Often, the working life of a consultant requires that they work closely within an organizations but for the new consultant it can be a culture shock when they realize that they are NOT an integral part of the company and they are treated like an outsider. This week we will discuss the topic of professional services workers and their feeling of being an outsider.
Welcome to Consulting and Professional Services Radio, where we discuss the working life of Consultants and Service Business professionals with Lew Sauder, author of Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting.
1 – Do clients really make you feel like an outsider?
It really depends on the client. It’s rare for a client to go out of their way to make consultants feel like outsiders. It’s more of an attitude that they’ve spent a lot of money to hire their own employees and want to make sure they retain them. They offer fringe benefits like company picnics and other outings that consultants aren’t invited to. This makes some sense because many consulting firms offer their own company outings for their own consultants.
Additionally, employees usually get their own offices and cubicles while consultants are often relegated to a conference room that has been converted into a war room.
Many clients make an effort for consultants to feel at home. They believe that you will be more productive if you’re made to feel at home. Some clients invite the consultants to the company picnic. When that happens, it’s good form to make your appearance, but to still know your place. If there is alcohol served your best bet is to abstain. Also, some companies will have drawings for prizes. I’ve always made sure that my consulting team’s names are not made eligible and if they are drawn, that they politely refuse. Any company prizes should be for the client’s employees.
2 – Have you ever known a client that goes out of their way to make you feel like an outsider?
Yes. There are some client employees that may resent you coming in and stirring the pot. Consultants are often seen as agents of change and people can be change averse. There are often fears that consultants will cause them to change their routine, or worse, eliminate their job.
3 – How do you handle this type of treatment?
Answer: In these cases, it’s usually only one or two individuals that have these fears. You can’t let that bother you.
You just continue to slowly work on developing trust with the whole group.
4 – : I would think that it’s important for a consultant to know their place.
Yes, they need to keep the mind-set that they are a guest at the client site. They need to make sure they don’t overstep their boundaries. (discussion example: retail company’s corporate headquarters provided a discount shop on their campus. Was intended only for employees).
The bottom line is not to assume you’re invited. Always wait to be formally invited by someone of authority.
5 – I would imagine that’s a somewhat uncomfortable feeling, always being an outsider.
Not necessarily. I’ve never really felt uncomfortable by it. In fact, I’ve used it as an advantage. I’ve been at clients where there are a lot of politics. I can act almost as if I’m immune to those politics and ask the executives the tough questions that an employee might think is a political risk.
As a consultant, you are often brought in just for that reason. As a politically neutral outsider, I can hold high-ranking people accountable for tasks that can’t be done by people caught up in the hierarchy.
As a consultant, that’s part of the job that I like. I can go right to the CIO of a company and say “In last week’s status meeting you committed to getting approval for that software purchase. Were you able to obtain that for us?” That’s a question that an executive’s underlings might be hesitant to ask directly.
The consultant still needs to be diplomatic about it. They need to ask like they’re trying to make progress on the project rather than being condescending to the executive.
Also, it’s best not to surprise the executive. If you can give them a heads-up prior to the meeting that you are going to question them on something, it provides a reminder in case it slipped through their busy schedule.
6 – It sounds like you enjoy being an outsider.
I do. On one hand, I think everybody wants to feel a level of acceptance and to be recognized as part of something, but I’ve always felt that as part of a consulting team.
I also think that’s one of the many things that determines what makes a good professional services provider. If you are comfortable being an outsider, you might do well as a consultant. If you feel more of a need to be part of the crowd, you may be better off working as a client.
I also think that being an outsider is what gives someone in professional services more credibility. They aren’t pigeon-holed into a certain role or title within the company. As a consultant, I’ve noticed that clients see me as more of a utility player. They’ll ask me for advice on a lot of different things. I don’t always know the answers. But I can either go back and research it for them, or take it to other resources in my firm to find someone who can answer the client’s questions.
Does being the outsider help you stay more objective and arms-length from the client?