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Be The Best Consultant Ever: 6 Things That Will Make You Great

You may have noticed that the consulting industry is full of high performers from top schools with great grades and interesting work experience. So, what does it take to succeed in such a competitive industry among the best of the best?

From my experience, there are a number of qualities that top performers adopt that are much more important than a golden resume. Whether you’ve just started a consulting job or are considering it as a career path, think about how you can develop the following qualities that will help you go from being a good consultant to a great one.

1. Being a “Safe Pair of Hands”

This essentially means that you will do exactly what you said you were going to do, when you said you were going to do it. Sounds simple, but it’s the number one quality needed to build trust and credibility among your team and your clients.

For example, in the beginning of your career, your team will lean on you for support in the more rote areas of consulting work, such as creating PowerPoint decks, taking notes, and organizing projects, and it’s important for you to be able to do these tasks without errors or much oversight from your manager. Make sure you keep your promises, be consistent in your quality, and master the basic skills in Excel and PowerPoint. The more trust you build early on, the more opportunities you will be given in the future.

2. Having Attention to Detail

This is such a crucial skill in consulting because one of the ways we build trust with clients is by producing error-free deliverables, which shows that we’re thorough and our recommendations are solid. Ensuring there are no grammar, spelling, or calculation-related mistakes are in your work is essential and ultimately reflects on your entire team.

If you have a natural attention to detail, congrats! But if, like me, you are more of a big picture thinker, there are a few tricks I’ve learned to help build this important skill. First, when it comes to math, show your work. I know this sounds like your high-school teacher talking, but this always helps to ensure you’ve thought of everything and allows you to show your manager the steps you took to get to your answer (and find any errors before it reaches the client).

The second step—and the one that has turned me slightly OCD—is to create lists of things to double-check before submitting anything. For example, I have a PowerPoint check-off list that includes things like adding page numbers to every slide, recalculating all numbers, and making sure a consistent font is used throughout.

3. Being the “Go-To” for Something

During your first few years of consulting, you’ll likely be floating between industries, areas, and clients. Despite your broad experiences, it’s a good idea to start developing a skill that allows you to differentiate yourself from all your rock star peers.

While being a jack-of-all Microsoft trades (Excel, Word, PowerPoint) is definitely needed, the consultants who perform best always have an area that they truly excel in—one that’s in demand and that nobody else seems to have. Whether that’s advanced financial modeling, communications skills, or a particularly deep knowledge in an industry, take the time to find out what you can become the go-to person for.

4. Knowing How to Think Before You Do

As mentioned before, almost all consultants are A-type personalities with enough ambition to last a lifetime. But what really distinguishes a good consultant from a great one is the ability to not only focus on the tasks at hand, but also to think critically about the work.

For example, your client may be asking you to find cost savings in a supply chain, but first, try to understand why this is critical to the business. Are profits declining? Is the competition lowering product prices, forcing your client to compete? Knowing how to think this way will help you develop better insights and solutions for your client. Try spending a little extra time thinking through your task before jumping in, interpret the numbers you’re crunching (don’t just be an Excel monkey!), and challenge your manager’s requests (when appropriate, of course).

5. Having Resourcefulness 

In consulting, you will be asked to solve problems that may be completely new to you—or even completely new to the industry. And when you’re faced with these tough problems or challenging requirements, it’s your resourcefulness that will help you succeed. While this isn’t quite Outward Bound, you should develop the ability to quickly and creatively solve problems.

As a general rule of thumb, when you need help, you should approach your team and manager first, followed by your peers and internal experts, and then other external resources. There is likely someone who has done what you are trying to do before and can help you find the answer—or at least help you think about new ways to tackle the problem. Be sure to not give up too quickly, be creative in your research efforts, and show your team that you’re willing to do whatever it takes.

6. Not Being Afraid to Ask (Good) Questions

Asking questions is at the core of how a consultant works, so much so that there are times when I feel like Sherlock Holmes! Questions help ensure you understand what you are being asked to do and the issues your client is facing, and they can also help you to demonstrate your understanding. Never be afraid to ask for clarification—it’s better than doing something wrong. Even if you don’t have a question to ask, restating what you’ve been told to clarify your understanding can inspire confidence with your manager or client.

Of course, be sure to ask questions in a helpful, non-annoying way. If you have multiple, send them in a single, structured request rather than repeatedly approaching your manager or client. Also, take simple questions on items such as acronyms or Excel formulas to your peers or Google.

It takes a lot to succeed in the consulting world, but focus on these key skills. You’ll have everything you need to shoot above and beyond your peers.

This article was originally published on The Daily Muse.

Alex Nuth is a Management[/entity] Consultant at Accenture and has worked across a number of industries and functional areas helping clients solve some of their largest and most important challenges. She graduated from the University of Calgary with a Bachelor of Commerce in 2011 where her courses focused on Entrepreneurship and Innovation. She enjoys traveling and has worked in both China and Colombia.

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Are you virtual? If not, here is why you should be….

There is an industry-wide trend towards virtual, dispersed teams. Our research indicates that current business practices associated with the recruitment, utilization and retention of consulting professionals causes both margin compression, and a significant loss of revenue opportunities. Inadequate support systems force unwanted turnover that drains profitability by a factor of five times the median consultant’s salary.  Inefficient and unverified skills matching for each subcontractor pool of 2500 consultants, deployed at a 5:1 ratio, prevents the capture of approximately $80m of additional revenue, $12.5m in net income and $.01 in earnings per share.  The use of itCONSULTmp’s roster of benchmarked best practices reduces the cost of validating candidates for both permanent and temporary hires by an average $32,000 per recruiter per year, and further leads to a re-allocation of up to 15% of a manager’s time currently wasted on non-billable invoice reconciliation and client queries. The use of best practice, electronic skills and requirements matching, drives the efficient deployment of subcontractors towards more valuable, and more professionally attractive high-skill assignments.  itCONSULTmp’s benchmark research reveals that such best practice usage delivers a 7% higher EBITDA, and a 17.6% lower Cost of Sales than the consulting industry average. The macro, industry-wide trend towards the application of these best practices, and the network efficiencies which they leverage, will inevitably become the norm.  We project leadership in this space will be highly rewarded.

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The German Psychologists’ victorious quest for parity … Or: Can consulting services be commoditized???

How the sophisticated application of data analysis and de-mystification of “unique solutions” will let you not only survive but thrive in a hostile, no-growth environment – while former competitors may become extinct!

German Psychologists had been advocating for the appreciation of their science and profession for several decades. But it was not until German and Swiss Psychologists united at the University of Bern in the early 1990’s that their dream would become reality. How did they do it? By raising the bar when it comes to the application of mathematics, particularly statistics and research design to a new level. In the most comprehensive therapy outcome meta analysis ever conducted, commonly practiced therapy approaches including pharmacological treatment were scrutinized for their efficacy remedying the most common psychiatric disorders. The results led to true parity for psychologists and changed health care administration irrevocably:

Particular therapeutic approaches were found to be significantly superior over pharmacological treatment in their efficacy mid- and long-term for most psychiatric disorders.

  1. Even if less credentialed and/or academically trained professionals follow the identified and standardized best practice treatment protocols progress remains significant in mid- and long-term efficacy and superior to other approaches applied by expensively and expensively trained experts.
  2. Long-term psychoanalysis failed to prove its efficacy and hence to justify the status quo.
  3. Practitioners of therapeutic schools that failed to prove their efficacy were denied reimbursement by health insurance providers. These approaches are therefore becoming extinct.

Old-school psychoanalysts had always claimed that their approach should be considered more of an art, something that cannot really be captured, standardized, explained or reproduced easily. Unless, they said, you have undergone your own psychoanalysis, and years of weekly therapy sessions. The burdensome economics and inefficiencies of such a dogmatic approach equates to the value of a single family home or the acquisition of an advanced degree. Two of the most renowned and prominent psychoanalysts of their time conducted a comprehensive therapy outcome study which re-oriented and re-defined the critical success factors for psychoanalysis. (Wallerstein, R.S. (1989). Forty-two lives in treatment: A study of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. New York: Guilford Press.). This seminal study revealed embarrassing results for the “psychoanalysis as an art” school of thought. To avoid economic extinction one must, 1.) utilize sophisticated data analysis tools to capture best practices and increase transparency and predictability, and 2.) even a unique solution provider must scientifically prove efficacy in comparison to competitors.

There are both striking parallels and existential lessons to be drawn from this narrative for the practitioners and business owners of consulting services enterprises.

READ ON PILGRIM………………………………………

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Personality Tests: Modern-Day Phrenology

Companies use personality tests for a variety of purposes, such as employment screening, assessing leadership potential, fostering corroboration and teamwork, and so on.

The most widely used is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), created by Pennsylvania housewife Isabel Myers. This particular test is utilized by 89% of the Fortune 100, given to 2.5 million people each year to identify strengths and enhance teamwork. She thought the test could bring about world peace.

The Minnesota Multiphase Personality Inventory (MMPI) was developed in 1946 to sort mental patients into diagnostic categories. It was then expanded in an attempt to describe normal people.

Of course, popularity does not imply scientific validity. What is worse, most companies keep these tests confidential so the data cannot be scientifically tested to determine effectiveness.

These tests are also popular among consultants, who are paid good money to administer them in a convivial atmosphere. But the fallacy is the tests measure what we are like and who we are, not what we know, believe, or can do. They confuse labeling personality with understanding it.

The tests are also reassuring confirmations of what people already know about themselves, what psychologists call the permanency tendency. They also tend to validate the positive characteristics we all believe we possess, the so-called Pollyanna principle.

Companies might as well bring their people together to play with Ouija boards, which are equally entertaining while having roughly the same empirical validity. As they say, if you really want to learn what someone is like, marry them or work for them.

Annie Murphy Paul, former senior editor at Psychology Today, has written a scathing indictment against these tests, labeling them modern-day phrenology, in her book The Cult of Personality Testing: How Personality Tests Are Leading Us to Miseducate Our Children, Mismanage Our Companies, and Misunderstand Ourselves. Here a few of her more condemning facts:

…[A]s many as three-quarters of test takers achieve a different personality type when tested again, and the sixteen distinctive types described by the Myers-Briggs have no scientific basis whatsoever.

The sly brilliance of using personality test[s] to label employees is that, by dint of answering the test’s questions, employees appear to be labeling themselves. … Under this banner of respect for individuality, organizations are able to shift responsibility for employee satisfaction onto that obliging culprit, ‘fit.’

And research has found little connection between indicator types and real-life outcomes. There is scant evidence that MBTI results are useful in determining managerial effectiveness, helping to build teams, providing career counseling, enhancing insight into self or others, or any other of the myriad uses for which it is promoted.”

Professor Erkko Autio, department of management at HEC Lausanne, in Switzerland, pointed out the same defects with respect to the current fad of “emotional intelligence” in a letter to The Economist:

It might interest you to know that not a single serious study has ever been able to demonstrate a link between “emotional intelligence” and leadership effectiveness. The most robust and consistent single predictor of leadership effectiveness is, simply, intelligence. Emotional intelligence sells well, but scientific evidence supporting it is almost as solid as that supporting the effectiveness of homeopathy (The Economist, Aug 26, 2006: 14).

Professor Autio is certainly correct in the assertion that intelligent quotient (IQ) is a better predictor of executive effectiveness, as The Bell Curve has empirically demonstrated. If you were confined to learning one number about an individual to predict their standard of living, you would be hard pressed to find a better one than their IQ.

That being said, firms are not confined to knowing just one thing about their potential or existing employees. As Rabbi Daniel Lapin wrote in Thou Shall Prosper: “You are best understood and appraised by others on the basis of the things you believe rather than on the basis of the things you know.” Or, I might add, rather than on the basis of your personality or year of birth (see Generational Astrology).

We are better off understanding people’s beliefs if we want to even begin to understand how and why the Germans of the Third Reich could carry out their murderous orders in acquiescent servility, or the people who flew airplanes into buildings killing innocent civilians on September 11, 2001.

Trying to simplify the spirituality and soul of a human life by labeling it with a personality type (or even an IQ) is to disregard the uniqueness and dignity of individuals, which requires judgment and discernment far more than measurement. As Peter Drucker once wrote, “There is no such thing as an infallible judge of people, at least not on this side of the Pearly Gates.”

I am not going to offer a replacement to personality testing because you don’t need to replace meaningless practices with anything. I will suggest, instead, that you follow the wisdom of Chinese philosopher Lin Yutang, from his book, The Importance of Living:

To me… man’s dignity consists in the following facts which distinguish man from animals. First, that he has a playful curiosity and a natural genius for exploring knowledge; second, that he has dreams and a lofty idealism…third, and still more important, that he is able to correct his dreams by a sense of humor, and thus restrain his idealism by a more robust and healthy realism; and finally, that he does not react to surroundings mechanically and uniformly as animals do, but possesses the ability and the freedom to determine his own reactions and to change surroundings at his will.

This last is the same as saying that human personality is the last thing to be reduced to mechanical laws; somehow the human mind is forever elusive, uncatchable and unpredictable, and manages to wriggle out of mechanistic laws or a materialistic dialectic that crazy psychologists and unmarried economists are trying to impose upon him. Man, therefore, is a curious, dreamy, humorous and wayward creature. In short, my faith in human dignity consists in the belief that man is the greatest scamp on earth.

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Understanding the Structural Changes in Employment and Talent Needs in Business Services

Uncertain business conditions, slower growth in domestic markets, gains in productivity and continuing movement of work offshore are conspiring to create a bleak picture of total employment in business services (primarily finance, HR, procurement and IT) in North America and Europe. The Hackett Group projects a 46% decline from the baseline employment level of 8.0 million business services jobs in 2002 to 4.3 million by year-end 2017. Underlying this outlook is a complex reality consisting of shortages of specialized skills combined with an excess of commodity skills. Therefore, although total demand for labor capacity is in decline, a war for differentiating talent is in full swing. Service delivery organizations that most effectively wage this war will be tomorrow’s world-class performers.

Read full article here

Published by The Hackett group

By Erik Dorr, Michel Janssen and Honorio J. Padrón III

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The world-class performance advantage: How leading IT organizations outperform their peers

Benchmarking will become ‘de rigeur’.

Conventional wisdom says there must always be a tradeoff between efficiency and effectiveness, but world-class IT organizations are more productive than their peers, with fewer full-time equivalents (FTEs) per 1,000 end-user equivalents, and their costs are 15% lower. In fact, the typical company can save up to $26 million by closing the gap to world-class IT performance. Moreover, the benefits of  world-class IT performance accrue not just to the function itself but also to the company as a whole. Due to a focus on reducing needless complexity, more transactions are completed electronically, leading to lower labor and operational costs for business partners as well as suppliers and customers. Although the journey to world-class performance may take five or more years, a company is likely to see marked improvements within two.

While “world-class performance” is often used colloquially, The Hackett Group’s empirically based research methodology defines world-class IT organizations as those that are in the top 25% of organizations as measured against a set of efficiency and effectiveness metrics. Also,  conventional wisdom says that IT organizations inevitably must accept some efficiency in exchange for more effectiveness, but world-class IT organizations defy this premise. They are able to outperform the majority of other companies in The Hackett Group’s IT benchmark database (called the “peer group”) in efficiency measures such as cost, complexity and project delivery performance as well  as effectiveness measures such as project ROI, business enablement and extent of process automation.

Read full article from The Hackett Group here

Published by The Hackett Group
By Nathanael Novosel and John Reeves

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Consulting on the Cusp of Disruption

Even the highest level of consulting is being disrupted!

After years of debate and study, in 2007 McKinsey & Company initiated a series of business model innovations that could reshape the way the global consulting firm engages with clients. One of the most intriguing of these is McKinsey Solutions, software and technology-based analytics and tools that can be embedded at a client, providing ongoing engagement outside the traditional project-based model. McKinsey Solutions marked the first time the consultancy unbundled its offerings and focused so heavily on hard knowledge assets. Indeed, although McKinsey and other consulting firms have gone through many waves of change—from generalist to functional focus, from local to global structures, from tightly structured teams to spiderwebs of remote experts—the launch of McKinsey Solutions is dramatically different because it is not grounded in deploying human capital. Why would a firm whose primary value proposition is judgment-based and bespoke diagnoses invest in such a departure when its core business was thriving?

For starters, McKinsey Solutions might enable shorter projects that provide clearer ROI and protect revenue and market share during economic downturns. And embedding proprietary analytics at a client can help the firm stay “top of mind” between projects and generate leads for future engagements. While these commercial benefits were most likely factors in McKinsey’s decision, we believe that the driving force is almost certainly larger: McKinsey Solutions is intended to provide a strong hedge against potential disruption.

In our research and teaching at Harvard Business School, we emphasize the importance of looking at the world through the lens of theory—that is, of understanding the forces that bring about change and the circumstances in which those forces are operative: what causes what to happen, when and why. Disruption is one such theory, but we teach several others, encompassing such areas as customer behavior, industry development, and human motivation. Over the past year we have been studying the professional services, especially consulting and law, through the lens of these theories to understand how they are changing and why. We’ve spoken extensively with more than 50 leaders of incumbent and emerging firms, their clients, and academics and researchers who study them. In May 2013 we held a roundtable at HBS on the disruption of the professional services to encourage greater dialogue and debate on this subject.

We have come to the conclusion that the same forces that disrupted so many businesses, from steel to publishing, are starting to reshape the world of consulting. The implications for firms and their clients are significant. The pattern of industry disruption is familiar: New competitors with new business models arrive; incumbents choose to ignore the new players or to flee to higher-margin activities; a disrupter whose product was once barely good enough achieves a level of quality acceptable to the broad middle of the market, undermining the position of longtime leaders and often causing the “flip” to a new basis of competition.

Early signs of this pattern in the consulting industry include increasingly sophisticated competitors with nontraditional business models that are gaining acceptance. Although these upstarts are as yet nowhere near the size and influence of big-name consultancies like McKinsey, Bain, and Boston Consulting Group (BCG), the incumbents are showing vulnerability. For example, at traditional strategy-consulting firms, the share of work that is classic strategy has been steadily decreasing and is now about 20%, down from 60% to 70% some 30 years ago, according to Tom Rodenhauser, the managing director of advisory services at Kennedy Consulting Research & Advisory.

Big consulting is also questioning its sacred cows: We spoke to a partner at one large firm who anticipates that the percentage of projects employing value-based pricing instead of per diem billing will go from the high single digits to a third of the business within 20 years. Even McKinsey, as we have seen, is pursuing innovation with unusual speed and vigor. Though the full effects of disruption have yet to hit consulting, our observations suggest that it’s just a matter of time.

Why Consulting Was Immune for So Long

Management consulting’s fundamental business model has not changed in more than 100 years. It has always involved sending smart outsiders into organizations for a finite period of time and asking them to recommend solutions for the most difficult problems confronting their clients. Some experienced consultants we interviewed scoffed at the suggestion of disruption in their industry, noting that (life and change being what they are) clients will always face new challenges. Their reaction is understandable, because two factors—opacity and agility—have long made consulting immune to disruption.

Like most other professional services, consulting is highly opaque compared with manufacturing-based companies. The most prestigious firms have evolved into “solution shops” whose recommendations are created in the black box of the team room. (See the exhibit “Consulting: Three Business Models.”) It’s incredibly difficult for clients to judge a consultancy’s performance in advance, because they are usually hiring the firm for specialized knowledge and capability that they themselves lack. It’s even hard to judge after a project has been completed, because so many external factors, including quality of execution, management transition, and the passage of time, influence the outcome of the consultants’ recommendations. As a result, a critical mechanism of disruption is disabled.

Read full article here

Published in Harvard Business Review by Clayton M. Christensen, Dina Wang, and Derek van Bever.

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