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A Simpler, Better Approach to Managing People at Your Consulting Firm (Including Yourself)

A small crowd of individuals touches your consulting firm’s work, even if you run a small consulting firm or a solo shop.

There’s the experienced and savvy consulting team you assemble to create value on each consulting project, as well as any staff and contractors that provide support.

Plus that dude or dudette in the mirror.

And working with people, as everyone knows, is akin to eating desserts.

Often, you opt for a safe helping of apple pie à la mode. Or you hopefully order the tiramisu, while knowing that, in all likelihood, the confection will be mediocre. In both cases, the performance is satisfactory, but unexceptional.

Occasionally, you’re surprised by a sublime conclusion to your meal. From the moment the artful presentation triggers a release of endorphins, to closing your eyes while you slowly savor the deliciousness, to the lingering memory. (Examples) These rare moments deliver results beyond your expectations.

Unfortunately, too frequently you’re biting into a chocolate éclair and finding someone has pushed boiled peas into the filling. (Not that I ever played that trick on pastries in my college cafeteria. It was my imaginary roommate, Alvin.) Frustrating, unpleasant and wasteful.

What you need is a simple approach to working with people that creates more sublime experiences for your consulting firm and fewer frustrations.

You need 3 Rocks.

If you set about a task or delegate an assignment without setting any expectations at all, you’re bound to be disappointed with the result.

That’s why you take pains to articulate from the outset what success looks like. (You do that, right?)

Surprisingly, defining success doesn’t always create amazing results and it doesn’t seem to stave off aggravating missteps at all.

3 Rocks addresses both of these shortcomings by clearly delineating success and by also describing superb performance and unforgivable blunders.

3 Rocks

Rock Solid

This is the basic performance you expect. It’s your concise definition of how someone working for your consulting firm will succeed in the role or on the task you’ve assigned.

Rock Star!

This shows, concretely, how to impress your eyebrows off. Members of your consulting team are more likely to deliver superlative performance when you clearly define what outstanding means to you.

 Rock Bottom

This is behavior and output that’s less valuable than you’d receive from a block of granite. At least the granite doesn’t waste your time! Again, when overtly stating the behavior that drives you nuts, your consulting team is less likely to frustrate the meringue out of you.

For any role at your consulting firm (including yours), and any assignment, describe each of the 3 Rocks in a handful of bullet points.

You can also array the 3 Rocks in the form of a performance scale, like the example below:

What’s one consulting behavior that you’d characterize as Rock Star! Rock Solid, or Rock Bottom?

  1. Julie-ann Pina
    October 9, 2019 at 12:54 pm Reply

    One important quality is the ability to shift priorities when needed. We have a few standard markers that help with this, but a few more might be useful. For example, some assignments are for a current client deadline, and others are preparing for later steps. Some are minor revisions to a project that’s already in the internal reference library, and others are more complex. The more complex ones have an extra check-in requirement internally, along the way to the client delivery time.

    • David A. Fields
      October 9, 2019 at 7:10 pm Reply

      Adaptability is definitely an important skill in consulting, and it’s a good one to define in your Three Rocks for your team. Thanks for raising that characteristic, Julie-ann.

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