Consulting humility: “I’ll go [get lunch], I am the cheapest person here”

By | March 31, 2015

When one of my consultants volunteered to go pick up food for the rest of the team, this made my day . . .because he understood consulting. It’s a combination of confidence and humility. Confidence in important things, humility is small things.

Leverage.  This junior consultant, let’s call him Ted (pseudonym), implicitly understood how consulting firms make money.  We work on a leverage model where senior resources win the business, scope the problems, free the way for junior consultants to effectively do the work.  Namely, we give the work to the cheapest person on the team who can reliably do it.  Ted was essentially saying, “Hey I am the grinder.  It’s more efficient for me to go.  I have the lowest opportunity cost.”

Ted is a good guy.   He’s polite.  He opens doors for other people.  He gets the car and warms it up on cold days.  He would go and get lunch for people just because of his personality, no one would be surprised.  And yet, listen to his reasoning. . .

I’ll go, I am the cheapest person here.  He gets it.  It is not just a matter of respect for authority, some Confucian ideal of harmony or hierarchy.  No, it is about team economics.  Is someone makes $10 a hour, and someone makes $5 a hour. . .the $5 per hour person should do as much as possible to free up the $10 per hour person.

Starbucks mac and cheese

Thank goodness someone gets it.  When junior consultants start to feel privileged and don’t want to do certain kinds of work, it is a sign of a problem.  It shows a certain disconnect between 1) the work that has to be done for client service, 2) the team’s agreement on who should do which work 3) the setting of goals and expectations on what each person wants to learn on the project 4) the storming / norming / performing needed to efficiently get the work done.

Sacrificial attitude.  I am a big believer in servant leadership; namely it is the manager’s job to get out of the way of his/her people.  Give people the tools, the direction, and the trust to do their jobs.   I do my best, but it was great to see that sacrificial attitude by team members today.  Love to see it in the work place.  When the CEO of Lenovo gives his $3M bonus to the lowest-paid workers here, or a partner slows down enough to spend quality time and coach a consultant, it makes you hopeful.

Teach your clients opportunity cost.  I told this to my client a few months ago.  He was caught up doing some menial activities – and I had to reiterate that it was a waste of his time.  He should be delegating it to someone “cheaper” than himself.  I said, “If someone else can do the job, you should give the work away.  You should only be doing the work that ONLY YOU can do.  If you are doing this, the company is overpaying to have it done.”

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2 thoughts on “Consulting humility: “I’ll go [get lunch], I am the cheapest person here”

  1. lewsauder

    Great thoughts. People at all levels should understand the leveraged model. As a manager, I’ve always explained to people that I’m not more important than you. I just have different responsibilities. However, as a project manager where the team is behind and working diligently, I may be the one free enough to run out for lunch while they stay productive. It’s not always about having the cheapest person do it. It might be about making the team as productive as possible.

    1. consultantsmind Post author

      Completely agree. Reminds me of the quote from Drucker, “good managers get out of the way of their people.”

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