Following is an email I received from an F1Y who has encountered what I see as a big problem in the first three months at the firm.
Like many of your mentees, you are the reason why I have my current job at [XXXX], a boutique management consulting firm in [U.S. state]. Coming from my previous career as an attorney, management consulting was a daunting challenge that I could not have tackled without your guidance. I could not be happier with my current company, and I have you to thank for it, but I still need your help.
[My] question is about a situation I have encountered during my first 3 months of employment that I could really use some help on. I got staffed on an engagement with an independent contractor of my firm for an initiative at a non-profit. While the IC [has a background] at [a financial services corporation], his knowledge (as well as his desire to learn) about [the initiative’s focus] is very low.
Given my background [related to the initiative’s focus], I have been doing 95% of the work, and he takes 100% of the credit. I’m not the type of person that needs recognition for everything I do, and I feel confident my engagement manager knows I’m a good worker. However, I don’t know if I can handle this for a long time. How have you dealt with people like this? Our project sponsor is not aware that I have been doing all of the work and he is someone I would like to eventually build a relationship with. This will be hard to do if he doesn’t know my contributions. I don’t want to come off as a braggart or petty, so what do I do??
Hope to hear from you and thanks again for everything! Please help!!!
As for your situation,
a) You should get away from working with this person at the first possible opportunity. If that is within your current organization, that would be best. If it persists forever, you will at some point need to move on. If you have a mentor in your organization, you can “ask for advice” on how to handle this situation (a.k.a., rat the person out to someone more senior).
b) You need to find some way to strategically “mention” your contributions to the project sponsor. It is hard to do if you do not get any client contact (which is a strategy credit hogs like to take sometimes). Sometimes, you can do it informally in passing, or even (if it wouldn’t seem to weird) have lunch with the client… perhaps a group one.
You can also make sure all the other people in the organization, other than the senior client, know what you’re up to. Word gets around. If the 5 people the senior client trusts all say you’re doing great work, he/she will notice at some point.
As for my experience, I only had one project where I had someone senior to me who was a total nightmare. I basically sucked it up for a few months, got off the project at the first chance I got (switching clients in the process), and basically made sure I was “too busy” to ever get reassigned to that person.
If the situation persists for a long period of time, you can tell a mentor-type person in your office that you are considering leaving primarily due to this person getting in the way of your development, taking credit, etc.
On a totally different note, someday when you are an engagement manager or working in industry with direct reports, from this experience you will learn what not to do.
When I left McKinsey, I was just starting to transition into some engagement management work. I was very generous with giving others on my team credit, creating opportunities for them to present and get face time with senior clients, and giving them lots of responsibility (while making sure it wasn’t too much that they would be set up for failure).
Also, and this is super important, I tried to listen to everyone’s point of view – senior clients, junior clients, analysts who worked “under” me, partners, etc… When you listen and legitimately consider a person’s opinion… and they are 100% sure that you understand their point of view, if you make a decision that goes against what they wanted, they will respect your decision or recommendation because they trust it was an extremely well-informed and thoughtful one.
I also took the same approach in industry (especially the listening to everyone part), and in multiple organizations that I worked for, I had multiple people quietly wish I were the CEO of the company, even though in one case I was initially 3 levels below the CEO.
Good luck in this situation and let me know how it goes.