When I entered the world of management consulting, I had no idea how deep the rabbit hole went. I was coming from the Public Sector and I mistakenly thought that I did good work – the standards for management consulting were much higher than I was used to and I’ll be honest, I sputtered a bit at the start for a few years before I started to pick up on things that I should have been doing if I wanted to become a better consultant (and to get promoted). Here is what I learned:
Always be thinking about what your client would want to see
It’s easy to go deep into a report or presentation, analyze the data, present findings and then define recommendations, but as a consultant, you know (hopefully) your client and what they may be looking for. How can you present the data and findings to help your client make better decisions? For example, one of the clients I was working with had data used to prioritize their projects. The projects each had a score for resource investment, strategic alignment, and complexity in implementation. Another consultant I was working with suggested the idea of prioritizing the projects according to their resource investment and by organizing the projects according to their resource investment, the client can see the list of projects and decide which projects should proceed and which projects may be delayed based on the resources used (the client has limited resources) and their strategic alignment and complexity in implementation.
How something looks can be just as important as what the content is
One of the consultants I worked with told me a story about this. He and an analyst were working with a client who did not like one of the slides in the PowerPoint report that they had presented. The client did not agree with the findings, he did not like the content and generally did not like what was on the slide. The consultant and the analyst went back to the drawing board and the consultant told the analyst “don’t change any of the content on the slide, let’s just change how it looks”. The analyst was confused but decided to follow the consultant’s advice and changed up the slide so that it looked significantly better, but the content (i.e., the words on the slide) did not change at all. When the new slide was shown to the client, the client loved it.
First comes doing good work, then comes building expertise and then finally selling
At the lowest levels, you are not expected to know very much about anything, but that’s okay. Your role is not to be an expert at that point (although you can be); your role is to do great work no matter what you are thrown at. Whether it’s a business case, financial analysis, IT audits, whatever you are thrown at, do good work. What do I mean by good work? Not making small mistakes such as typos or grammatical errors. Having a story to tell in presentations or reports, driven by data. Engaging with the client wherever possible.
As you do more and more projects, you will build up your portfolio of expertise but more importantly, you may start to specialize in a certain industry, sector or capability. You may, for instance, out of nowhere, do multiple projects on data governance and start to become an expert in data. This expertise and portfolio will help you get promoted so that you can take on more and more responsibilities of training other analysts that do not have as much experience and winning more work because of your experience.
As you start to delegate and manage more consultants below you, your role shifts once again, from someone that is ‘doing’ to someone that is ‘selling’. At the highest levels in a professional services firm, you are expected to be building or solidifying relationships, leading bids and winning work for the company.
Understanding this evolution within a consulting company can help you build the skills needed to reach that next level – for example, if you are currently a senior consultant or manager and are managing a number of other consultants, your next level is to develop business within your company.
Make things easier for the next person
One of my personal philosophies is to make things as easy as possible for the next person. It does not have to be the client, it could even be a colleague. For example, let’s say that you are working on a bid and need project qualifications – if I have the information then I will try to write out the project qualifications myself before asking for approval. Writing it out myself means that that person does not have to write it out themselves and can quickly review and approve the write-up. Another example is when someone asks you for client references. Rather than sending over plain text, I might send it over in a table that can easily be copied and pasted into their bid so that they do not have to do the extra work in formatting. If I think of myself as part of a chain of work then everything that passes through me gets significantly better.
Improve on your work every day
One of the things that we do in consulting is re-use a lot of materials. I don’t think it’s a big secret but we have a lot of materials that we develop across the firm (as a global organization) and why try to re-create the wheel? When I went to develop a deliverable, I used some of my older materials as templates but the manager I was working with was actually surprised when I showed him drafts. He said “wow, this looks better than what you did before” (and before, he was impressed as well). I told him that I wasn’t happy just using the same materials from last time and that I try to improve the look and design of my deliverables every single time I work. That’s how I got better, not be exponential improvements but by minor iterations and small improvements every single time I do work.