Thinking Like a Consultant: People Skills


One of the best things about strategy consulting is that you get to work across a broad spectrum of industries, giving you exposure to a lot of the wonderful variety that exists around us in the business world.

However, one of the most unnerving things about strategic consulting is that you’re supposed to be able to increase productivity across this very same landscape without respect to the size, type, and complexity of the client. Whether it’s Betty Billionaire or Sammy Startup, you’re there to add value.

While we can’t give you comprehensive advice to equip you for any and every situation that may confront you, we are going to give you a few helpful pointers that will help you along the path to Consulting Guru status.

Welcome to the next installment of our “Thinking like a Consultant” series – this one is on walking and talking like a Consultant. If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, you should definitely catch up before continuing. For those of you who are up to speed, welcome!

1 – Teamwork is Dreamwork

As Aristotle said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” The same is true in management consulting. If you are not prepared to work on a team, then you will not succeed.

With each different client project comes a different team. The makeup of the team will vary from firm to firm, but it will usually look something like 1 partner, 1 manager and 3-4 analysts (pre-MBA) and associates (post-MBA). Clients pay a large amount of money for the prestige attached to your firm’s name, so firms have to remember the “service” aspect in the service business. You’re there to make your client look like a genius for selecting the firm, not to make a name for yourself.

Of course, what naturally follows when you play nicely with others is that your superiors (the manager and partner) look like geniuses for trusting you with a particular work stream. The manager (who is closest to your work) sees both what you contribute and what you bring to the team at large. If you play nicely with others, a distinguished reputation goes before you, promotions and bonuses are bestowed upon you and world domination comes soon after.

Ok, it may not look exactly like that, but it is still very important for you to get the point we’re putting across. In a dog-eat-dog business world context, management consultants hunt in packs, rather than turning on each other.

Your standalone skill and your talent will not go unnoticed, but any analysis you submit will be nitpicked and torn apart if you can’t work well with others. Put your energy into building up the firm’s name (and your teammates) rather than pursuing your own solitary goals and watch as your good teamwork comes back to benefit you.

If you’re outside the industry looking in, prepare LOTS of interview stories that demonstrate teamwork and all that comes with it – conflict resolution, communication, and the power of groupthink. Teamwork, and the ability to work with ANYONE in a team, is a critical trait to demonstrate in key interviews.

2 – The Value Of Networking 

Here at MC, we’re very aware of how important networking is to breaking into consulting. It’s a topic we cover in our highly recommended Networking Bible. It can be the difference between an open career door or a shut career door.

However, if you thought that networking was only good for getting you a job and that it wouldn’t help you once you began your career trajectory, you’d be mistaken. The same skills that got you into the people-oriented business of consulting are inevitably going to carry you forward.

Whether with your bosses, colleagues or clients, establishing and dynamically maintaining relationships is vital. It may be that the relationship with your boss leads to a place on a series of projects that focus on an area of passion for you. It may be that you and your colleagues venture off into business together after consulting and make a fortune with a hugely successful startup. It may be that a client from 18 months ago offers you an incredible position within their organization once you decide to transition out of consulting.

However it works, don’t neglect the potential that lies around you in all directions. Yes, our world increasingly revolves around results and analytics and performance, but as it has always been in business, relationships are still very important.

There are too many instances of significant business happening through networking for us to note here, but one story we will tell is of Henry Edmunds.

Having been impressed with a car he bought from Henry Royce, Edmunds arranged a meeting between Royce and a motor enthusiast friend of his, Charles Rolls, thinking they may be able to work something out together. Rolls and Royce did eventually meet in 1904 and set off into business together and the rest is history.

All this is to say one thing: don’t downplay the importance of meeting the right person at the right time in the right place and the significance it could have. But more importantly, cultivate relationships you have. Ask people out to coffee, to breakfast, or to lunch. Hear their stories. Invest in their interests. And watch the magic happen.

3 – Stay Up To Date With Business News

A lot of the advice you’re going to be giving will be affected by the current business climate. It is therefore important that you stay current with what’s going on in the business world in general and as it relates to your client.

That’s one part of it.

But the bigger piece is this: you need to understand the story of key business news. You need to understand it so much that you develop a diplomatic view of it with some depth to your perspective. Why? Because clients will ask, in informal settings (like at lunch or over dinner) and it’s a huge test of how powerfully you can represent your firm.

It could also be a disaster if you screw it up.

Knowing what is happening and learning how that will affect various markets is an invaluable tool to possess when actually doing projects as well. Some cutting edge knowledge might make your hypothesis sound like:

“We’ve noticed that you’re selling a lot of apps here in the US. I’ve been noticing a trend of forecasts about the tech industry in North and West Africa. With an increase in upward social mobility and an expanding middle class, people are saying it’s a perfect storm for a tech explosion in the next 2-7 years. If you move operations there now, you’ll be able to corner a significant part of the market over there, which could potentially open up the whole continent in years to come.” ~ backed up by 3-4 weeks of actual research

Remember, you aren’t expected to become a futurist, but making use of the resources that are around you could help you stay on the cutting edge.

Some good all around business knowledge is never, ever useless. If you do want to start bringing yourself up to speed now, we recommend getting familiar with the Wall Street Journal, The Economist or other reputable business publications – but some of our favorites are actually pop business locales, like airline magazines or Entrepreneur.

If you want to be a top performer, which you do, you have to look at things from a number of different angles. It’s not just about getting good grades, or acing your interview, it’s about knowing how to get to the top of your game, and also how to stay there. Check out Three Month Mastery, our ultimate guide for new consultants to stay on course for consulting domination.


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