We’re getting close to running out of things I know, so The Omnivore needs to get back before I’m forced to start making shit up.
But the well isn’t dry quite yet. I know about consulting -- Management Consulting. Unlike most consultants I didn’t go to B-School. I learned from other consultants. It was quite an education, and I imagined I’d write a book someday of what I’d learned.
In my literary fantasy, I’d call my book “On Consulting” which is Clausewitz reference to what I think might be the tightest, most badass title in non-fiction.
If I were going to write books, I’d steal all my titles. My autobiography will require ripping off Melville.
But I’m not going to write a book, am I? I’m going to write a blog!
My book would open with something a seasoned consultant once told us. He said there are three reasons, people hire consultants
- To tell them what to do
- To give their own ideas credibility and validation
- To have someone to blame
After some reflection, I think this is true.
I would add #4: To write something you need written well that you don’t have the time or inclination to do. MBAs are usually pretty good at writing something you won’t be embarrassed to put your name on.
And #5: To do your PowerPoint decks. Management consultants do PowerPoint like nobody’s business. You could hang that shit on your wall.
The Definition of A Good Job
Is one where you can have management consultants do your PowerPoint. This was also told to me, and it’s wisdom. To this day, when I see a colleague show up with pretty powerpoint that I damn well know he didn’t do himself, I think, “Dude’s got a Good Job.”
I hate those guys.
Reason #3 -- taking the blame -- is the most fun because everyone knew it was going to go pear-shaped from the start and instead of working like a ER trauma surgeon to save the patient, you get ride the bomb down like Maj. Kong in Dr. Strangelove.
The best is when the Client is trying to seriously change their culture and management isn’t willing to do what it takes and everyone knows there’s going to be 12 very expensive weeks of circus before things can go back to whatever they were like before.
You get to live on an expense account and watch office politics play out in front of you like it was a Kung Fu movie.
Selling the Work v. Doing The Work
In consulting, all the glory is in sales. This is obvious, right? Partners get to be partners because they sell a lot. They have to keep selling to stay partners.
What’s maybe less obvious is that actually doing the work, once it’s sold, is for losers.
The guy who spends three days in-country and sells a million dollars worth of strategy work or -- better yet -- $80 million worth of solution building -- gets a fucking parade when he comes back.
They guy that has to go deliver what he sold? That’s 60 hrs a week of labor for a year and a half already accounted for. Their job is 90% down-side: They might fuck something up. In a best-Best-BEST case scenario, one of those worker-bees might convince the client to buy more work in Phase II. But really? They guys carrying out the master plan? They’re “workhorses” (I was literally called that by a senior manager who imagined it was a complement) with all the appreciation that implies.
What this means to you:
What this means to you is that when a Partner promises you that he can re-architect your Advertising & Promotions process in six weeks and have a team build a new, global software solution to automated it in two months, he didn’t choose those numbers because they were realistic.
He chose them because that was all the money you had in your sad little piggy-bank, and and if he’d told you what it would really cost you wouldn’t have bought the work.
He’s going to be a hero. And they poor sucker sent to break reality to you? He’s going to get his career torpedoed for failing to deliver.
Why Your Consultants Have Contempt You
If you asked your Consultants why they have contempt for their clients, they’d deny it. If you bugged their phones you’d get the sense that they have contempt because Clients Are Stupid.
Which is true -- clients are stupid. But that’s no reason to hate them.
The truth is more complicated. Start with the basics: anyone who is dependent on your approval for their job-money hates you. This is true of sales people (who hate you), it’s true of your employees around review time (they hate you) and it’s true of your housekeeper (who hates you).
I don’t want my housekeeper to murder me in my sleep, so I’ll caveat this: there are mind-sets that avoid this effect -- I’m not going to explain it in detail here, but if you ever watch a show with a British butler in it you’ll see it on display. When work is a profession and not a job and the practitioner’s sense of pride and identity comes from doing the work, he’s not dependent on your fucking approval and thus doesn’t have to hate you. Some consultants manage this.
But mostly? They hate you for the same reasons everyone hates dependency. This is not news.
But for Consultants, it’s actually a little different than your gardener. It’s a little more intimate, and that flavors their hatred with that extra something: contempt.
Your consultants have contempt for you. Why?
If you do regular work, you’re used to getting paid for what you do. You might run a process (HR. Procurement. Whatever). You might sell something. You might manage a department. You might write computer code. Whatever it is, you do it, you get paid.
When you’re a consultant, you’re paid for what you know. I mean yes, you do something. You write documents (PowerPoint) or model things in spreadsheets, or whatever, but you have no skin in the game. You don’t provide value to the company because of your function.
You’re paid to be the smartest guy in the room. And that’s usually a room with people who do [whatever it is you’re consulting about] professionally day in and day out. And have been doing it in that company for years or decades when you’ve been there approximately two weeks.
They’re paying 400/hr for your ideas, and when you don’t shit solid gold, you’re wasting their money.
In theory you’re smarter than they are because you’ve seen it all at other places. Back in the day, when management consulting was an outgrowth of accounting and was run by the big accounting firms, it might have been true -- if you’re doing the books for everyone on Main Street, you really do know what everyone’s paying for what and how they’re working it. But today? Probably not.
So you don’t actually know their business or market position or value prop or internal constraints better than the people paying you do. You’re a fraud.
It’s worse than that, though: the awful truth is, you probably are smarter than they are. Clients, are typically dumb, and you probably got an MBA at a good school (which is why you got a nice job at the firm you’re at), but that makes it sting extra bad when they reject your good ideas,
If you’re a smart guy and you’re getting judged on what you know ... that’s intimate. It’s less about what you didn’t do and more about who you are. If they don’t like your work, it’s kind of personal.
Contempt: The Best Working Defense Against Rejection
The best operable defense against painful judgement is to judge first and worst. If I have contempt for someone, then their judgement doesn’t matter to me; I’ve taken the edge off it. That guy’s a moron -- who cares what he thinks?
Salespeople do a version of this where they dehumanize their customers by making them all marks to be exploited and selling product a kind of victory / violation. Consultants, like zombies, go straight for the brains.
Assorted Other Things
- When the Partner says “We’ve done things like this before and all we have to do is scrub our Leading Practices Reusable Templates clean of the last Satisfied Client’s Dark Secrets” it’s a goddamn lie. They haven’t. They are going to make shit up. If you ask to see these supposed Templates before you sign the SOW, some newly minted MBA will be up all night struggling to put something together that’s not embarrassing.
- “Of course we can work in partnership with that other management consulting firm!” Bullshit lies. They’ll undercut each other like middle school frenemies. I don’t really understand why anyone would be dumb enough to hire two competing firms to work on the same project but it happens and it’s always a hilarious mistake.
- Airline Status = Real Life Status. When your team gets on a domestic flight and you go right to sit in a cramped, humiliating economy space, and the Partner goes Left to sit in Business Class to sit on a throne and be hand-fed gourmet food by a smiling, polite stewardess (you’ll be told you can’t use the toilet under threat of arrest by a snarling bulldog), the answer is Yes: He (the Partner) does know he’s better than you. He gets the same little thrill when he gets to go sit in the Lounge while you huddle by the gate in chairs that the CIA uses for Enhanced Interrogations. It’s even more of a power trip if he brings you into the rarefied air of the Lounge as his guest / date.
- Your consultants can GET YOU A JOB. No -- not working for their consulting firm. Remember they don’t... (let me put this delicately), think much of you (see above), but they talk, and have other clients, and if the guys up in Connecticut are need a new Marketing Director and you’ve forked over a ton of money, your consultants might recommend you! I’ve SEEN IT HAPPEN!
- A great consultant once told me you should always have a prime number of bullet points in your presentation. Not an odd number. A prime number. I have no idea why that is, but I couldn’t, in good conscience, end this presentation with four bullet points.
Unless something happens in the next day or two (and let’s hope it doesn’t), this is probably my last descent into blogging. I like nothing more than putting every random thing that comes into my brain into a public space (actually, I’m not sure you can call this blog “public,” but whatever), but I can imagine how disappointing it probably is to come here for politics and get... this...
So I’ll be moving on now.