others can learn from? Well we talked about having connections you don’t know.  I think we’ve beat that horse. Another thing that I’ve seen in the past is connecting with people but only getting in touch with them when you need something. I’ve known a few people who I haven’t heard from in a few years and suddenly, out of the blue they call and want to meet for coffee or something. Once we get together I find out that they’ve lost their job and need me to help them network with people to help get them interviews. Either that or they’re trying to sell something and want me to buy. It’s really better to keep in touch and help other people first.  It’s not a matter of keeping score and saying this person owes me a favor. It’s just a matter of maintaining relationships and not taking advantage of people – being their friend only when you need something. Another big mistake is giving the hard sell when you first meet someone.  Kind of trying to go up to them and sell them consulting services like you would sell fake Rolex’s on the street. It’s the singles bar equivalent of networking I’ve compared this more than once to dating and the singles bar, but there’s a very similar parallel.  It’s a matter of developing a relationship.  Meet people and get to know them.  If a conversation develops and there’s mutual interest then you continue talking If the other person is looking at their watch and looking around the room at everything but you, that’s a hint to shut up and move on. Many people hate networking events because they seem so awkward.  How does someone get around that and make it more natural and less awkward? Well the funny thing about networking is that nobody actually talks about the fact that they’re networking. You don’t go up to people and say ‘Hi I’m Jeff, would you like to network?’ that actually sounds kind of creepy. Going back to the singles bar, it’s the equivalent of going up to a girl and saying Hi, I’m Lew.  Do you want to go home with me?  You’re just never going to get too far with that approach. Some people treat these networking events like a speed dating event where people try to meet as many people as possible and go home with as many business cards as they can collect. It’s much better to have a goal of meeting just a couple of people.  If I go to something like that and only meet two people that I can have a meaningful conversation with and get their contact information, I’m happy. I’ll send them an email saying that it was a pleasure meeting them and tell them what interested me most about the conversation.  I may even send them an article on some topic that they talked about if I think it will help them. It goes back to making quality contacts.  If I try too hard to sell or I’m only there to collect names, my likelihood of success diminishes. But everyone knows that they’re there to network.  And most people are not good at ice breaking and meeting people.  So when you see someone alone you just walk up and introduce yourself and start asking them questions about themselves. We’ve talked about the Dale Carnegie approach before.  Taking an interest in the other person is the best way to meet people and get to know them.  Going up to them and telling them about yourself or what you have to sell will bore them immediately. Any final thoughts on networking? I think a lot of people focus on numbers when they network.  They try to get as many followers as possible like it’s a contest.  If you get nothing else out of this podcast, I hope people walk away with the knowledge that, while quantity can be helpful, the quality of your connections is a much higher priority for your consulting career. Also, like anything, networking takes practice.  Any time you’re at a dinner or networking event, you’re forced to meet new people and that’s hard. The more you do it, the better you’ll get at it.  It’s something that you can really get momentum at. Recommended Books:


8 Sep 2013

Rank #5

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Public Speaking

In the course of a consulting career, sooner or later you will end up giving a speech or presentation to a group of people – and probably many more after that.  People who work in consulting and professional services increase their chances of success if they have sharpened their skills in public speaking.  In this week’s podcast, we will discuss why public speaking is such an important skill and what a consultant can do to hone that skill. Why is it important for a consultant to have good public speaking skills? Consultants are placed in leadership roles much sooner in their careers. Because of that, consultants are more apt to facilitate a meeting or be asked to facilitate a requirements gathering session. Most firms hold internal meetings on a regular basis and a young consultant may be asked to present an update on the project they’re working on to the whole firm. I’ve seen younger consultants given team lead responsibilities very early in their consulting career where they need to meet with a team and lead those meetings. Sometimes those opportunities are impromptu where someone turns to them on the fly and asks them to update the group on something. Other times, it’s a planned presentation, maybe with PowerPoint slides. Early in my career, I was asked to attend a sales meetings with customers where we presented a sales proposal.  They liked to have the actual consultants present to their prospective clients rather than just sales people. Consultants are also more inclined to be involved in professional organizations and there are always more opportunities for speaking at those types of meetings and gatherings. There are many other situations, but in any case, a consultant needs to be prepared and have the confidence to stand up and speak in front of a group of people. When should a consultant begin honing skills in public speaking? The earlier in their consulting career the better.  If you can begin doing that in college that’s great.  Especially as you get up to your junior and senior years, you begin taking classes where you may give group presentations. I’d recommend seizing those opportunities.  Unless it becomes a power struggle, try to take a leadership role on a team project to lead the presentation. And when you do give presentations, whether as an individual or with a group, don’t belittle it.  You may only be giving a presentation to your peers in your class, but treat it as a professional presentation. I remember my senior year in college we had to give a presentation to the class at the end of the semester.  The instructor had the department head come in to watch each team’s presentation. She had us dress the part with ties and professional attire (at least that was the standard for those days).  We had to prepare PowerPoint slides and make it seem like a professional presentation. It made it a bit more stressful, but it was more real world.  And I think it prepared us better for when we got into a professional setting. Many academic programs offer speech classes. I had a class called Business Communications, which was just a speech class as part of the business program. I’d recommend taking a class like this just to get the experience.  Again, play the part of a professional rather than a college student.  Much of public speaking is role playing and playing the role of a professional will get you used to that role early on. Another thing you can do either in college or if you’re just starting out in a professional services career is to join a professional organization.  A lot of professional organizations have student chapters on university campuses. It’s a chance to get involved and work with other people.  If you take a leadership role in an organization like that, you’ll get some good experience leading groups and giving presentations. Involvement in an organization like that gives a student experience not only presenting, but just interacting in a more professional environment. If you’re already out of college and in the work world, you can always volunteer at work to run meetings or to give presentations.  Your management probably won’t allow you to present every time you offer to, but they’ll usually find an opportunity for you if you show the willingness and desire. Even if it’s something as simple as leading a weekly team status meeting, that’s still valuable experience. Finally, I would recommend joining Toastmasters.  It’s a great organization that provides a safe environment to give speeches.  They provide mentoring and feedback on your speeches for positive feedback and constructive criticism. It’s an international organization with tens of thousands of chapters around the world.  You can find them at www.Toastmasters.org for a chapter near you. What should someone do about getting nervous when speaking in front of a crowd? That’s a pretty common situation.  There have been surveys where a majority of people say that public speaking is the number one fear – higher on the list than fear of death oddly enough. I remember when I was in college I was talking to a friend who was already in the work force.  He was preparing for a presentation he was supposed to give for something like 20 people. I told him I could never present to a group of people like that.  It just scared me to think of it.  It wasn’t a big deal for him and he seemed kind of surprised at my reaction. I look back on that now that I do it on a fairly regular basis and wonder what I was so afraid of. If you want to be a consultant and you get nervous in front of crowds, I would recommend getting as much practice as you can.  The more you talk in front of people the more comfortable you’re going to get with it. I would also recommend starting with smaller groups.  Running meetings with four or five people is much less stressful.  Once you develop a comfort level with a group that size, start building it up. I know that I used to get nervous and my heart would beat so fast I would get short of breath.  So here I’m trying to talk and I can’t breathe, so I’m taking lots of in and out breaths. I still get a little nervous like that in front of larger crowds.  Some tactics I’ve learned are to take some deep breaths before I speak. And then I try to speak just a little louder at the beginning. Speaking louder serves two purposes.  First, you get the audience’s attention right away.  This can give you some confidence that you have the audience in your control.  Secondly, it burns off some energy and anxiety and helps you calm down. I’ve also found that if I’m nervous in front of a group of people, that I feel better if I have a visual aid.  If you’ve got a PowerPoint presentation to show or even a simple flipchart, it takes the audience’s eyes away from you and veers their attention to the visual aid. It tends to calm me down a little. If possible, I would suggest checking out the room ahead of time and try to get a familiarization with it.  You can picture yourself speaking in that room ahead of time. I would also recommend watching good speaker and taking note of the way they present.  I like to watch politicians.  Some are better than others, but most politicians are pretty polished speakers. I watch how they refer to notes – or how they don’t in many cases.  I also watch their hands.  I used to get confused about what to do with my hands while speaking.  You can’t fold your arms and you can’t stand there wringing your hands. So watching professional or just very good speakers is a great way to pick up tips. In addition to practicing, the times I’ve gotten the most nervous is when I’m least prepared. If I don’t know my speech very well, or I’m unfamiliar enough that I won’t be able to answer any follow-up questions, I’m going to go up there fairly nervous. But if I’ve prepared well and know my stuff well, I go up there much more confidently. One note about that, it’s great to prepare and know how your speech is going to flow.  But you also want to be flexible.  If you’re going over your audience’s head or if it’s too basic for them, you have to be able to adjust.  Otherwise you’ll lose them. I’ve never been a big fan of imagining the audience in their underwear or anything like that.  It’s just kind of distracting and I forget what I’m talking about. I prefer to find three or four friendly faces in the crowd who are paying attention.  If they’re nodding while I talk I feel like they’re paying attention and tending to agree with me.  I’ll try to make eye contact with them and it will make me feel a little calmer. It’s important to just think positively.  Go up there expecting to succeed.  This speech isn’t as important to your audience as it is to you.  If you forget a line or misspeak, just move on.  The audience is probably not going to revolt on you if you make a mistake. What does a consultant do when they face an antagonistic group? That’s a much harder situation.  Hopefully, you’ve had the chance to get some experience in front of some friendly crowds before that happens. But in consulting, you may face clients that aren’t exactly angry mobs, but you may have a team that is a hard sell.  I’ve been in sales proposal meetings where we’re up against a couple of other top consulting firms and the project is worth several hundred thousand dollars. The client executives will ask some tough questions.  There are two things I recommend for a situation like this. First, don’t let them see you sweat.  Maintain your confidence.  There are ways to say ‘I don’t know’ in a confident way.  You can say something like, “I don’t have that information with me, but I can get it immediately after this meeting”. Once they see you break, you’re going to be putty in their hands. The other thing is preparation.  Whenever I watch a political debate on television, I think about all the preparation they go through.  They actually have another person play the role of their counterpart and ask tough questions. You see this in legal crime dramas on TV also when someone is going to be on the witness stand.  They go through a role playing process where someone plays the lawyer for the other team asking difficult questions to try to get them to break. If you’re going into any type of situation where you’ll be presenting to any type of hostile crowd, I would recommend you have a role playing session where you have someone or multiple people practice throwing these bombs at you so that you can get a little practice facing them.  If they can think of the toughest and potentially embarrassing questions and you can prepare for them, you’ll go in with much more confidence when it happens. Final thoughts on public speaking for consultants? When I first joined Toastmasters, there was an individual who had been in the organization for quite a while and he was an excellent speaker. I noticed how calm and collected he was in front of a group of people and what a great speaker he was.  He was a foreign-born individual with an accent.  I could tell English was not his primary language, but he spoke very clearly. So I went up to him and complemented him on his speaking abilities.  He told me that when he started out, he would just freeze.  He’d stand up in front of the group for a full minute, unable to say anything. He had come all that way just by practice and being determined to overcome that fear. Regardless of what you end up doing for a living, if you go into any type of work in the business world, you’re bound to end up doing some public speaking. If you go into consulting, you probably will do it more often.  I hope something like that doesn’t scare people who dislike public speaking away. It’s really not as bad as it may seem.  It does take some practice and preparation.  And if you make just a little effort to improve by seeking some experience or training, you’ll find that it gets easier and you’ll begin improving immediately. It’s also a matter of confidence.  I’ve always found that confidence breeds more confidence.  So if you go into a situation with your head up with a confident attitude, you’ll find that your confidence will build. And from that, you begin developing a confidence with larger crowds and more important presentations. You may even get to a point where people seek you out to speak because of your experience and professional speaking capabilities. For those people who suffer from public speaking anxiety, I’ve included a link in the show notes from the Toastmasters website titled 10 Tips for Public Speaking, which gives some great advice on how to calm down for a speech.  I’ve also included some links in the show notes to some good books on public speaking. Next week’s topic: Developing a Professional Network Ten Tips for Public Speaking (Toastmasters): http://www.toastmasters.org/tips.asp Recommended Books: Confessions of a Public Speaker No Sweat Public Speaking! In The SpotLight, Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking and Performing


26 Aug 2013

Rank #6

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Dining with the Client

We have discussed the importance of developing relationships with the client to become a client’s trusted advisor.  One of the most awkward of situations is when you finally have to sit down and enjoy a meal with the client.  In this week’s podcast, we’ll discuss some of the do’s and don’ts involved with dining with the client to help you advance in your consulting career. What should a consultant consider when dining with a client? Well let’s talk about a situation where you’ve got a new-ish client and you’re going out for dinner after work.  One of the key questions is who will pay? Now it’s pretty well assumed that the vendor pays, so the consultant should plan on paying for the meal. But I was in a situation where the client asked us out for dinner.  We graciously accepted and there were four or five from each team. We had a nice dinner and nice conversation.  Then when the check came, the client did nothing to make an effort to pick up the bill. Finally, my boss grabbed the little folder and put his credit card in it to pay.  The client didn’t even flinch. So I think the moral to that story is to always be prepared to pay. I’ve also been in situations where we might be in a late morning meeting that finishes right before lunch and we’ll ask the client to join us for lunch. When the check comes we pick it up and he’ll offer to pay for his part.  This can be a little sketchy.  If you work for a firm that will reimburse you for lunches when you take the client out, it’s okay to flat out refuse payment. Their offer is not usually a real offer.  But if you can’t expense the meal, it’s acceptable to allow them to pay their own if the rest of the diners are doing the same. You may risk creating some bad will if you invited them to lunch and there was an implied invitation that you would pay. So who pays is somewhat touchy but you generally assume it will be the client. Another issue is what to order. This can be particularly questionable if you’re going out to dinner.  Now as a consultant, I would never take a client to a restaurant where I wasn’t willing to pay for the most expensive item. If that’s what they want to order, that’s fine with me.  But I’ve been in situations where the client goes first and orders a burger when the consulting team orders steaks.  Sometimes the client is trying to appear that they’re not taking advantage of the situation and orders a less expensive item. Do you have ways to navigate that awkward situation? I usually discuss it with the people at the table.  I’m looking at that filet, what are you thinking about.  That kind of sets the standard for them and they won’t feel like they need to order something cheap. Another thing I try to do is get some idea of their preference.  I’ve worked with clients that are vegetarians or have some type of special dietary restriction.  I’m a big steak eater, but when you take the client out, it’s supposed to be about them. And I wouldn’t want to take a vegetarian to a steak joint.  It’s just not good form.  So I’ll say something like we’d like to take you out to dinner, do you have any suggestions? If they’re hesitant to make a suggestion, I’ll just come out and ask if they’re vegetarians or have any dietary preferences.  I’ll suggest maybe a steak place and a seafood place and something different like an Indian or Italian restaurant.  Again, it kind of sets the standard for them for the price range you’re thinking about. Another question is whether to drink alcohol.  This is something the client may shy away from if the consultant is paying and it’s something the consultant may shy away from to avoid offending a client.  They may not like alcohol consumption or they may be a recovering alcoholic. And even if you cross the line and everyone is okay with having a drink, it’s always a good idea to stop at one or two. There is almost always driving involved and even if you’re cabbing it or close to your hotel, you want to control your alcohol consumption when you’re with the client. I don’t think it’s ever a good idea to get totally messed up with the client.  You have so much to lose and so little to gain. How do the rules differ for things like a team outing? That’s a little different story.  I’ve been involved in projects where there is a blended team.  When a milestone is reached, the management team will often treat the team to an outing This can be as simple as taking the team bowling or out for pizza, or it can be a nice dinner at a fancy restaurant. You have some of the same issues as when it’s just a dinner with the client.  You want to make sure about payment beforehand. Sometimes the client and consultant agree to jointly take the team out and split the bill somehow. More often, it’s the consulting firm taking everyone out.  You’ll also want to arrange the alcohol situation ahead of time.  Because of liability the firm may say that they’ll provide soft drinks and the team members can purchase their own alcoholic drinks. But I’ve been to many project outings where the firm opens the bill.  They paid for all the food and kept the bar tab open for several hours. I think in that situation, again, any individual consultants need to be careful not to consume more than one or two social drinks. I’ve seen outings like this where it’s all on the consulting firm and the client’s team members are reluctant to order anything and run up the bill. It’s incumbent on the consultants to encourage them to order and make them comfortable.  Essentially let them know that they aren’t going to get in trouble for ordering more food or a drink or two. Have you ever seen a lunch or a dinner go bad? Well, I told you about the time the client invited us and didn’t pay.  That had potential to go bad. I’ve heard of situations where either the consultants or the client have too much to drink.  That’s just kind of an embarrassment, particularly if they end up reenacting The Hangover or something. I’ve heard various stories about that type of situation, and it just reinforces my belief that alcohol should be kept to a minimum when you’re out with the client. I’ve also seen conversations go downhill when people start talking about politics or religion.  These are very touchy subjects for some people and subjects I would recommend staying away from. I think it’s easy to avoid them in an office environment, but once you get outside of that and in more casual surroundings, our inhibitions are lowered and we get this false sense of security. I’ve even seen it with sports.  If two people start talking and they each root for different sports rivals, it can get a bit uncomfortable watching it escalate. Any advice you would suggest to a young consultant that hasn’t dined with clients on a regular basis? I remember when I was in my first year or two, I didn’t get invited to too many client lunches or dinners. But when I did, I was a bit nervous. I was fine sitting in a conference room or an office talking about business or technology.  But I didn’t have any small talk skills. I mean, I could chat with my friends and hold a conversation, but I was a bit awkward with the management at my firm or with the client. I was afraid I’d say something wrong or appear naïve.  So I was overly quiet and that’s awkward for both the one who is being quiet and everyone else at the table. I also followed the interview rule.  I was very careful not to order anything like spaghetti or anything messy enough that I would be prone to spill on my shirt. Now that I’ve been in the industry for a good while, I was way too careful.  I look back and realize that I probably looked more stupid by not saying anything than anything I could have said back then. A good consultant is comfortable in their own skin and can hold a conversation. Something I do now if I’m going to meet with someone for dinner – or any meal – is to do a little homework.  I’ll actually look for their LinkedIn profile and see if I can learn a little about their past that might be interesting to talk about. But more than anything, I follow the Dale Carnegie approach and just take an interest in them. I’ll ask them a few questions about themselves and show an interest in them.  Most people like to talk about themselves. It gets the conversation started and you can eventually find something that you have in common that will grow into an interesting conversation. I would recommend not talking too much about yourself.  Especially if you’re meeting with a client, maintain an interest in them.  It’s okay to add tidbits about yourself and add to the story. But if you just show some interest in someone, they’ll think you’re a good conversationalist. Also, if you’re nervous, it takes pressure off of you trying to come up with things to talk about.  You put all of the attention toward your client. Have you ever had to deal with a client that just wasn’t talkative?  You ask them a question and they only answer with one or two word answers? Yes. That can be problematic if the client and you as the consultant are awkward in social settings. That’s why a good consultant is a good conversationalist. I mentioned asking them questions about themselves.  One thing you can do is try to come up with questions that aren’t open to yes/no answers. Ask them why something happened or how they did something.  They may still figure out a way to give a limited answer but it should get them to open up a little. It’s also good to be a good story teller.  I mentioned earlier that you want to focus on the client and let them talk about themselves, but if they don’t want to open up, you can take the heat off of them and do some of the talking. You want to be careful.  Some people think of storytelling and think they can just open up and talk about themselves.  The key is to tell them something interesting.  If what little conversation you have leads you to think of a humorous story, then go ahead and tell it. Just make sure you keep the stories short and monitor their reactions.  You should be able to tell if you’re boring them silly or if they’re genuinely interested. Any final thoughts? Much like a lunch interview or the first meal with your in-laws, dining with the client can be an awkward situation. Just keep in mind that it can be just as awkward for them.  They know the consultant is paying and they may not be sure what their appropriate actions are.  It’s always good to put them at ease and try to be a gracious host. That includes letting them know in a subtle way that they’re welcome to order whatever they want. As I mentioned, you need to be careful with alcohol, even if the client is not.  If they tend to over indulge you may feel like it’s fine, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s also good to learn how to be a conversationalist.  Try to get them to open up and talk about themselves and if they won’t, it’s okay to do so as long as you don’t bore them to death. But developing good dining skills, being comfortable and making the client feel comfortable can work wonders for advaning you consulting career. Next week’s topic: Public Speaking Book suggestion: Shine While You Dine: Business Dining Etiquette for the Virtual Age by Robert A Shutt http://www.amazon.com/Shine-While-You-Dine-Etiquette/dp/1456713299/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1359830463&sr=1-5&keywords=dining+etiquette Essential Etiquette Fundamentals, Vol. 1: Dining Etiquette By Mike Lininger http://www.amazon.com/Essential-Etiquette-Fundamentals-Vol-Dining/dp/098019511X/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1359830463&sr=1-3&keywords=dining+etiquette


2 Jul 2013

Rank #7

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Balancing firm standards with the client’s

Consultants are brought in by a client for many reasons and one of the key reasons is their expertise and methodology.  Most firms have their own standards and the consultant needs to develop a balance between following the client’s standards and the firm’s standards that the client may want to adapt. What are the types of standards where you run into conflict with the client? It often depends on your role in the project.  I work in IT consulting, so we do custom software development. We have a certain set of coding standards that we follow, but when we go to a client to develop software for them, they may have a different set.  We need to reconcile that with them and determine which standards we’re going to follow on the project. We may feel that we have a better set of standards, but the client needs to deal with the lack of consistency of having one of their applications developed under a different standard. We also deal with it for documentation.  Some clients have standards for how documents are created such as templates for business requirements or technical designs.  It may be as simple as the template used, but they may also require specific sections with other details. Most consulting firms have their own standards for all of these documentation formats and the type of content that is provided. So there is often a gap with those types of standards Project management consultants my have their own standards for their methodology. I’m a project manager myself, and I tend to run into a lot of standards differences between things like status reporting and how we structure meetings at the client. How do you reconcile these types of differences in standards? It generally varies based on how strong the client’s preference is.  It can also depend on why the client brought the firm in. For instance with the coding standards issue I just mentioned.  The client may agree 100% that the consulting firm’s coding standards are better and more efficient, but they just don’t want to deal with the inconsistency after they take on the responsibility of their staff maintaining the code after the consultants leave. Consistency is really the whole reason for having coding standards.  They have maintenance programmers that support all of their applications. If they can count on a certain amount of uniformity in their coding and naming standards across all of their applications, they can more efficiently maintain them. I’ve always heard it said that a bad standard is better than no standard at all. So consultants going into a client need to find out what can you do and what can’t you do that you might be used to including in your code. Now if the difference has to do with documentation standards, it’s a little similar to the coding standards.  If the client’s executives are used to seeing business requirements or design documents in a certain way, they may be more stringent about you doing it their way I’ve seen situations where the firm and the client have different standards and we’ll sit down and reconcile them.  We’ll maybe use their template, but add sections from our document to make sure we cover all of the critical aspects. As a project manager, I have my company’s standard status report that I’m used to using.  I’ve had clients that have a standard status report that they want me to use.  But I’ve had others that have no standard and look to us to provide the standard. There are times where we treat it like the documentation and create a combined hybrid of their standard and ours to make sure we report all the pertinent information. It’s a matter of sitting down with them up front and decided on a project standard together. At my last client, I would submit our standard status report to them each week and they would cut and paste all of the information into their web-based standard reporting tool.  It seemed a little bit redundant to me, but that worked well for them. What are the situations where a client doesn’t want the firm to use their own standards? Sometimes, top consulting firms are brought in specifically for their methodology and standards.  In that case, part of what they want is for the firm to help them establish standards. In the example of the coding standards, they may have no standards at all and everyone is doing stuff all over the board. They may ask the firm to come in and establish a set of coding standards that they can start following moving forward. Some clients are start-up companies or just new enough that they haven’t even established a standard for any type of documentation or reporting. They’re really looking to the consulting firm to provide that for them so that they can use our templates and establish a tool kit for future use. When it comes to project management, a firm is often brought in specifically for their methodology.  The client often hopes to use that methodology as a template for their own standards on projects after the firm leaves. The thing we often warn clients about is that a formal methodology is not just about the documentation templates.  Most formal methodologies are much more complex and involve a lot of defined processes Some of that, the firm will share with the client and some of it is proprietary.  But our clients aren’t always just trying to copy our methodology. They usually just admit that they don’t have a mature project management methodology and are leaning on the firm to provide it for that project. They may learn a few things about the methodology and adapt a few of the best practices, but essentially they’re deferring to the consultants to provide the standards. In addition to coding and documentation approaches, what other standards should a consultant be aware of. Well they should also make sure they understand the client’s cultural standards.  One aspect of that is their work-day hours. I’ve been to client sites where they’re very flexible with their employees’ work hours.  In the Chicago area, traffic is always an issue, so they allow their staff to come in late, and leave late, or come in early to beat the traffic and leave early in the afternoon. When they do that, they generally offer the same flexibility to the client.  In those cases, we always try to establish a set of core hours when everyone will be at the office. We may set 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM so that we have a period where we know we can schedule meetings and get ahold of people. But some clients have a strict 8:00 to 5:00 schedule.  And they expect consultants to live by those rules too.  So back at your consulting firm’s office, maybe they allowed you to come in and leave later in the day, at the client, you need to work under their work day hours. This is particularly difficult for consultants when they work later into the night.  They may work until 9 or 10 o’clock at night and think they can come in later in the morning. But the client doesn’t see how late you stayed and worked, they only see that you rolled in at 9 or 10 in the morning. How strict are client about these kinds of rules. This is probably a worst case scenario.  It really depends on the client. Most clients are pretty flexible.  But I did have a client that was this inflexible once and we had to learn to live with it. This client had their weekly status meeting on Tuesdays at 8:00 AM.  It was a long, traffic-filled commute for me and there were times when I was running into the building at 7:59, but we knew they were strict time keepers and we lived under their rules. Another area outside of documentation and coding is the dress code.  I know we’ve discussed dress codes in the past, but I think it bears taking another look at. When you’re at your own firm’s offices, they may have one standard.  Some firms allow you to wear jeans and t-shirts or even shorts.  But the client may have another standard. We’ve evolved from the day where everyone wore suits wherever they went, to a full gamut of environments. One client may allow business casual, where you need to wear dress pants or khakis with collared shirts, or they may allow ‘anything goes’ with jeans, t-shirts and sneakers. Regardless of what your firm allows in their offices, you need to comply with what the client wants when you’re at their site. I had a client that required suits and ties every day – including the traditional casual Friday.  The only thing worse than wearing a tie is wearing one after getting used to the open collar. But the point is that the client may have a stricter policy than your firm or the last client you worked at, and you need to be aware of that and comply with it. If you’re in Healthcare consulting, each client may have different policies and standards to help them comply with HIPAA regulations.  They’ll probably be very strict with those policies. Financial consulting firms may be strict with client confidentiality and security standards as well. Let’s get back to the documentation and coding standards for a moment.  Are there ever times when you try to sell them over to your standard? At times.  When it comes to coding standards, if the client has a very poor standard, or more likely no standard – or maybe they have one but no one there follows it – the consulting firm can suggest a list of standards that they recommend. It’s something that you might ease into.  If you’ve got a complex set of standards and their team is used to being a bunch of rebels, the likelihood of them adapting your standards is slim. But if you suggest some high-level ones, maybe just some naming convention standards, that might get them started on the right foot and you can begin expanding it from there. As far as documentation standards, if I’m at a client that doesn’t have any standards, I’ll suggest our own.  Some clients may not have a corporate standard, but each group or each manager uses their own. If they prefer that standard, I’m fine with it, as long as it includes all of the information that I want to make sure I report. For things like business requirements, I’m amazed at how many companies don’t have a standard.  Each person kinds of submits whatever they want to submit.  In that case, they welcome our standard and it’s one of the reasons that they asked our firm to come there in the first place. I think the real challenge is when they have a bad standard that they want to use.  We can suggest our document formats and if they push back, we can’t force it upon them. In that case, I usually try to use their standard and then add sections to it to accommodate for the information we want to include. I’ve found most clients are open to a consulting firm’s standard because that’s what we do for a living.  They assume that consultants are bound to have better document formats for them to use. We have a lot better luck with methodologies.  That’s often what they hired us for and it gives us some leverage. I’ve been on projects where that was our primary objective – to use our methodology and get their employees used to working within its principals. And if that’s the case, I’ve found that we’re more successful suggesting standards for coding, documentation and other areas because they’re turning to us as the experts. Any final thoughts? I’ve always recommended a ‘when in Rome’ approach to working on a client site.  If they have certain standards that are different from those of your firm, it’s okay to test the waters and see if they’re open to switching to the ones the firm has. There are some where you just accept them and do it their way. It’s something of a skill to see where they have flexibility and where they’re more firm. A consultant should always remember that they’re a guest at the client and should conform to their standards if the client feels strongly about them, while at the same time, being bold enough to offer suggestions.  Flexibility will always be beneficial for your consulting career. Next week’s topic: Dining with the client Suggested Book: How Work Gets Done: Business Process Management, Basics and Beyond


23 Jun 2013

Rank #8

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Being a Guest at the Client Site

The nature of consulting and professional services generally requires consultants to work at the client’s offices.  Even if it is not a full time commitment, meetings and part-time work often require the consultant to be at the client site.  When a consultant is on-site, it’s important to act with respect as though you are a guest.  In this week’s podcast we’ll discuss the recommended ways to act while at the client’s offices. Why is it important for a consultant to act as though they are a guest at the client? Mainly because they are guests.  The client has hired them to perform a job on a temporary basis.  They hire their employees on a long-term basis and that creates kind of a family environment with their employees. Employees are insiders and consultants are more like outsiders.  Some clients do a better job of including consultants and that’s nice, but consultants need to be careful not to include themselves on things that should be for employees and that they’re not invited to by the client. For example, I’ve hired maintenance people to come into my house to fix something or to do some clean.  And I always appreciate the workers who take off their shoes at the door before they walk though my house. I don’t always take my shoes off or make my kids take them off, but I appreciate the workers who show that respect when they work in my house to avoid tracking dirt all over. In the client situation, they’re usually paying a premium rate for the expert consultant and expect them to be a little more dedicated to the project than their own employees. What are some examples of consultants not acting as guests at the client site? It normally happens when the consultant starts taking advantage of perks the employees enjoy but that a consultant should not. For instance, employees are often afforded luxuries like doing personal work at their desk like paying bills or checking their Facebook status. It’s usually not that the employees are allowed to do it as much as it’s just overlooked by their management. Consultants should do that kind of stuff on their personal time rather than while they’re at the client site.  Some clients are more lenient than others, but the point is that consultants don’t have the same leeway that an employee is given with those kinds of activities. Another situation is when there is an employee picnic or party of some kind.  I’ve been at client sites where they have a huge summer picnic in the parking lot with food and games and all kinds of fun activities. First, if the consulting team is invited to that, it’s a nice gesture to attend.  But they need to make it clear to the client that they aren’t billing them for those hours. Additionally, if there are door prizes, consultants should not enter their name in the drawing.  And if, for some reason their names are included and they get called, they should decline the award. I was at a client a couple of years ago in that situation and they told me to put a ticket in the drawing for door prized.  I refused and explained that it wasn’t right for consultants to be involved. So our team attended the picnic and enjoyed the games and food.  After they drew names for door prizes, they started handing out hats and t-shirts.  I was still a little reluctant to take one.  Finally, one of the executives came up and offered one to me and said there were plenty to go around. I finally took one because it would have actually been rude and kind of aloof not to.  So you have to balance not making yourself too comfortable with being part of their team. What other situations have you witnessed where consultants actually made themselves a little too much at home? One situation I experienced was a situation where the clients generally left work around 4:30 or 5:00 in the afternoon, while the consultants worked later into the night.  At some point they would end up ordering some dinner which nine times out of ten was pizza.  But whatever they ordered, when they finished and did their clean up, it was after the maintenance people had already taken the garbage out. So their late night garbage – pizza boxes or Chinese take-out – was stacked up by the garbage cans the next morning along with the stale smell of whatever food they had. Some consultants kind of wear that as a badge of courage.  It kind of showed the client ‘look how late we were working while you were at home relaxing’. In reality, most clients could care less about that.  It’s almost expected behavior.  So we had a client ask us to walk the garbage down to the cafeteria garbage cans so that it didn’t smell up the office area. Some clients just have an expectation that their internal services should be available to them but not to the outsiders.  I once worked for a retail client who had a sample store at their corporate headquarters. This was just a store where some of their display items or ites that had damaged boxes and couldn’t be sold to customers were made available to their employees for cost or even below, just to get rid of them. Some of our consultants went to the store and bought some items and the client complained to our management that that was for employees only. Quite often, it’s standard behavior that they allow their employees to do that they don’t allow consultants to do. You can call it a double standard and that’s really what it is.  Consultants are often treated differently than client employees and that’s just how it is.  It’s a different relationship altogether. How can this affect the consulting firm’s relationship with the client? It can tend to erode the firm’s credibility.  The professional services firm is expected to maintain a level of professionalism. If they start to push the envelope and make themselves too much at home, the client may begin to see them as unprofessional, which eventually erodes their credibility. This can cause the client to stop contracting with them or at least making it more difficult to get business. Top consulting firms want to get to a point where they’re the client’s trusted advisor.  To the point where the client goes directly to them with questions and for advice.  When you get to that point, they often don’t even have you compete for the work.  They know you’ll be fair and give them excellent advice and service. But that’s predicated on the firm having the client’s trust and having credibility.  If they erode that credibility, the client may continue to make each bid for every project competitive.  When that happens, they have to work harder to get each project and they may have to reduce their billing rates as a result. The firm just becomes an also-ran, just like all of the other consultants competing for projects. How do clients generally react when this happens? It’s often on an individual basis. They realize that a particular individual has gotten a little too comfortable and is overstepping the unmarked boundaries and just making the client a little too uncomfortable. Sometimes they talk to the individual and say ‘you really shouldn’t do that here’.  But sometimes they don’t want to have that personal confrontation. Since it might be part of that double standard, they might be uncomfortable telling an individual that what he’s doing is okay for their employees, but not for you as a consultant. So they more often than not will go to the consultant’s manager and tell them they need to talk to them. But it’s been my experience that if they don’t want the confrontation with the individual, they don’t want it with the consultant’s manager either. So sometimes they’ll just go on letting it bother them.  It hurts the relationship and they might not do business with the firm after that. If the consultant makes the client angry for a big mistake, the client will be sure to speak up.  Crossing the line on things like getting too comfortable at the client, the client realizes that it’s fairly petty.  But it bothers them all the same.  They may be less likely to speak up, but may also be less likely to do business with you again. So the consulting firm can lose business without ever knowing what the problem was or what they did wrong. What should a consultant do make sure they don’t cross the line? The first thing is to make sure they only work on client work while they’re there.  No working on personal work or checking out anything on the internet that doesn’t have anything to do with client work. And that’s easy enough.  But you also have to be able to balance working only on client work and not getting involved in their activities. When they do have a picnic or a golf outing and they invite you, they generally expect you to participate.  They’ve made the effort to include you and do some team building. So while you want to make sure you’re not including yourself on an uninvited basis, you also want to include yourself when the client wants you to and expects you to. Now, when you do get included in some of these things, I’ll use the golf outing as an example, there may be some alcohol involved either during the outing or at the dinner afterwards. I’m not opposed to a consultant having a drink or two with the client – if the client is also drinking.  But that’s about all they should have.  I generally don’t think clients make good drinking buddies. For one thing, overindulging can hurt your credibility.  But even if the client has a culture of big parties and drinking after the golf outing – or whatever outing you happen to be at – it doesn’t look good to join in the party and try too hard to fit in. I’ve found that the more people drink, the stupider the things are that they say.  You’re inhibitions are reduced and you’re liable to say things you never would have said in their office. So what a consultant should do is stop and ask themselves whether what they’re about to do will be appropriate for a professional guest in the client’s facilities. And if there is any question whatsoever, they should just resist.  It’s not worth being seen by the client as one who oversteps their bounds. Just one other point about that.  If you see other consultants doing the kind of stuff that you don’t think is right, don’t assume it’s OK at that client.  It may actually be pissing the client off. If you start doing it you’ll be in the same boat as the offending consultant. What should the firm do avoid causing a bad PR situation with the client? One of the biggest things they can do is education.  Teach their new consultants that it’s a different environment at the client for consultants than it is for the client’s employees. They should also give examples like the ones we’ve discussed.  Actually give them some case studies to see how they handle it. But it’s the kind of thing that requires a constant reminder.  Every time a consultant, particularly a newer one, starts a new project at a client site, sit down with them and give the whole team a reminder of the expected behavior at the client. While at the client, I think it’s OK for consultants to keep each other in check.  Just let someone know ‘hey, I say you doing some personal stuff at your desk the other day and you might want to watch that in case the client say you doing it. I mentioned that sometimes firms are reluctant of mentioning these types of violations because they can come off as petty.  Management within the consulting firm can just bring it up for them.  They can tell them ‘listen, if anyone at our firm seems to get too comfortable and start to feel like an employee rather than a consultant, I’d rather you told us than just let it fester’. If you open the door to something like that, they’ll e more likely to tell you. This will allow you to take measures to control it and not lose business with the client.  It’s a much better way to become their trusted advisor. Any final thoughts on being a guest at the client site? It’s really a matter of keeping it in mind at all times.  Remember that you’re not an employee but a visitor and an outsider. Some consultants are uncomfortable with that.  They don’t like being an outsider and being treated at a lower level than the client. But that’s part of being a consultant.  I actually like the outsider situation.  We’re treated a little bit differently, but we’re also not part of their internal politics. So a consultants needs to determine their comfort level with that and learn to live with it. Next week’s topic: Balancing firm standards with the client’s


25 May 2013

Rank #9

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Protecting the Firm

One of the most prominent aspects that we promote on this podcast is the need for consultants to be client minded.  And while it’s true that those of us in any professional services firm should strive to put the client first and dedicate ourselves to the client’s success, we should also make sure that we keep our own firm’s interests in mind.  Last week we spoke about protecting confidential information, this week we’ll talk about what a consultant should do in terms of protecting his own firm. What does a consultant need to consider to protect his own firm The consultant/client relationship should be a win-win situation. Obviously, a top consulting firm needs to deliver value and make their service worth the client’s money. But with that being said, the consulting firm needs to be able to make a fair profit.  If they don’t, they cease to exist and that doesn’t help the client any either. So in order to be profitable, the firm needs to be protected from the perspective that their own confidential information needs to be kept confidential. Another issue a firm needs to be aware of is with what I’ll call dirty laundry.  This is the type of internal politics and turf wars that occur within the firm. Exposing things like inner turmoil and firm politics to clients can damage a firm’s credibility not to mention the individual consultants that are working for the client. Another thing that consultants need to do to protect the firm is when they disagree with firm decisions and policy.  A consultant is not going to agree with the direction the firm is taking at all times. But there are times when you need to follow the company line whether you agree with the firm or not. What are the ramifications when these things happen? I think the biggest damage is to the firm’s credibility.  Consulting firms are hired to give companies advice.  If there’s evidence of internal strife within the consulting firm, then the client may wonder why they should follow the firm’s advice if they can’t even keep their own house in order. It’s sort of like the marriage counselor that’s going through a divorce or a medical doctor that smokes.  You just begin to question their credibility as business consultants. Another ramification is when there is internal strife within a firm, it becomes a distraction. If you as a consultant are dealing with a politically charged environment or any internal issues, that can prove to be a big distraction from the work you’re doing for the client. And exposing that to the client will distract them.  Any time a mistake is made, they’re going to immediately assume that it’s because the consultants are focused on those internal issues.  So it’s a bit of a combination of distraction and credibility loss. What does a consultant need to do to ensure that confidential information is kept confidential? This is one of the biggest issues I see in protecting the firm.  I’m a big believer in consulting firms being open and honest with their clients.  Transparency is key to developing strong, long-term relationships with clients. But there is some information that needs to be kept confidential.  For instance, you never want to reveal the consulting salaries and some firms don’t like to publish their individual billing rates.  They may price projects based on a fixed bid for the entire project or provide a blended rate for the entire staff so that you don’t know anyone’s specific billing rate. This protects them from their rate schedule getting into the wrong hands.  You never know when a client may share that information with a competitor or even if a client employee leaves their company to join a competing consulting firm. The firm may subcontract with another firm or with individuals and the rates the firm pays those consultants should remain confidential as well. One other aspect of this is when you have multiple clients, and that’s the case for most firms.  It can very sticky if you serve two clients in the same industry. Let’s say that your firm has two clients in the banking industry.  Unless they have a specific non-compete agreement with you, there’s nothing wrong with having two competing firms as clients. I once worked for a large firm that was the result of a merger of two firms a few years before I joined.  The two separate firms each had a competing Fortune 100 client.  The newly merged firm was told by each of those two clients that they needed to select one or the other.  Neither would allow the firm to serve both firms. That’s an out-of-the-ordinary situation, but it does happen.  The more likely scenario is that a firm has two competitors as clients and neither knows they serve the other.  It’s critical for the firm to make sure that none of one client’s trade secrets is shared with the other. One way to make sure of that is to have completely separated teams.  No one on one client’s project can also work on the other.  And if a consultant finishes their work on one client’s project and moves on to the next, you want them to share their experience, without sharing any trade secrets. Most consulting firms sign a non-disclosure agreement or NDA, which is a legal contract between the firm and the client stating that they will not release any proprietary information about the client to anyone else. Once the firm signs one of these, it’s their responsibility to make sure their individual consultants working on that project know the terms of the agreement and uphold the firm’s commitment. This includes talking about another client where you could be overheard by your client or leaving information out on your desk or on your computer screen. If your client walked up to your desk to ask a question and saw another client’s information you could have violated an NDA or at least violated an ethical rule of protecting your client’s information. Let’s talk about the dirty laundry. When have you seen dirty laundry exposed to the client? The most common situations I’ve seen this is when the consultant starts to develop a good working relationship with the client. They develop a friendship where they start going out to lunch or out for drinks after work.  Sooner or later, they start talking about the inner politics at the client. The client starts talking about their own dirty laundry.  This could be about two executives that hate each other because they’re both fighting to be promoted to the same position or flat out gossip about who’s sleeping with whom. I’ve heard some very interesting and entertaining stories from clients who develop this sense of security in telling an outsider. I was once out for drinks with a group of people from the client and a married administrative assistant pulled me aside and told me, in more detail than I wanted to hear, about her affair with one of the married executives at the company. Often when people tell those stories, especially to an outside person, they expect you to reciprocate and tell some equally interesting and scandalous stories about your own firm. Every firm has them, whether it’s lascivious affairs between two married people or some battle between two political rivals. Sometimes it’s just implied that I should provide my own stories and other times they come right out and ask me.  ‘What kind of BS goes on at your firm like that?’ What does a firm need to do to avoid airing their dirty laundry? This needs to be instilled early on to any new employee about how it will undermine the firm’s credibility as well as their own. If you make the consultants understand that they may be less inclined to get involved with it. One example I’ve given is, let’s say you hear about two consultants at your firm who are fighting an internal battle for a single promotion.  The client doesn’t know these two people so what’s the harm in telling them about it? So the next week, one of them gets assigned to your project.  Suddenly the client knows something about this guy and he has no credibility there at all because you’ve undermined it before they even met him. So one thing I always suggest is not to get caught up in sharing the stories.  One advantage we have as consultants is that we’re often out at client sites.  When the client starts telling these stories and then asking us to provide our own internal dirty laundry, I usually say something like, ‘I’m never in the office, so I never hear anything about that kind of stuff’. That doesn’t always satisfy them, but if you continue to claim ignorance they eventually figure you don’t know anything. I also try not to fuel their fire. When they start into telling those kinds of stories I’ll let them talk without asking any questions.  They’ll tell as much as they want to tell and I’ll gradually steer the conversation to some business aspect of the project or even to something like sports to completely divert the conversation. Eventually the client will learn that it’s just no fun to share the gossip with you if you don’t take too much interest in their stories and you don’t return the favor. You also talked about when consultants disagree with decisions and policies of the firm.  I’m sure that has to be a challenge for firms. Yes. I was once in a meeting where the client asked an individual consultant what to do about a business problem. This consultant’s response was “Do you want the firm’s answer or my answer?” He essentially didn’t like the firm’s policy on this and decided to undermine it by telling him that he disagreed with the firm and this was his advice. If you disagree with a firm’s policy and you have some good reasons to do so, then you should talk to the firm’s management. They may have other reasons for this policy that you’re not aware of.  In the end, you have to decide whether you can live with their policy and follow it even though you disagree. If you can’t go along with it, then that’s a problem. If you’re not passionate about the services and the advice that the firm provides, then maybe you need to move on. But you have to be a team player.  And that means towing the company line even if you’re not in 100% agreement. So what is a firm to do about these issues?  How do they ensure that they are protected from these forms of exposure? It’s something of a training issue, but I think it needs to go beyond that.  Training implies that you teach them once and hope they remember it. I see it more as an internal marketing campaign.  When a company wants to market a new breakfast cereal, they don’t just run one commercial for it and assume everyone will go out and buy it. They have a marketing campaign where the advertise it using different channels and constantly remind their market about the product. A firm needs to do the same thing by constantly reminding them of the need to protect their privacy and that of their clients. We’ve listed a number of different ways a consultant can inadvertently slip up and do it without even noticing it.  The firm needs to continuously remind them to always be on their toes. Any final thoughts on protecting the firm from confidentiality and other issues that can expose a professional services firm? A lot of this comes down to protecting the firm’s brand.  Any type of exposure to confidential information or dirty laundry hurts the firm’s brand and as an extension, it hurts your own brand by looking unprofessional. It’s not just in the firm’s best interest. It’s in the client’s best interest.  If they don’t need to know about what goes on behind the consulting firm’s doors, then they shouldn’t know. It’s not a matter of keeping secrets from them, it’s about protecting your firm’s brand. Next week’s topic: Being a Guest at the Clients Premises


15 May 2013

Rank #10