In part 1 of “How personal should you get with clients?” we looked into keeping your perspective as an external advisor, making sure that a water cooler-talk does not get you hosed for disclosing confidential data or bad-mouthing your company and into being aware of the potential pitfalls of calling the client “John”, while all his staff addresses him as “Mr. Doe”.
In this second and -so far- last post on the issue, let’s look at the frivolous side of things – and as requested by reader Sebastian, I’ll look at relations inside your firm as well.
- No getting drunk-drunk.
Let me state it without evaluating it: In many countries, alcohol is part of socializing. You will most likely end up at a restaurant or a bar with your clients once in a while, especially after you and your team did a good job, of course. At those occasions, people will drink alcohol, and you will, too. Now – remember the last time you had a crazy night out with your friends? Hangover and all? You don’t want this to happen.
As consultants, we have a special role when interacting with our clients. Although we only work with them for a limited time, from a few weeks to months, the level and intensity of interaction is very high. With that, naturally, comes getting to know each other. Long meetings and long working days spent together, water cooler-talks, joint team dinners, etc., often lead to a certain level of intimacy. But how personal should you get? Where are the boundaries, and what are the pitfalls?
- You always work FOR them.
Even if you achieve your results in strong collaboration WITH them – which is for sure my preferred way of doing consulting – you are still hired as an external advisor. This distance is important to keep perspective.
There aren’t that many good books about the consulting business out there that focus on the internal perspective – about how consulting feels and works for consultants themselves. There is “FRA-MUC-FRA” (de), already a classic in Germany. There is “Con Tricks”, and all the other books that come to (my) mind are already targeted towards consulting practice and process.
Now, a new book is coming together. It is called “Lores of Wizards”. It is written by Richard and Jon Metzler, both of extensive consulting background – but they do not talk about themselves. Instead, they interviewed with many mavericks of the consulting industry (mostly US focused), and let them speak. The result is very lively, and as I see it, hits close to home.
You can see (and read!) the book grow!
Chapter by chapter, the Metzlers have decided to publish the book online. As of now, you can read the first three chapters, free of charge, right here on the book’s website. I printed them out and read them in one swoop sitting in the garden today. Maybe you want to do the same? You are in for some war stories, some chuckles, and some big truths of our profession. I am sure going to buy the book once it is finished.
Do you have other consulting-related weekend reading tips? Let us know in the comments!
Paul Graham wrote a great essay on good and bad procrastination. I suggest you read it (takes 5 minutes max) and then continue reading, as I am referring to the main idea of it.
“Getting to work on the big things” in consulting needs to be put in perspective, I think. We live by projects, and the big thing seems to be just that: The project you are working on right now. This is, of course, also the expectation of superiors and customers alike – they want your full power and energy on their topic, right now, and they pay you to do so, after all.
As a project leader, you will often already live by the good, C-Type procrastination that Graham proposes: You focus on identifying the clients’ real need, you build and enforce the relationship, you make sure that the project is on track and that the right things are delivered on time. If not – I am not speaking from experience here – you might want to re-evaluate what you are spending your time on, and if this is leading you where you want to be. Your team is there to get the nitty-gritty details. Don’t try to micro-manage. If you spend more time working out hotel deals for your team than thinking about your client, you are procrastinating the wrong way.
As a more junior consultant, the same idea of tackling the big stuff applies. In project reality, compared to the project lead, the feeling might be quite different. You are remote from the big picture. You are working on a stream in the project, and the world to you often ends at the edge of the Excel sheet you have to build. This, for most junior consultants, is not perceived as a big, exciting, potentially world-changing problem to solve, but more than a task that has to be done. Ok, I am getting sidetracked here – now it is about motivation instead of procrastination? There’s a link: When you are motivated, and have an idea why you do what you do right now apart from “I was told to”, you are much less likely to procrastinate on that issue.
So what can you take from Graham?
The senior – go tackle the big issues. You give your team sense and direction. As I am not in your shoes, I can’t give advise from own experience, sorry.
The junior – Yes, of course. Getting promoted to project lead soon. That’s not what I mean – I’d say, you can get your motivation up by getting yourself a better idea of the overall project, and thus decrease time used for bad procrastination. Use possibilities to see what the other streams are working on. Talk to the project lead over lunch about where he wants to go, and what the end result looks like in his/her opinion. Your ability to let go of what Graham calls “errands” might be limited, but you can, too, defer doing your expenses and replying to non-critical email for a while when cranking on your job. After you have given yourself an idea for why you are doing your task and how it impacts the big picture, chances are you will actually want to take all the time you can for it.
What about distractions?
Now this is a topic big enough for another article Come back soon, it might already be up then.
By the way, I am still crying myself to sleep at night because no-no-no-one has replied to the first KC hive mind yet. I know that there are at LEAST five living people reading this (might be six, have not called them all in a few days to make sure) – so hey, if you are so inclined, make my day and write a comment!
I know, I know. This is not the Tom Peters show. Still… I came across this gem a while ago and just re-read it, thinking that it makes a whole lot of sense, and really has an implication on the way we do (should do!) our job.
Read this article that was published in 2004. Its key message is: Be distinct, or go extinct. What does that mean? If you are not recognizable within your environment, mostly the organization you are working in, then sooner or later you will get off track, or simply lose your job. You have to brand yourself, and differentiate yourself from your peers – hell, from everybody else.
How does this apply to consulting?
On the customer facing side, the answer is simple. Selling is a people business. It is great when your company has a good reputation – but only being recognized for who YOU are really gives you an edge. They’ll call you, because you are known to be the best to solve problem X. This is especially important in our job, where most people don’t stay with a company for decades. If you rely solely on your company’s aura when it comes to how you are perceived by the customer, you lose them when you go someplace else. On the contrary, when you have established a strong brand for yourself, they will call you, and they will trust you to deliver, regardless of what company you are based in.
For the more junior levels, who are mainly working inside the organization rather than pampering clients: This should make you Think. Real. Hard. Tom mentiones the example of the “28 year old relatively junior member on a [...] tax consulting team”, but that applies to our profession just as well. Ask yourself: Where’s my signature in this project? Where can I put something that is specifically ME, not just the work of a generic grunt, into the deliverables? I know, that is a stretch. But it is worth to strive for, I think. When crunching on a Powerpoint presentation, I myself often forget to see the big picture behind all that detailed work. For a young consultant, it is easy to feel detached from the client relationship, and feel replaceable. Tom’s article challenges us to make ourselves visible, to put our heart in it, so that we work ourselves beyond being replaceable. Personally, I think this is a hard thing to do, but boy is it worth to strive for.
As Reinhard Sprenger statet: “Work is either fun, or it makes sick”. Let’s work on making it fun – on becoming a Killer Consultant who as a person has his/her distinctive brand.
What do YOU want to stand for?Read More
Folks, today it is really a 2 Minute post. Tom Peters has been putting up a number of short videos on separate topics over the last weeks, you can find them here at vimeo. What is it good for? Food for thought. Yes, he almost yells at you. Yes, he has a very "distinct" way of speaking and bringing his point across. Still, try it out, get yelled at by Tom Peters (for free!). Maybe there will be something in it for you. My favourite quote:
The hard things are easy, the soft things are hard.