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The Consultant’s Mindset

Working for a large company makes it very easy to get comfortable. You wake up and go to the same office, work with the same people, and do relatively similar things consistently. It’s easy to get lulled into the pattern. In Silicon Valley, that pattern became a lifestyle. The internet bubble has passed and those young companies are learning how to build infrastructures to scale to volume and growth. With this maturing also comes personal growth that matches the business which a dear friend of mine describes as “The Consultant’s Mindset”. He says, “Employees need to approach work with the same attitude that they would if their contract had to be renewed every year.” People need to focus on defining the value they bring to the business, come up with a way to quantify that value, and ensuring that their professional demeanor brings credit to themselves and their organization.

Consultant’s, like companies, must become a trusted advisor to their customers. What does this mean? To really become a “trusted advisor”, you have to articulate customer needs in a way that they aren’t able too but intuitively feel; or you define a new need that they had no knowledge of but intuitively recognize the value. I’ve said it several times on this blog, if you’re not increasing revenue or decreasing cost you’re not doing your job. Define that value and validate it with your stakeholders. With this approach, the business will continue to renew itself and we will consistently grow the business and ourselves with it.

Measuring value isn’t hard but it sometimes takes thought. What do you cost as an employee? A good rule of thumb is twice to two and a half times your salary is the fully burdened cost. That includes electricity, office space, benefits, computer, etc. I asked a couple of friends who run their own companies what their expectation is relating to return on investments and they all said at least twice what they pay. I always try to scope projects in terms of how big the problem is. What is it costing? It could be lost revenue, cycle time, direct cost. Really think of what you’re trying to solve and why.

Silicon Valley is a funny place to work. Companies grew from start up to major business force at blinding speed. That start up mentality allowed for a strong culture of innovation. However, the casual appearance of the approach was deceiving. We were very objective oriented, but some thought we were not very “business like”. Some of that casualness remains and confuses some customers and people new to the high tech companies that misinterpret some of the cultural norms. For instance, shorts and sandals are not uncommon in engineering roles. As a regular employee we felt that we should have more latitude with this behavior because of the importance of the work we were performing. If we were on an annually renewed contract we would have probably strived to leave a different impression. When I was working as a consultant, my boss explained that when I go on a customer site that I should dress half a step up from the cultural norm. “It won’t set you apart from the client,” he said, “but it will maintain their perception of your professionalism.” Not only does your appearance change the way people view you but it also changes the way you view yourself.

We should all view ourselves as temporary workers on renewable contracts. Viewing ourselves as a renewable resource will help to increase our professionalism and our productivity. Consultants don’t often cause strife in the workplace because they want to keep their contracts. Why don’t regular company employees understand the importance of this attitude? Consultants also ensure the value of what they bring to the company and find ways to consistently communicate this to their stakeholders at appropriate times. Are you really maximizing your value in the workplace? Do people really know the importance and scope of value of your work? This is a disciplined approach to a job, but isn’t it worth the effort?

3 comments to The Consultant’s Mindset

  • Roy Stahl

    You are spot on with your “Good Side” of consulting. If all employees used their annual reviews as not just positioning to get a raise, but a true self assesment of how they add value to the company and what can be done over the next 12 months to justify their salary to their employeer (like a contractor). If this was done the world would be a better place.

    In a future blog I would like to see your views on the “Dark Side” of consulting (and how to avoid those pitfalls). Consultants/contractors sometimes only see of pot of gold in front of them and don’t do things that help the company in the long term. Sometimes a consultant can be a ‘day trader’ in a company – almost a pure Darth Vader as far as the ‘Dark Side’ goes. The true Jedi consultant will add value and make sure he isn’t hurting the long-term prospects of the company.

    Sorry if you have already covered this topic. I am new to your blog and just dropping my first comment. Gotta run and go add some value to my company.

  • Agreed. It is important to realize that shifting one’s mindset from a full-time employee to thinking of yourself as a consultant isn’t that much different.

    As a consultant, the consultant has to build a rapport to establish trust. Interview stakeholders to gather information, diagnose the issue and determine if the consultant can add value for the client. Assuming the client determines the consultant is capable based on referrals, etc. The consultant then has to deliver value and demonstrate their ability. Defining how business is done between the client and consultant involves sufficient information to complete the statement of work, a timeframe for completed work (deadline) and payment to the consultant.

    As a fulltime employee, employee’s establish trust through past performance and referral’s. Interview stakeholders to gather information, diagnose the issues and determine how to add value. Business conduct (pay, goals, objectives, etc) is established prior to employment and reviewed annually. Most people want to be effective at their jobs for raises and promotions. If employees are doing their job effectively (delivering value) they understand their impact to the business as a result. The results from the previous year are used as a referral to keep them employed for the next year.

    It is important to communicate with stakeholders early and often. An annual review or the result is not guaranteed. Employment can end at anytime.

  • Jai

    So the article itself, very nice in my humble opinion. I think this is another one of your great articles that will have people taking a look at how they perform and behave. Its going to make people think.. Which is good right?

    When I converted to a regular employee {my bosses boss} came over to my cube to congratulate me and he said jokingly that now my performance will reduce by 1/2. Joking back to him I asked him what 1/2 of nothing was, and we had a good laugh. But there was truth in his comment and I cannot deny the amount of relief I felt at being converted to a regular. It was a feeling like, ‘now the hard part is over’! Reading this article made me think if I had changed my behavior much since becoming a regular, only 2 months ago. Hmmmm…

    I totally agree with you on this being an important and lost concept.

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