Mythbusters: The Management Consultant Edition

So you’re interested in being a management consultant? Great! But what is it that they actually do? If you’re still not sure of the answer then read on, as I bust the myths and reveal the realities of what it truly means to be a “management consultant”.

1. Consulting only pertains to the business sector- MYTH

Consultants can be utilised among a broad range of industries and sectors. After all, no business runs smoothly 100% of the time! You can find consultants working with a broad range of sectors from manufacturing and financial services to charities and government. However, the work that consultants do for each sector is not the same; for instance, consultants may work with banks to implement new technologies whilst adhering to financial regulations but work with the manufacturing sector to streamline its supply chain.

2. Consultants can specialise in a certain type of consulting- REAL

Being a “consultant” may sound like a vague term but it is possible to specialise in a certain type of consulting, either with experience or by working for a smaller, niche firm. At a senior consultant or manager level in a large firm, you can specialise in a certain industry and become an expert in that area. Alternatively, there are specialist firms that provide specific types of services like strategy, human resources, IT, finance and outsourcing. If you’re looking for something different still, there are niche firms that focus on a particular sector, and with enough experience and knowledge you can become a freelancer and offer your services to whomever you wish. With all this choice, you’ll easily be able to find an area of consulting that you’re truly interested in and enjoy!

3. It involves a lot of teamwork – REAL

Identifying and offering solutions to large companies would be a mammoth task if you had to do it all by yourself, so thankfully there will always be a team of people to support you. Teamwork is an essential skill for consultants as they typically find themselves working within a team on projects. That is not to say that the work you do won’t be your own, but the whole team will be working closely with the client to identify problems and analyse the issue thoroughly to ensure the recommendations given are accurate and effective.

4. The work is not varied – MYTH

A consultant’s work is never done, as they jump from project to project, and with each business comes a different set of needs and thus a different set of tasks. As a result, consultants can find themselves doing a variety of work on a day-to-day basis, and it is often the wide range of experiences that most attracts people to the profession. Tasks can range from meeting with clients and carrying out research, to preparing presentations and creating computer models. A lot of the work is centred on collecting and analysing data, so you can expect to be conducting interviews, running focus groups and facilitating workshops to get the information you need. But don’t expect to be bored – many consultants cite the varied work as the reason why their job remains interesting and challenging.

5. Consulting is a degree specific industry – MYTH

This is pretty self-evident since there isn’t really a “consulting” degree, but many people assume you must have a business/economics background to be a consultant. Sure, it may help if you already have some basic business knowledge and some firms do favour candidates with numerical/analytical degrees, but that’s not to say you are barred from the profession if you don’t have this knowledge. Many consultants learn on the job through graduate training schemes and firms welcome a wide range of backgrounds and skills to suit their wide range of specialisms. However, as with any corporate job, commercial experience is helpful and commercial awareness (everyone’s favourite graduate recruitment buzzword) is essential. So although you don’t need to have studied business to be a consultant, you will need to show some understanding of how the business world works.

6. It can be a stressful job – REAL

Sadly, this is a reality that you will have to get used to as a consultant. Depending on the project, the hours can be long (a working week of 50 or more hours is common) and the deadlines tight (a project can run anywhere from one day to several months). There can also be a huge amount of pressure and responsibility put on you to hit deadlines so that the project is completed on time. Therefore, being able to deal with stress is a vital skill if you want to succeed in the profession. However, many consultants actively thrive under the pressure, so don’t be completely put off just because you may have to pull some long nights every now and again.

7. There are opportunities to work abroad – REAL

Consultants go to where the clients are, which means you may have to travel abroad. This will be more likely in bigger firms where the work is more international, as bigger clients may have offices overseas. However, even if the work you do isn’t international, consultants tend to travel a lot in general (since they are often based in clients’ offices), so expect to be moving between client sites all around the country if the client site isn’t local.

8. Career progression is structured – REAL

In most consulting firms, there is a structured ladder for career progression. As a graduate, you’ll start off as an analyst, which mainly involves research, data collection and analysis, before moving on to a full consultancy role after gaining some experience. You can progress to a senior consultant or manager level within about three years (depending on how good you are), at which point you will lead the teams and design and develop solutions and projects. From here, you can become a partner or a director of the firm, where you will be responsible for generating new business, developing client relationships and overseeing the growth of the firm. The progression doesn’t have to stop here: many move on to set up their own consulting firms or go freelance. The great thing about consulting is that there is no set time limit on when you can progress to the next level – you can move up when you’re ready. So if you work hard and are good at your job, you’ll reach the top in no time!

Vivien Zhu is a student studying History at the University of Oxford and is considering a career in Management Consultancy. She currently resides in Hertfordshire, England and is a regular contributor to student publications such as Spoon University and the Cherwell.

Image: Pexels

Why Reducing Stress Stabilises Your Profits

As a small business consultant, I see the impact that stress has on people’s lives up close. Many times it is a good thing as it forces the business owner to adapt and excel so that his business thrives. Excelling, however, is contingent on the business owner knowing how to harness small doses of stress and manage its effects.

Unfortunately, for far too many people stress both consumes them and paralyses their decision-making abilities so that their health deteriorates and their business suffers as their short-term profits evaporate.

Elevated stress levels over time can lead to myriad health issues, such as high blood pressure, obesity, sleep problems, and headaches. Work relationships with employees, clients, and suppliers can also suffer as unmanaged stress can cause the owner to make more mistakes, become irritable, lack focus, and perhaps even resort to medications to lessen the feeling of being overwhelmed.

Unmanaged stress can impact profits. The American Institute of Stress in 2014 estimated that around $300 billion is lost each year in America due to stress related absenteeism and health costs. While in the UK, the Labour Force Survey found that 11.7 million days were lost in 2015/16 due to stress.

As an owner’s ability to perform suffers due to stress, the management of the business can deteriorate. Client work will not get the attention that it deserves, staff will leave to find a less volatile work environment, and competitors will start to gain an edge. Diminishing business performance will undoubtedly cause the owner to become even more stressed, leading to further poor decision making. It will only be a matter of time before the overall business declines because its foundation, the owner, is unstable.

So, what is the small business owner to do?

  1. Remember to keep things in perspective. While the success or failure of your business endeavours are largely dependent on your efforts, there are many things outside your control, such as the economy, regulatory change, and political decisions.
  2. Focus your efforts on the task at hand. Evidence suggests that multi-tasking does not work. It only leads to ineffectiveness and inefficiencies. Just think how dangerous it is to text and drive at the same time; it is illegal, not just inadvisable, as you are repeatedly shifting your focus from the road to the phone. You cannot do multiple tasks at once and expect to do them all at the same high level of performance. Constantly switching your focus as you move between tasks drains your mental reserves.
  3. Schedule your activities to achieve control over your day. There is a reason why militaries and schools are highly regimented, and that is because routine is the best way to achieve results. If you want to have less stress, you need to have more planning, which should encourage you to schedule your activities, track the time taken to complete these activities and then follow up on them to see how it could be done better in the future.
  4. Document processes and repetitive tasks, whether they are back office or client facing. Thanks to technological advancements, this is now very cost effective with companies like Process Street or SweetProcess specialising in standardising operating procedures. Every successful business is bigger than any staff member, even the owner. Therefore, by documenting work process and key areas of organisational knowledge this will allow a new person to step in and with minimal training pick up where the last person left off. If everything is in the owner’s head, or in the heads of employees, you are putting your business in a very precarious position.

As you can see, having high levels of stress for indefinite periods of time and having no way to manage this will have a negative effect on your health and overall business performance. Managing stress is vastly more important than chasing profits because most small businesses are an extension of their owner and an owner can’t just take six months off on stress leave and have other people cover for him. A healthy owner equals a healthy business and a higher chance of converting profiits into a long term sustainable future.

Benard Chedid is a small business consultant based in Sydney, Australia. His aim is to help small businesses professionalise by filling in the missing gaps that are holding them back, whether marketing or administration, sales or bookkeeping.

Image: Flickr

How to Make Stress Your Friend

Viewing stress as helpful can foster courage, and connecting with others under stress can aid resilience

KELLY McGONIGAL explains that merely believing that “stress is harmful” can increase your chances of premature death.

The good news is that by changing how you think about stress you can change your body’s stress response and improve your physical resilience.

When you choose to see stress in a positive way, as a sign that your body is energised and rising to meet the challenge, it can help you remain more relaxed and work better under stress. At the same time, it can change your biological response to look like joy and courage.

One of the interesting things about the stress response is that it can make you more social. Oxytocin, sometimes referred to as the cuddle hormone, is produced under conditions of stress and can prompt you to strengthen close relationships and support the people you care about.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, caring for other people can provide you with stress resilience. When you ask for help or give help to others under stress, the body produces more Oxytocin. And since the hormone is a natural anti-inflammatory, this can help your blood vessels stay relaxed and protect your heart and cardiovascular system from damage. According to McGonigal, people who spend time caring for others show no increase in premature death when placed under conditions of stress.

In the end, pursuing meaning in your life and in your career by finding ways to help others is likely to be better for your heath than merely trying to minimise stress and avoid discomfort.