Sunday, November 1, 2009

I'm back, and musings on managing consultants

So after excessive time away, I am finally back to writing this blog. I wish I could tell you that in the last 2 months, I have finished all my essays and am ready to go with b-school apps - but that would be a lie. Its mainly been a combination of busy projects, and believe it or not an actual social life.

So today I thought I would pose the question - what makes a perfect engagement / job / project / case manager?

There are, in my view a couple of archetypes. Note the definition of archetype – these are extreme examples. Any evident bitterness is my own, and not referable to any one particular manager J

1) The Micro-Manager (MM)

This person loves the detail, and doesn’t trust their team. They want to know what is happening every hour of every day, and if you have a meeting, they want to be in it too. Only really good thing about the micro manager is that the poor worker can disengage their brain – they won’t be needing to be the excel / ppt monkey this manager desires

2) The Insecure Competitor (IC)

This person is really worried that his or her team is actually better at the consulting gig than they are. Typical motivations for this include a recent promotion, a recent failed attempt at promotion, or general lack of faith in their own abilities. The Insecure Competitor (IC) exhibits many traits of the Micro-Manager, but adds a veneer of competitiveness – the team shouldn’t bother to have ideas because the IC will always trump them, even when the replacement idea is worse. In meetings, the team can try get a word in edgeways, but the IC will inevitably be there first. The worst part is, the IC will always take credit for your work

3) Content Free, Hands Off (CHFO)

The CFHO is a great believer in laissez-faire economics, without really understanding the implications of said theory. He or she will let the poor consultant “manage their own work”. No help is offered, and in my opinion no value is delivered. No one really knows what the CFHO does with their time.

I think though that a really good consulting manager has to combine characteristics of all three archetypes – the content knowledge of the MM, the thought leadership of the IC, and the independence for the team of the CFHO.

To be fair, it’s a tough gig – there is a reason why the case manager level is widely known as the worst level in terms of rewards v work across many consulting firms.

Any thoughts on this? Does anyone have a different type in mind?


  1. My perspective on one archetype for an engagement manager is one that can help with overall strategy as it relates to problem solving method and interactions with client on project basis. I also think that a good engagement manager can help to provide ideas on frameworks and/or leverageable practices within the firm (mentorship). In terms of value-add beyond the project scope, the ability for the engagement manager to provide insights on how to get the inside track within the consulting firm and ability to shed light on pieces of the sales/upsell process are also very nice (if you can get it).

    Mentors on project execution aspects are golden for sure. Mentors on sales process are scarce and irreplaceable.

  2. The Turncoat - the manager who backs you until the big meeting then as soon as the client starts asking questions, he/she starts backing client and disagreeing with you in the middle of your presentation. Regardless of the hours you spent together exploring and dismissing alternatives in the weeks before. Also known as "your mate" until the proverbial hits the fan.

  3. Just completed my first JM gig. And i realise i am a micro-manager, who is highly insecured, and love to take the content-free approach as i have no content to speak of ...

    Are you the same, consultant insider?

  4. :), this is a great classification of managers! I think this is probably also true for bosses in other fields. I certainly think that is the case with PhD supervisors. Probably the 2 worlds share much more than I initially thought...


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