Is Consulting For You?

Is Consulting For You

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Management consulting is a nice perch, but it is not for everyone.

Many people go into consulting with a plan to gain a few years of experience and then apply for B-school or pivot into industry or entrepreneurship. This is a legitimate strategy, but it can also be a cop out with many people leaving their career direction too much to chance.

The sooner you figure out what you are passionate about, the better.

One of the reasons that many applicants are attracted to the consulting industry is that consultants travel with work.

Travelling sounds like fun, but travelling for work can be a double edged sword. Constant travel, lonely hotel rooms, and an inability to plan time with family and friends can be disruptive and exhausting. Different consulting firms have different travel policies, and if travel is an important factor for your decision then look into this before applying.

Consulting is not for everyone, and one reason is that consultants work hard to provide valuable recommendations but tend not to see the fruits of their labor. Consultants often leave a client prior to implementation. For people who enjoy seeing projects through to completion, this can be unsatisfying. Clients also tend to take the credit for positive outcomes and blame consultants if things go wrong. As New York based consultant Alan Weiss would say, “If you want to be loved, get a dog.”

[For more information on the management consulting industry, download “The HUB’s Guide to Management Consulting“.]

3 Ways to Distinguish Yourself

We live in an increasingly digital and technology enabled world, which is increasing the level of competition between organisations.

Why is this the case?

There are three key reasons.

Firstly, technology is helping to lower barriers to entry. It has never been easier to create new goods and services, and get them noticed by your target audience.  Whether it be a website, a blog or an iPhone app, the initial startup costs for launching a new project have never been lower. This is especially true for organisations that have software development skills and who are able to produce new digital products by drawing on their own capabilities.

Secondly, the Internet is the greatest communication device ever invented, and allows customers to find out about products quickly and easily. This means that customers have more information than ever before, and are able to switch from one organisation to another based on the benefits on offer and the asking price. Customers have more power, and so organisations need to stay on their toes.

Thirdly, the large number of startups which are being launched each year means that there are lots of failures but also lots of breakout success stories. This increases the intensity of competitive rivalry for everyone, and makes it more important for organisations to innovate where they can before someone else innovates for them.

In this world of increased competition, here are three (3) ways to distinguish yourself:

1. Brand building – tell a compelling story and build relationships with the people who care. Your story won’t resonate with everyone, but it will resonate with some people. And so the goal is to find your people, to feed them and to delight them.

2. Making old things new – iPhone apps and websites can be used to add additional value to offline products and services. One example of a company that seems to have done this quite nicely is Bluesmart. Travel bags are old news, but by redesigning the travel bag and connecting it with a user friendly iPhone app, the company has created the world’s first smart luggage and is re-imagining the travel experience.

3. Mix things up – I am currently staying in a hotel in Beijing. The reception staff have been very nice to me, but they don’t seem to be too friendly to the locals who come to stay here. The staff appear to have the mentality that they are selling beds, and so the need to smile and be friendly to customers is not part of what they are providing. This, of course, misses the point entirely. Everything you say or do is part of the experience, and part of the value that you provide to others. And so while smiling may not be a core part of your business, it doesn’t hurt to mix things up a little.

Required Consulting Skills

Required Consulting Skills

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The consulting industry provides many services and covers many industry sectors, and so the domain knowledge and expertise that a consultant needs will vary depending on the industry focus and services that the consultant actually provides.

That being said, there are some generic skills that every consultant will need to have.

As a starting point, every consultant will need to be intelligent and energetic to cope with client expectations, a relentless travel schedule and demanding deadlines. Consultants will also need to enjoy learning since no two consulting assignments are the same. Consulting firms screen heavily for intelligence and enthusiasm during the application process. If you are not smart and energetic then breaking into and succeeding in the consulting industry may be an uphill battle.

Skills Required By Junior and Mid-level Consultants

Assuming a consultant has sufficient aptitude and the right temperament, there are also a number of generic skills that junior and mid-level consultants require, outlined below.

As you read through the list, be honest with yourself. Do you possess these skills? You don’t need to be perfect on day one, but your time is valuable and pursuing a career in consulting will be challenging if you are not well prepared.

Which areas do you need to work on?

  1. Communication skills – Consultants work in many different service areas and industry sectors. Where ever a consultant may find herself, she will need to be able to communicate clearly and persuasively. Consultants need to be able to collect information from employees, obtain client buy-in, ensure that the proposed solution is feasible, and present recommendations to senior management.
  2. People skills – Consultants work in teams and often deal with the client’s senior management team. As such, consultants need to be agreeable and pleasant to work with as well as assertive and able to influence outcomes.
  3. Quantitative skills – Consulting firms screen applicants in the interview for their quantitative skills using market sizing and maths questions. It is important for consultants to be comfortable working with numbers and using programs like Excel. Some people are better at maths than others, but all applicants can improve their maths skills through dedicated practice.
  4. Analytical skills – Consultants need the ability to collect and synthesize large amounts of information, develop a hypothesis about the client’s problem, analyze the data to uncover insights, and come up with a set of recommendations. In short, consultants require strong analytical skills.
  5. Organisational skills – Consulting assignments can be fast paced, multifaceted and chaotic, and consultants are sometimes staffed on more than one assignment. Consultants without strong organizational skills are likely to flounder.
  6. Initiative – Consultants need to be able to identify issues and take action without supervision, and to know when to ask for help. A consultant will sometimes be sent to work independently at the client site, and should be able to represent her consulting firm and make a favorable impression with the client.

Skills Required By Partners

With good core skills and a strong performance record a consultant can get promoted through the ranks. However, once she approaches partner level a consultant will also need strong sales and marketing skills if she wants to be able to sell high priced consulting services and enjoy continued success at partner level.

[For more information on the management consulting industry, download “The HUB’s Guide to Management Consulting“.]

9 M’s Resource Audit Checklist

An organisation’s approach to strategy will always depend on the circumstances.

Who are the organisation’s competitors? There will be existing competitors, and outsiders who might threaten to compete in future.

And who are the organisation’s customers? There will be existing customers, and larger groups that the organisation wants to target.

By understanding the external environment, an organisation will then be able to develop a strategy to achieve continued success by taking advantage of opportunities and avoiding threats.

But while understanding the business situation will obviously be very important for ongoing success, an organisation’s ability to compete will ultimately be determined by the resources and capabilities that the organisation has available to it.

In order to find out what these resources and capabilities might be, an organisation will want to carry out a systematic review; a process that might be referred to as a ‘resource audit’.

The thing about auditing is that it tends to be quite a formal process, and you want to make sure that you don’t miss anything. And so, it will be a good idea to use a checklist.

While by no means perfect, the 9 M’s Resource Audit Checklist might prove useful for the task.

The checklist categorises an organisation’s resources into nine categories; each of which, as you might of guessed, starts with the letter ‘M’:

  1. Materials: Who are the organisation’s suppliers? Does the organisation have good working relationships with them? Are they reliable and responsive? Do they provide quality inputs? How much do they cost? Do they have spare capacity? Where are they located?
  2. Machinery: What kind of plant, equipment and other tangible assets are used by the organisation to turn raw materials into finished products? What is the age, condition and utilisation rate of these asset? Are they technologically up to date? What is the likely replacement cost? What is the quality of finished products?
  3. Make-up: What is the culture and structure of the organisation? What intangible assets does the organisation possess, e.g. patents, trade marks, brands, and good will?
  4. Management: What are the skills, experience level and vision of senior management? What is the management structure and prospects for career progression? Are management loyal to the organisation, and are there programs in place to align management incentives with the long-term interests of the organisation?
  5. Management information: Does management have the ability to generate and share relevant and timely information within the organisation? Does management have the ability to easily collect and analyse information from within the organisation to support strategic decision making?
  6. Markets: What customer segments and regions does the organisation serve? What products are sold in each market? What is the market position of the organisation? What is the position and life cycle of its products?
  7. Men and women: How many staff does the organisation employ? How does the organisation attract, select and recruit new candidates? What skills do they have, and what training programs are in place to support their development? How are staff compensated, and what are wage costs as a proportion of total costs? What is the level of staff morale and labour turnover?
  8. Methods: How are activities carried out? Are they capital intensive or labour intensive? Which activities are performed in-house, and which activities are outsourced? How does the organisation handle its supply chain process, e.g. push method, pull method?
  9. Money: What is the organisation’s cash position? What is the credit period? What is the turnover period? What kind of short-term and long-term financing does the organisation have access to? What is the organisation’s debt-to-asset ratio? What are its investment plans, and how will they be funded?