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3 People Reducing Productivity at Your Consulting Firm

Dagnabit, there’s someone slowing down your consulting firm! More than one someone, in fact—multiple someones conspiring to suppress growth, pillage productivity and wipe out your hidden chocolate stash.

And, worst of all, you know the rascals.

They’re you.

You’re the leader of your consulting firm and you may also be the biggest obstacle to its growth. Of the many versions of you that show up to work each day, many are extremely helpful and at least a few totally gum up the works.

I’ll point out a few miscreants who sneak onto your desk chair, and you can add to the list in the comments.

3 People Reducing Productivity at Your Consulting Firm

The Controller

The Controller isn’t the person monitoring your consulting firm’s financials. Nope, the Controller is the version of you who refuses to let go. The you who hangs on to responsibilities, roles and tasks with a tight-fisted, “Only I can do that” mantra.

There are parts of your consulting practice that you refuse to relinquish. Yet, consulting firm growth is all about letting go. Once you reach Stage 4 in the 10 Stages of Consulting Firm Growth, every next step in maturity requires you to let go of some of your responsibility.

You’re smart. You’re experienced. You’re special. But you’re not that special! There is literally no task at your consulting firm that absolutely requires you.

Action Steps:

  • Take a few minutes to deeply consider other, larger consulting firms. You know what’s common about every single one of them? The leader surrendered many of the responsibilities you’re retaining.
  • Read one or two of the articles on this site about delegation (this one is good) then make a plan to offload 50% of your to-do list over the next six months.

The Creator

Many prospective clients present run-of-the-mill challenges that your consulting firm is well equipped to solve. Ho hum. Been there, done that.

But when a client arrives with a slightly unusual problem or requires a twist on your usual approach, then the Creator version of you happily perks up and gets engaged.

Waiting for novel clients isn’t enough for the Creator, who frequently suggests new, imaginative, breakthrough(ish) improvements you could make to your standard processes.

The Creator’s motto: New and Improved = Fun!

Alas, bespoke approaches and “improvements” to your standard processes require extra time and effort, and lower your consulting firm’s productivity.

Action Step:

  • Create a tightly-contained “innovation lab” for yourself. Your innovation lab operates with limited hours, takes on limited clients, and contains (metaphorical) shelves to store your ideas. In other words, give your Creator a time and place to play, but don’t let the Creator run amok at your consulting firm.

The Overachiever

“Yes we can!” is the tagline for the version of you focused on growth, progress and commitment to meeting your consulting firm’s greatest potential. It also happens to be the tagline for the version of you who bites off more than your consulting firm can chew.

If you’ve lived through the normal dips in demand that confront every consulting firm, you understandably stand poised to accept every project that comes your way.

However, tackling too many assignments could overwhelm your organization, threaten quality, and crowd out time for firm-building.

Yes, as a general rule take every good engagement and build flexible capacity to meet surges in demand. However, if your firm is constantly redlining because you say Yes to virtually every opportunity, your Overachiever is harming your consulting firm more than helping.

Action Step:

  • Create clear, concrete ground rules or guardrails that determine when you’ll say “No” to potential projects. Base your ground rules on your current capacity, projected capacity, the nature of the project, features of the client, fit with your strategic direction or other factors that you can quickly and easily factor into your accept/don’t-accept calculation.

In addition to the Controller, the Creator, the Overachiever, what other versions of you may be hurting your productivity?*

  1. William J. Ryan
    August 9, 2023 at 8:06 am Reply

    My personal add is the “Perfectionist”. As a solopreneur I battle the 3 inner “bill’s” seen above but when I first started, a learning moment was to say that something was good enough. The web site, the logo, the business card, the proposal template, the colors, the yada yada yada! Surrounding yourself with others to help review and share reflections and guidance is key as is taking their feedback that “it” is ok and it’s time to move on.

    • David A. Fields
      August 9, 2023 at 8:22 am Reply

      The Perfectionist is a great addition to the list, Bill, and you’re absolutely right that it plagues a lot of consulting firm leaders–particularly those whose firms are under $2M. During the $2M-5M step, most perfectionist tendencies are smoothed away from a firm’s leadership team, though some may remain in one or two members and in “next generation” leaders. The cycle repeats again in the $5M-10M stage, at the end of which perfectionism seems to subside for the firm overall.

      Thanks for that excellent addition to the list, Bill and for raising the the topic.

  2. Jeremy Keegan
    August 9, 2023 at 9:49 am Reply

    Perhaps more of a person showing up in newer firms, but it seems I often deal with – the “Scatterbrain” – the person who knows there is a LOT to do, especially starting out, and tries to do it all, at the same time. They tend to bounce from one thing to another as their eyes land on this or that, and singular things rarely get done because they’re so busy trying to do it all at once. The thing they lack most is the ability to slow down and focus on one thing at a time.

    A potential interesting tie-in here is Pat Lencioni’s 6 Types of Working Genius. Figuring out what types of work give or take joy and energy from you may be helpful in overcoming some of the productivity challenges we face.

    • David A. Fields
      August 9, 2023 at 11:47 am Reply

      Outstanding, Jeremy. The Scatterbrain is easily distracted. Combine distractibility with an overwhelming to-do list (which the Controller isn’t helping), and you definitely slow down your consulting practice.

      I appreciate your contribution to the discussion, Jeremy!

  3. Lisa Feldman
    August 9, 2023 at 4:18 pm Reply

    I would add “The one who doesn’t stop to smell the roses.” When I’m stressed, sometimes just accomplishing things get in the way of remembering that I love (most of) what I do. I can finish something up, breathe a sigh of relief as I cross it off, and rush to the next action. If I don’t say, “Hey, that document I just sent off was awesome/fun to do!” I end the day exhausted rather than excited that I get to get up the next morning and do it again.

    • David A. Fields
      August 10, 2023 at 2:55 pm Reply

      Excellent addition to the list, Lisa. You’re right, that if you’re not in touch with why you decide to start or lead a consulting firm, then firm-building tends to fall by the wayside. Taking some time out to reflect on your work and your reasons to be grateful is important.

      Thanks for your smart contribution, Lisa!

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