Tales from the Road: Navigating the Complicated World of Consulting

Road toward mountain

MOFI’s experience SWAT team is always looking for its next challenge and never shies away from even the biggest, hairiest problems that get presented by our partners. In fact, we pride ourselves on making epic sh*t happen faster than most people can imagine.

To stay at the top of our game, we regularly ask our team members to reflect on what they’ve learned as they’ve navigated the ups and downs of the consulting world. Here are three of our favorite recent reflections.

Pay Attention when Key Leaders Don’t Want to Know the Details

If you’re in a meeting with a member of a company’s leadership team and it becomes clear that the leader doesn’t know (or doesn’t want to know) the meaning of one of the fundamental acronyms used across the entire organization, the company is likely putting profits over people.

Though executive leadership teams need to stay out of the weeds in order to focus on overall mission and strategy, they also need to set an example for being a fully engaged employee of the company. If the conductor of an orchestra becomes hyper-focused on ticket sales and stops caring about what’s happening in the string section, how are they going to sound on opening night? Executive leadership, like orchestra conductors, have to be invested in the music that the team members create together.

There’s a way to be invested in the employees that are grinding out the day-to-day core business and there’s a way to be dismissive of the basic needs of employees. If, as a consultant, you find yourself in a meeting with key members of leadership exhibiting the latter, your work may be dead on arrival.

Recommendation to Consultants:

If you find yourself in a position where a leader is routinely dismissive of the details, create opportunities to connect individually with the leader outside of the normal business routine to develop the leader’s heartsets. Whatever you are hired to do with a company won’t be successful until you can make significant strides in improving the employee experience. And, creating a positive employee experience always starts at the top.

If It Takes Twenty to Tango, You’re Doing It Wrong. 

Ever been on a Zoom call with 20 people for an hour? How about daily phone calls with the same group of 20?

In addition to being wasteful of people’s time and energy, large daily gatherings are counterproductive and a clear sign that something is wrong. Not everyone on this size of call needs to be informed about what is going on every day. It just means that there’s a breakdown in the chain of command and/or the modes of communication.

Of course, town hall meetings and large team meetings make sense as a part of an overall communications plan. In fact, the power to convene is probably one of the most important and underappreciated tools that leaders have. But, the power to convene can be abused like any other power in the hands of an executive leadership team.

Recommendation to consultants:

If you find yourself in a situation where you’re routinely having 20+ people on a call, or if every email requires cc’ing Josie, Isaiah, Umberto, Diana, and Diana’s uncle, it’s time to stop the presses and start looking for root causes. And, if you see someone abusing their power by over-convening, call bullsh*t as boldly as you can. Work with the misguided leader to reframe their use of this important power, unearth the root cause of the problem, and quickly design a plan to make things better.

That’s My Ride: Aligning around an Exit Strategy

As a consultant, you get to look at a company’s internal processes, relationships, and problems with more clarity than the company’s employees who are working each day just to keep the lights on. That often means two things:

  1. You will be perceived as a tasty morsel and, if you don’t protect yourself, the company will easily take advantage of you.
  2. Before accepting any new assigned task or duty, create an exit strategy with your team that includes clarity around when you will be stepping away from the project.

When working with consultants, companies have the responsibility to get as much work out of the consultants as possible. That makes total sense. However, as consultants, it’s important to keep the relationship healthy and balanced instead of being caught in unhealthy expectations or workflows. It’s way too easy to become mired in a company’s systemic issues and get unfairly blamed for something that has nothing to do with you.

Recommendation for Consultants: 

Awareness and planning are key in this situation. Because it’s easy to get caught up in wanting to maintain a good impression, it’s also easy to lose your grasp on what’s really happening. Pay attention to communications and behaviors that feel unhealthy and create a plan for navigating the treacherous waters, even at the risk of being fired. Getting everyone aligned on the plan will save you a ton of problems down river.

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