I gave this advice to a newbie manager this week. The manager kept acting like an individual contributor, as if that was enough to succeed. He kept saying, “well, I do this” and “I do that”. Wrong point of view. No sense of managerial duties.
Managers are the glue. Good managers give the consulting firm leverage and profitability because they know how to run teams. They are able to take assignments, and efficiently farm them the work out to people lower in the pyramid. . . people with less experience, less opportunity cost (read: lower wages) who can responsibly get the work done. Managers work too, but more importantly, they run the factory.
Yes, it is an over-simplification, but not by much. The mantra of “finders, minders, grinders” model is largely true. If consulting is a pyramid (it is. . .) then we have roles:
- Partners/principals look for work, help scope the projects
- Senior managers/managers develop and execute plans, keep clients happy
- Senior consultants/consultants, frankly, do a lot of the analytics and work
Become the “go-to” person. As a manager looking to rise in the ranks, your mission is to become a “go-to” person when partners/principals are looking to get proposals finished, and projects delivered. You know how to get smart on a topic. Every time you have a call with a partner, you take great notes, you build on their assumptions and thoughts. You have impactful conversations and convert partner thoughts into proposal and PowerPoint decks. In short, you are a pleasure to work with.
Develop a brand. Everything is branding. With partners, you are the manager who can get proposals done well and early. With your peers, you are someone always willing to help out, give fair feedback, and take time out of your day to listen/commiserate. With consultants and analysts, you help train them on hard skills (e.g., excel, powerpoint, research), but also give good career and life advice. With HR, you are the one who can do case interviews and write mid-year evaluations on time.
Be greedy for work. In my simple mind, upward career progression is related to taking on more work. You make your boss’ life easier, and you continually look for more work that is higher impact (read: more profits for the firm). This is no easy task since you are probably already working 60-70 hours a week. Two things goals and two different approaches:
1. More difficult work. You start migrating to more difficult and ambiguous work. Instead of focusing on an inputs (e.g., creating a presentation, doing research), you are focused on outputs (e.g., sales meetings, recruitment, sales and profits). This is some combination of your existing experiences, your network, the market, your mentors, and dumb luck. You need to read a lot, listen to podcasts. Constantly get smarter.
2. More work. You volunteer to help on more proposals. You get leverage through your network of analysts and consultants who are willing to work weekends for you. You know how to recycle existing content from proposals and presentations. You know how to consulting with hypotheses – savings your teams hundreds of hours of consulting.
As the funny expression goes, “if you want something done, give it to someone who is busy.” Be the busy person who can take on more work, more difficult work. Increase your capacity to deliver profits to the firm. Be authentic and a great consultant.