5 Stupid Mistakes Consultants Make
“Hey, don’t mess up.”
A lot of young people are interested in pursuing a career path as a consultant for obvious reasons:
- Good money
- The opportunity to travel
- Exposure to many different industries and business models
- The chance to work with many different kinds of leaders
- Smart coworkers
- Flexibility and freedom
As someone who spent nearly a decade as a self-employed consultant, I can attest that these are all valid and good reasons to consider this career path. But before jumping in with both feet, it is important to understand what you are getting into, and how to avoid stupid mistakes.
5 stupid mistakes of new (or sometimes very experienced!) consultants:
- Acting like an arrogant colonist. I have seen consultants swagger in to a new company with the sensitivity of slave traders. They view the existing employees as stupid and “backwards” and do little to hide their distain. This attitude will make you more hated than “The Bobs” from Office Space and will guarantee that employees will do whatever they can to sabotage your project. You may disagree with the way the organization is run and get frustrated by the attitudes of resentful and complacent employees. But do not forget they are human beings, many with children and families that depend on them. There is nothing inherently evil with cutting staff (a very frequent recommendation of consultants), but such a decision should never be taken lightly. Treat everyone you meet with dignity and respect and never, for a moment, think that you are superior by virtue of your role as an outside “expert.” You aren’t.
- Selling your words by the pound. There is an infectious plague propagated by large consulting firms that compels new consultants to create huge, incomprehensible presentations and reports. Your executive sponsors love them because they justify the huge rates they spend to bring in you and your colleagues. The problem is that these 400-slide PowerPoint presentations are decks of death for the poor souls who have to view them. Many consultants see the creation of these presentations as their core work output. This misses the point! The key responsibility of a consultant is to offer clear, timely advice and help an organization implement it as quickly and efficiently as possible for the best business results. Smart people like Garr Reynolds of Presentation Zen, Guy Kawasaki , Dan and Chip Heath and Seth Godin all argue for the simplification of business communication.You should take this advice from me with a huge caveat however: following it will make you a better consultant but may get you fired. Much of the business world is not ready for this shift yet. So follow it at your own peril, knowing that a decade or so from now, it will be the “in” thing.
- Thinking you know everything. A good consultant exhibits two behaviors: a constant focus on learning and an open, receptive and questioning attitude. Instead of walking in the door and saying “Here is what you should do,” step back and ask a lot of questions. “What do you do?” “Why do you do it?” “How does it benefit you?” “What gets in your way?” “What are you trying to accomplish?” No matter how many different scenarios you are exposed to, none is exactly the same and you should always learn as much as you can about the company you are working with before jumping to recommendations.
Read the two others here.