The cornerstone of consulting excellence is the quality of the consulting staff. So how do you make the decision on who is high quality and who isn’t?
Two factors come into play: performance and cultural fit.
Performance is easily measured by utilization, realization, client satisfaction and revenue generation. If you don’t already objectively target and measure the above, start. More postings on this later. A high performer will be at 100% of targets in almost any give 12 month rolling period.
Cultural fit assumes you have a culture to which being a fit is rewarding. If you don’t place any effort on cultural excellence inside your firm, you should – see my previous post on mission as a foundation to culture. I’ll write more on cultural excellence in later posts. In the meantime, use observed teamwork, client sat and general “does this person get along well with others” as a proxy.
Using the above, everyone will fall into one of four categories, listed below by ease of corrective action.
High Performer, Gets the Culture
This is the easy one. Do what you must to keep these people on the team and pay them plenty of attention. The majority of your personnel management time should be focused on this group of people.
Low Performer, Doesn’t Get the Culture
Fire them. They may have room for improvement, but you don’t have time to do it. After you are done, review your hiring procedures to find out why they even got a job with you in the first place.
Low Performer, Gets the Culture
This is a little harder. This person will fit in extremely well with their teammates, do well with clients (at least in terms of personality) and be generally a good fit for all the cultural elements of the firm. However, period over period, their performance will be below their peer group, their work will be substandard and you’ll find yourself always accepting or making up making up reasons for their poor performance.
Get them on a 90 day plan that specifically addresses the performance shortcomings. Invest the time to make sure they have a more than fair chance. The extra effort you invest, if they improve, will be more than paid off in loyalty, a strengthened corporate culture and improved performance. If they don’t improve, you must fire them. A consultancy is a meritocracy, not a remedial education program – consistent low performers have no long term role on the team.
High Performer, Doesn’t Get the Culture
This is the hardest category to manage. Top performance on a consistent basis makes these people very valuable to the firm. Poor cultural fit makes them very hard to work with. So, you’ll find them to be top revenue producers, but will often find they work poorly on project teams, care little about the impact of their behaviors on those around them and on occasion will cause client satisfaction issues.
What to do? Counsel, counsel and more counsel – this is the group that should consume the second biggest amount of your personnel management time. During performance management reviews, you’ll have to spend your time consistently coaching them on better behavior and matters of emotional intelligence. Change will be slow – their cultural fit will only improve to the extent you can show them how it will make their lives easier or increase their personal performance. Ultimately, this group is like Dennis Rodman – a top performer whose high-maintenance personality only makes them employable as long as the performance stays high. When the performance slips, they give you no reason to continue their maintenance.
Its been a little over 4 months since my last post, mostly due to a) the birth of the newest member of the Specht clan and b) the management team and I practicing what I preached in the last three posts. I can report, with great happiness, that our efforts (home and work) are paying off – my newest child is wonderful and our clients continue to be generous with work, even beyond my fondest hopes.
The stresses of the economy still exist. In both my own company and many for whom I consult, I’m hearing frequent and ongoing complaints about clients (who are cheap because they won’t buy), sales team (who are lazy because they can’t close business), consultants (who are prima donnas that don’t appreciate how hard it is to close business), managers (who are morons because they need to [fill in the blank] faster, better, more often etc.), and employees (who are ungrateful because they don’t appreciate how hard it is to make payroll and health insurance payments). Put another way, everyone seems to be complaining about everyone else. So, for those modest few that care about my opinion, I offer this:
First, everyone take a deep breath, relax and develop a sense of empathy. Those around you are doing their best in tough times, just like you. Our clients are afraid for their jobs and trying to save money when they can. Our sales teams are hearing disheartening “no-s” more often then enthusiastic “yes-s”. Out consultants feel extraordinary realization and utilization pressure AND get the onsite impact of the client’s fear. Our managers, god bless ‘em, are trying to do the best they can with short staff, short budgets and long hours. And every employee in every consultancy is wondering when a layoff is going to take their job away.
Second, strap on a pair and man up. This is a hard business played out on a complex field of complex products, high expectations and difficult business problems. If you can’t deal with that, get out and send your clients and best staff to us and I’ll see they are welcomed and well cared for. Until then, see the preceding paragraph.
Lastly, of my relatively small group of close friends, I am the only one still employed. I see the effect of layoffs in a very direct and personal fashion. Among my professional network, close to 1/3 are looking for new jobs. As a result, I spend significant time doing referrals, networking and writing letters of recommendation. So, if anyone reading this is looking for truly awesome Microsoft technology professionals almost anywhere in the country, please drop me a note with what skills you need and I’ll be happy to make introductions.