I have been interviewing lots of consulting candidates recently. Beyond the resumes and case interviews, it comes down to fit. When I think about the most important characteristics of a consultant – or anyone I plan to work with – it gets narrowed down to these 4 words: smart, aware, fun, and eager.  As JM pointed out: S.A.F.E.

1. Smart.  If your consulting team is not made up of smart people, you are in trouble. You are billing clients $250+ an hour for people. . . you better have the right people.

So what does “smart” mean?

It can be mean a lot of different things, but it seems to boil down to knowledge, intelligence and thinking. Using the brutish analogy of computer parts, your consultants need to have a good hard drive, CPU and operating system. Smart Consultant For me, a smart consultant can really think through the problem.  They know how to break apart problems, do the research, talk to clients, run teams, and ultimately, drive to solutions through hypothesis-based thinking. Even if they don’t know the answer today, they know HOW to get to a reliable answer soon.

2. Aware.  Consultants should be very aware and in-tune with their client, surrounding, team, and most importantly, themselves. In my mind, here are some of the questions to ask yourself to see if you really know what is going on. Are you a clueless manager? Consulting Awareness 3. Fun.  This needs no explanation. If you need this explained, you are not fun.

4. Eager.  This is critical for me. At the very least, a good consultant is client-focused, team-focused, and a learner. Whenever I hear comments from my team that betray a feeling of entitlement, laziness, or ennui . . . uh, I go to a bad place. This is the kind of stuff that really drives me crazy. All of these comments are WRONG for client service.

  • I don’t know. . . that’s what the client gave me (WRONG)
  • I just put it in the template you gave me (WRONG)
  • Well, that’s what the partner wanted (WRONG)
  • I am just following directions (WRONG)
  • This is how we did it last time (WRONG)

First, that type of talk strikes of complacency and boredom.

Second, if you are a consultant at a client site, you have it pretty good and should be thankful. Someone is paying you to think about their problems. That implies trust, money, and privilege. If you take that for granted, you are a jerk.

Third, if you are not improving in some way professionally, you are stagnating. You are becoming the bitter, tired, and redundant professor that you resented as an undergraduate student. This has nothing to do with age. I have met young consultants (10 years younger than me), who seem resigned to do the least that is necessary. Sad. So sad. They don’t know what winning looks like. Most people are disengaged from work.  Don’t become one of those zombies. George Carlin, said it the best:

Most people work just hard enough not to get fired and get paid just enough money not to quit.  – George Carlin

Fourth, a lack of eagerness strikes me as a lack of intellectual curiosity. I am looking for team members who actually “geek-out” on a task, who really want to hit a home run. Looking for people who take pride in their work. Will your work become the standard for the way that our consulting teams do their work in the future? Sometimes, when a consultant asks for feedback from their deliverable, I ask them the simple question, “Well, do you like it?  Are you proud of it?”

Any activity becomes creative when the doer cares about doing it right or better.  –  John Updike

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