There were over 637,000 people in the United States employed in the management consulting industry in 2016, according to Statista.com. With annual staff turnover rates of an estimated 15-20 percent, that suggests tens of thousands of former consultants leave consulting every year to take “real” jobs at corporations. Since the consulting and corporate worlds are different in many ways, that transition can be a big adjustment for these “recovering consultants.” I made that transition after I left Bain & Company and learned plenty of lessons. Over the last month, I interviewed 38 other former consultants—19 from Bain, four from McKinsey, one from BCG, and the rest from others—to ask them for their insights and advice. Here are the biggest mistakes they suggested other consultants avoid when making that transition.
Mistake #1—Offer Unsolicited Consulting Outside Your Area
Consultants develop an instinct to identify value and opportunities for improvement wherever they look. That is an asset in consulting—it helps find new projects to work on. It can be a downfall in a new corporate role, however, if used in the wrong way. Chuck, a former consultant, shared this: “You have to be careful about solving the corporation’s issues instead of focusing on your issues in your scope of work. Other employees/leaders don’t often appreciate a peer highlighting their issues.” The president of a $100 million technology company and former Accenture consultant gave me this advice: “Don’t offer any advice for the first 6 months…just ask high value questions, listen closely and get smart.”
Mistake #2—Show Arrogance
Consultants often have pedigrees they worked hard to build, including top-ranked schools along with their consulting firm experience. While in consulting firms, they are used to being surrounded by other people with similar pedigrees. In the corporate world, people come from more diverse backgrounds academically and professionally. Corporate colleagues will quickly sense if a new colleague coming from consulting feels superior to them. Joe shared this: “We think we know so much. No need to prove that you are the smartest in the room, especially when often we are not.” Glen shared this: “Consultants who appear to their colleagues, by virtue of their academic and professional background, to exhibit hubris/arrogance and a lack of respect for operating experience, will find it hard to build strong, valuable relationships with their corporate colleagues.” Jason shared this about former consultants who focus too much on pedigrees: “Mortals don’t know which firms are supposedly better than others. You may be keeping mental score in your head about the pecking order—but no one else is, so move on. You don’t work for a top consulting firm anymore. Stop the competition, because the senior leaders don’t care as much about where you came from as you do.” John summed it up well: “Check your consulting ego at the door.”
Mistake #3—Over-rely on Analytical Skills
People can sometimes succeed in the consulting world by relying solely on their analytical smarts. Corporate roles often require more influencing skills to get the information and resources needed to succeed. Glen added, “Consultants can fall into the trap of believing that the ‘right’ answer and the logic and associated PowerPoint deck will always win the day. The value of gathering support for your point of view in other ways is accentuated in corporate environments.” Joe shared this: “The perfect intellectual answer executed with 80 percent people commitment and intensity is likely suboptimal to the 80 percent intellectually correct answer executed with 100 percent people commitment and intensity. I think it takes time for former consultants to see and understand this.” David added a warning that former consultants who over-rely on analytical smarts can be typecast as “the one ‘data guy/gal’ in the company, which can be pretty frustrating.”
Mistake #4—Under-appreciate the Challenge of Implementation
Consulting often stops at the recommendation and business case stage and leaves implementation to clients. This can make consultants under-appreciate the difficulty of implementation. Arshad summed it up this way: “Consultants tend to focus too much on the storyline and business case and in the nth level of detail but this is not valued by corporate by and large. Use the 60/40 rule and get things going quickly and show tangible results that has direct impact on the P&L.” Joe shared: “Every thing is not always a project. Sometimes you have to grind things out (execute incrementally better) on a daily basis. Unless you get this, your potential as a line leader will be pretty limited.” Another former consultant shared this story: “I had a consultant join my team, and he made recommendations on how to restructure the operations, including team structure. I looked at him and said ‘sounds like a logical answer, is that what you are going to do?’ and he looked like a deer in the headlights internalizing he would have to be the one delivering the message on the job eliminations.” Another former consultant summed it up this way: “The old saying that getting the right answer is only one-third of the work is pretty accurate!”
Mistake #5—Manage Corporate Staff Like Consulting Staff
Consultants learn to manage others by managing other consultants. When they get to the corporate world, former consultants need to adjust their expectations and management styles to their new teams of non-consultants. Surge said it this way: “Former consultants struggle to manage ‘normal’ people, who are not as skilled in problem solving and clear communication.” Jimmy said: “Consultants get razor sharp about numbers and basic logic. Step out of consulting, and people don’t necessarily have the training in that skill set. It takes some adjusting to not move so fast that people can’t keep up or resent you.” Another former consultant said it this way: “Lots of people will tell you that consultants will make a difficult transition especially around leading a team. Provide extra time in your plans. Don’t expect them to ever be at your standards (often you will be surprised that your standards are much higher than you need to get the job done). Don’t forget that people don’t have the same training that you have had.” David captured it this way: “One of your biggest challenges will be squeezing more out of an existing team, many of whom are content to work 9-5 and stay in the same job for many years. Gone are the days of teams that will stay all night to get something done right. Leadership becomes more important. Developing your team members becomes more important. Strong analytics and project management skills, in the absence of strong leadership capabilities, will cap you in the corporate world.”
If you are a former consultant who has transitioned to the corporate world, I’d love to hear from you. You can share your own advice by taking the survey here.
Editors Note: This article was originally published on LinkedIn. Read that post here.