Consultants like to get things right, and this often leads them to lose their Zen distance in relation to their client’s and their clients’ teams, and so to over-commit their time and effort beyond their (compensated) scope of work.
This is one of the easiest ways to lose profitability, and to get yourself in trouble with your client.
When you have an in-depth, long term gig with a client, where you are deeply embedded with the team responsible for certain outcomes, you can lose sight of what you, as the outsider/consultant, was hired to do.
You step up to a leadership role. Perhaps this is appropriate, or maybe you are compensating for a manager’s weaknesses, in order to get the project done (and done right) and delivered on time.
At this point, you step into tactical roles and tasks that are not within your scope of work, and which may replace or hide some weakness on the team. Furthermore, you become a de-facto manager, when you were hired to be strategic or to support the team in its efforts.
This gets tricky. Your appropriate role will be to report to your client that you have discovered a weakness in the team, or an obstacle that cannot be overcome without an executive decision (read, interference by the boss), and that the project will not be completed as planned (on time, or on budget, or at all). You can feel like you are ratting out your team members.
But when you, as a consultant, step up and step in to participate in solving the problem tactically within the team, you become part of the slippery slope to failure of the project.
At this point several things happen:
• You lose your strategic value to your client. He did not hire you to be one of his worker-bees.
• You lose your position as trusted advisor to your client. He expected you to consult to him on the strategic needs of his company.
• The project is likely to fail anyway, or fail next time if you are not there to intervene. This is a disservice to your client.
• You spend time (which is not compensated) doing the work of the team members.
• You may fail to perform your other deliverables to this client, because you are doing this tactical teamwork. Or you will over-work this gig to manage all your deliverables and this teamwork, thereby failing to maintain your prospecting for other clients, or closing new clients.
• If this gig fails for any reason, you may not be able to replace the revenue quickly enough to maintain your consultancy’s profitability, because you were not marketing and networking and prospecting while you were working (always your first responsibility to your own business).
The lesson here is to maintain your Zen distance on the work in progress of your client, and to remember that your scope of work was designed for you to take a certain position within and outside of the client company. This Zen distance must allow your client to make his own mistakes – in leadership, in hiring, in management – and even to fail on his own decisions. Your role is to tell the truth as you see it, when you see it, and respect your client’s ability to make his own decisions, and to manage his own company.
This respect for your client, and this distance from the internal conflicts of his company, is a core secret to successful consulting. It allows you to fulfill your role to your client, while acknowledging the needs of your own time and maintaining the goals of your consultancy.