Consulting advice: walk with your clients

Clearly, some of the best conversations you have with clients are the ones on the way back from meetings.   Trust me on this one, when a meeting finishes, ask your client if it is okay to walk them back to their office.  Walk and talk.

  • You have their dedicated attention, even if only for 5 minutes
  • It is authentic and personal; it’s how friends and colleagues relate to each other
  • It is often a great follow-up to the meeting you just finished

Often, the key things you want to say to a client are personal, and can easily be conveyed in a few minutes in an informal setting.  It does not deserve an email, phone call or a meeting.   Walk them back to their office.

A few other ways to have impactful, and brief interactions with clients:

  • Share a coffee or a meal together
  • Offer to help with a simple task (create graph, draft a communication)
  • Send over an analyst report or benchmark study
  • Type up meeting minutes, or interview notes and send over
  • Connect your current client with other people in your network
  • Help them identify and hire talented people


Flickr: Creative Commons, Randy Robertson

Consulting advice: read

When I speak with eager MBAs on what they should do to prepare for management consulting, I often fall back on this basic idea: read.

We don’t read enough.  I really started enjoying reading when I turned 25 years old. Obviously, that is a fail because my brain was pretty hard-wired by that point already.   Reading gives us a broader perspective, and helps to structure some of the many random thoughts that run around our brain.  Well-crafted books teach us the beauty, mystery and power of story-telling.

Bill Gates reads a book a week.   Clearly, that is not for everyone.   These are the books that Bill Gates read recently and the ones he has reviewed here.

Bill Gates Books

Read books.  The more you read, the more likely you will have something to say.  Even if you are not an extroverted conversationalist, if you read, at least you have some some content you can share with clients, prospects, team members and hotel clerks.

Listen to podcasts.  I probably read a book a month, but I get fed intellectually more by listening to podcasts while traveling to/from clients, cutting the grass, and cooking.

Listen to audiobooks.  Buying audiobooks are expensive.  Try renting them from, or even better, get them from your local library.  The last few books I got for free from my library were:

Read the Economist.  I have read this for the last 20 years.  Well-written, British, writing and wit with a decided international bent, free-market point of view with a heart of empathy for the weak.  Informative and easy to read.  It certainly covers a lot of marcoeconomic and political issues, but also provides thoughtful vignettes and stories to keep you thinking.  We Americans need to open our eyes to a bigger and broader world.  Lots for us to know, appreciate, enjoy and engage.

No more excel graphs, Tableau is the future

Tableau.  Yes, this is french for Table.  It is also the most user-friendly, powerful, and amazing desktop visualization tool for consultants.  Tableau is a company based out of Seattle Washington, founded in 2003 to commercialize work out of Stanford.  Fast-forward 10 years, and it is a publicly traded company of 1,500+ employees, $232 million in revenue and traded under the ticker symbol of DATA.  See their investor relationship pdf (2Mb) here.

No more Excel graphs.  People on my teams who use Tableau no longer use Excel to draw any graphs.  Let me say that again, they don’t use excel to draw graphs.  My team mates list the many reasons they prefer Tableau:

  • More flexible; it has “drag and drop” functionality like pivot tables
  • More graphical and unique ways to show data
  • Intuitive interface to link data sets
  • It can be published and shared with clients

Gartner agrees.  Gartner ranked Tableau as a leader in its magic quadrant ranking of business intelligence and visualization tools here.  This is pretty strong social proof, for those who care about the legitimacy and market acceptance of the tools.

Accenture uses Tableau.  Accenture recently did some research on the rise of the market technologist function, and put their survey results on Tableau Public here.  Click over to some of the tabs, and see how Tableau visualizes simple bar and line charts.  See how you can select different options and the graph changes automatically.  This is the type of flexibility that Tableau offers.  If you are a consultant, and you can’t use Tableau, you might be in trouble.

Survey Demographics

Free trial.  Of course they offer a free trial, which I have also done.  Here it is.  Even if you don’t join the Tableau train now, that is fine.  I am only a beginner and rely on my teams to crunch data.  Don’t be discouraged.   You will see Tableau mentioned again in your professional life, I am sure.  No question Tableau is the future.  I told you first.

Tableau revolution



Don’t be a consulting mailman

Mailman is a word that I have used many times this week.  It has come to be a short-hand way for me to say overhead.  Like the post I wrote about not supervising others here, if you find yourself merely sitting in meetings where you are only taking notes, setting up calls and logistics for others.  You are not adding value.  Questions to ask:

  • Are you bringing new ideas to the client?
  • Are you making PowerPoint pages to distill thinking down?
  • Are you connecting with the client, and getting them to open up?
  • Are you coaching junior consultants?
  • Are you taking risks that the client applauds?

You are a mailman if you don’t have a value-added role, and instead are creeping into meetings, and delivering messages from here to there.  You have become a human email system.  If you find yourself sayings things like:

  • I am not too familiar with this topic, but. . .
  • I will have to ask him, what he thinks
  • Let me run this by her and let you know
  • Let’s get A and B on the call, and discuss
  • Well, she is really the one who knows the answer, but. . .

Time to reassess what it is you are doing on the project.  Chances are you are project managing, and doing it badly.  Overly involved in the wrong things, not trusting your people, and generally just playing mailman.  Taking messages from here to there.

Decision rights.  Effective organizations know who does what.  Great HBR article on using an organizational structure to facilitate and accelerate decisions here.

Bain talks alot about decision rights, but the framework is simple.  People can either.  . .R.A.P.I.D.  Recommend, Agree, Perform, give Input, Decide.  Think about your role on the project, and if you are R, A, P, I, or ..D.  Read about Bain tools here.

If you are not doing one of those 5 things with decisions, you are a mailman.  You are just shuttling information back and forth.   Don’t be a mailman.

Confession: I have been a mailman recently.


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I am here to make you successful

This is what consultants should be thinking.  This is what consultants should be demonstrating through their work.  When you have earned the right, say these words:

I am here to make you successful.  

There are all kinds of people in this world – selfish, petty, greedy, angry.  All kinds.  This is also true of consultants.  Every client has a story or two about a consultant who just “did not get it.”  Money spent, egos hurt, politics, and always change.  Our job, as (good) management consultants, is to have principles, smarts and a good heart. Mean it when you say it. Be-do-say.

This is not just platitudes.  This is hard work.  Think about what it will take to implement, Ask yourself some of the hard questions to visualize the effort:

  • Who is your customer?  All the executives or specific people?
  • What will ultimately make the client and her organization successful?
  • What is their time horizon?  6 months or 6 years?
  • How much change is needed?  How much relational equity do I need to create, and how much equity do I need to spend?

It’s not easy, nor should it be.  As professionals, we attract problems.  No matter how difficult it is, this heart-to-heart is perhaps the most important.  Once the client starts to doubt your intentions, nothing good.

Remember Marvin Bower, the godfather of McKinsey and Company, understood this level of professionalism.  Quote from the McKinsey website:

Bower held both a JD and an MBA from Harvard University. He adamantly believed that management consulting should be held to the same high standards for professional conduct and performance as law and medicine

We need to hold ourselves to a higher standard.  Be bold, and don’t bore them. Remember, we are here to make them successful. Gotta remember that.


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Drucker says, “The knowledge worker cannot be supervised”

Everyone who reads this blog, knows that I am a huge Drucker fan.   This quote from The Effective Executive, published in 1967, sums up how good consulting groups run.

The knowledge worker cannot be supervised closely or in detail. He can only be helped.   – Peter Drucker

An effective consulting team or group is made up of competent, cognitive thinkers, who trust each other, and build credibility and trust with clients.  It is a loose affiliation of free agents who “jam” and make executives and clients’ lives easier through their work.

They are not a Dilbert hierarchy of mangers watching, tracking, measuring, project managing other people.  It is not full of status reports, and dashboards of progress.  It is not SG&A or overhead.  As Drucker said, [consultants] can only be helped.

As a consultant, my question to you is:

  • How have you helped your fellow team mates today?
  • What are you doing to build your practice?
  • Have you codified the learnings from your last project, so it helps others?
  • Are you always responsive when other consultants reach out to you for help?
  • During your day, what % of time was spent 1) solving client problems?  2) helping others 3) doing administrative duties?

As a manager, my question to you is:

  • Are you coaching your team, or micro-managing them?
  • Are you showing your team what good managers look like?
  • Are you giving away credit, and taking more of the blame?
  • Are you protecting people weaker than yourself?
  • Are you extending grace to junior consultants who make mistakes?
  • Are you giving truth and feedback / pushback to seniors, on behalf of the team?

Drucker help

BP 150/100

So my blood pressure was WAY high this week.    Lots going on with work – some good, a lot bad.  A big part of consulting is knowing how to deal with stress, lean on team mates, and get grace when you make mistakes.  As a friend says, “we are in the business of attracting problems, right?”  If clients did not have problems, they would not hire us.

For all those consultants out there, bumping around with customers, creating new consulting services, trying to “put a dent in the universe” and drive change. . . . listen to your body and take good care of your health.  No reason to be a sick hero.

Things that I am reminding myself, being positive:

  • I’ve got good healthcare with my company, time to use it
  • Sometimes a “small bad thing” is preventing a “larger bad thing”
  • Pretty thankful for the health I do have
  • Slowing me down, less frenetic nervous, and more calculation
  • Forcing me to take better care of myself (less booze, less coffee)
  • With troublemakers in my life. . “at least I am not married to them”
  • Need to rely on others, consulting – and life more generally – is not a solo show
  • Want to meditate, pray, and center.  Focus on what’s important

I cancelled a long weekend vacation, so I am get a physical tomorrow.

Consultants, watch your health.

Do you have what you need?

This is my favorite expression.  Do you have what you need?

I usually ask it of at least 3-4 people a day.  It’s simple, but clear.  I believe it encapsulates the following thoughts:

  • “I am busy, but I want you to be successful.”
  • “Is there anything on your mind, you need to talk about?”
  • “Is there anything I can help you with now, or tomorrow?”
  • “I look forward to working with you”

If this is what am known for professionally, I would be very proud.  Making other people successful, and amplifying their good work.  More assists like John Stockton.

Do you have what you need

Challenge: Before you leave the office on Friday, IM your boss, and ask them a simple question, “Do you have what you need?  Anything you need before Monday?”

  • Yes, they need something, and it’s your chance to get them out of a bind
  • No, they don’t need anything, but know you want to be helpful and are committed

Afraid to ask that question of your boss or your team mates on a late Friday afternoon? A few things cross my mind, none of them good:

  1. You don’t particularly like your boss or team.  You harbor the fear of meaningless, and thankless work.  Possible, but not a good sign of the work climate
  2. There is a ton of work, but there is a culture of avoiding work.  Lack of accountability and a lack of reward for work.  Also, not good,
  3. You are afraid that this simple question will spin off into personal discussion, and ineffective chit-chat, unrelated to work.  Also, not good.

Do you have what you need?  Ask it.  Be helpful.  The majority of the time, people smile and say thanks for asking.  Sometimes, they need some advice.  Sometimes, there is something substantial you can help with.  Always, you feel better for asking.

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Consulting formula: think + write + communicate + revise

On a large project with so many moving parts, people, stakeholders, and organizational history that I sometimes get lost in the activities, status reports and project management mess.   Stop.  I need to come back to the basics of consulting.  This post is written to myself, for myself.  Gotta get back to basics:

think write communicate revise

Think.  Clients pay us to think through their problems broadly and deeply.

Write.  If you can’t put it into words and visuals, you aren’t saying anything.

Communicate.  Share the storyline with the client and experts.  Vet the story.

Revise.  Consulting is about modeling your way to the answer.

These are simple lessons that I have not been applying to my project, and it shows. Back to basics.  Have a great Friday all.