In consulting, your personal reputation is everything. It is the one thing by which everything else in your career revolves around.
Here is the thing with reputations.
Once your reputation is set (whether it is good or it is bad), it is very hard to change.
If you are seen favorably, more partners want you to work with them, you get more choice of projects, you’re able to pick better projects, better clients, and better teams… and not surprisingly, this often leads to you performing even better.
Conversely, if your reputation starts off poor in a consulting firm, you start a downward spiral. Fewer partners want you to work on their engagements. You get the worse managers (the ones nobody else wants to work with).
These managers don’t coach you very well, if at all… without the coaching, you tend to do worse than your peers (while still being held to the same standard) and the entire process repeats and reinforces itself.
When I was recruiting, I once had a McKinsey engagement manager explain to me what I just explained to you.
Her advice to me was: If you ever end up in any professional services business where your reputation was poor, the best thing you can do is just quit and start over with no reputation at another firm.
Apparently (and I now agree with this), having no reputation is much better than having a bad reputation.
So, what separates consultants who are strong performers vs. those who are not?
While the list of distinguishing characteristics is long, one trait that many McKinsey partners and engagement managers often talk about is “coach-ability.”
A new consultant is not expected to know everything from day one. However, what is expected is that a new consultant will be open to, listen to, and react favorably towards feedback.
So, if your manager tells you that you need to do certain things differently, if you are coachable, you will listen and make improvements. If you’re not, you will be considered un-coachable and stubborn… and often that is the beginning of the end of one’s career at a firm.
The people who often have the most difficulty with this coach-ability trait are the consultants who have the highest IQs and the biggest accomplishments before starting in consulting.
Often, this type of person finds it inconceivable that they could possibly be doing something so poorly when they used to be so successful.
Rather than working on improving these new skills, they start to argue with the manager as to why the manager or partner is wrong.
This is not to say that managers and partners are wrong, but if you are arguing every feedback point… and you’re getting consistent feedback from multiple sources, take a hard look at the data and consider that maybe the feedback is right.
Some people have a very hard time with this, and ultimately it hurts their careers — hopefully only temporarily, but often permanently.
This lack of “coach-ability” is really just a more specific instance of someone generally being unwilling to learn from others.
This more general trait is one that is absolutely positively mandatory in consulting.
If you do not want to have to learn new things, don’t go into consulting!
You learn something new every day — whether you are a new analyst or a director with 20 years’ experience.
It is a factual reality of the profession (and some people like me love it… others find it torture).
This is important to realize.
It is often very obvious which consultants in your office are the ones who just got assigned to a new project. You can often tell just by walking by their desk.
How can you tell?
They are the ones with a 1- to 2-foot-tall stack of papers on their desk that they are busy reading to “get up to speed” on a new industry, a new client, and a new type of business problem.
Often, there are dozens of industry reports to read, dozens of client materials to review, and entire stacks of practice development training materials geared around a particular kind of problem.
(For example, the McKinsey “manual” on how to conduct layoffs in a Fortune 500 company is a 1,000-page manual. I measured close to 12 inches tall. I am not kidding.)
In most consulting firms, your colleagues will all have strong learning skills (when they choose to apply it).
Incidentally, this is one reason consulting firms favor candidates with strong academic backgrounds — at least you don’t have to worry that they are not capable of learning something new (now getting them to be willing to learn is something entirely different).
It’s unlikely you will be more talented than your colleagues. So, the only difference between you and your colleagues is what you learn and when you learn it.
For each project, there is generally an obvious set of documents to learn. Often, one of your colleagues on a client team (generally the one who used to be the “new” person on the team prior to your arrival) will pass along his or her big stack of papers to you… and eventually, you will pass it along to the next new person.
The project-specific learning materials tend to just materialize when you need them. So, everyone tends to learn the same things at the same time in the lifecycle of their role on a project.
Again, there is not much difference here.
Then there are the things one learns across multiple projects… the skills of being a savvy consultant. Most people will learn these skills within their first two years of their consulting career.
Some will learn some elements of this through their firm’s new consultant training. Others will learn through feedback. And finally, others will learn through trial and error.
Up until recently, there really wasn’t an obvious way for one to accelerate this learning too much earlier in their career when it is actually the most useful.
But now my program How to Succeed in Management Consulting (HSMC) is officially available.
The purpose of HSMC is to dramatically accelerate when you learn the skills needed to be successful in consulting.
Most people will learn these skills sometime in their second year of their consulting career.
HSMC allows you to immediately develop awareness of these key skills and to start improving upon them before you even start your first day of work (or shortly thereafter).
The big advantage of this early timing is that it allows you to develop and use these critical skills before your reputation has been finalized — allowing you the chance to influence it.
If you learn these critical skills after your reputation has been formed, especially if the reputation is a weak one, it is too little, too late.
This is one time where learning by trial and error alone can be risky. It is with this specific scenario in mind that I developed the HSMC program.
I wanted to bring your attention to this resource and the fact this it is available.
This was originally going to be a one- or two-hour video program, but once I got done with it… it ended up being about seven hours long.
I had no idea it would end up being the equivalent of a full-day seminar — but it did.
To learn more about HSMC to determine if it would be a good fit for you, just click below: