The Effective “Agile” Executive

Most of us have read at least one of Peter Drucker’s more than 35 books. If you haven’t, you should know that Drucker’s writings are considered landmarks of the managerial profession. A long-time professor at Claremont Graduate University, he is credited with defining management as a distinct profession, and coining the term “gold-collar” and “knowledge workers.”

One of his most popular books, The Effective Executive, was published in 2004. Reading it now, almost two decades later, it’s easy to see why so many of Drucker’s insights have had such an enormous impact on the shaping of the modern corporation.

As an Agilist, I was gratified to see that the core principles of an strong, well-functioning Agile practice are the same disciplines Drucker outlines in the Effective Executive. If you and your organization are looking to become more Agile, here are two key take-aways from Drucker’s, The Effective Executive.

Know Thy Time

When I meet with clients who are dealing with failed projects, high turn-over, missed deadlines, spotty delivery, and assorted other maladies, my first question is this: How does the team track it’s time? The answer always is: They don’t.

My next question is: Do YOU track your time? The answer: I’m an “executive.” (In other words: No.) This is generally followed by an agitated, if not terse, lecture about why they are too busy to track time, or how time is not why their projects are over budget and behind schedule, and then I’m dismissed with: “Everyone is working hard…”

Consider the above, only now replace the word time with money. Were I to ask any executive or portfolio manager, “How do you track your money?” I would be treated to a barrage of spreadsheets, dashboards, and death by PowerPoint. I certainly would not hear, “We’re too busy to track money….”

Time IS money! If you don’t track it, you’ll never have any control over it.

Sure, people show up. People work hard, okay. But if you’re telling me that your Corkscrew Upgrade Project is your #1 priority, and I see that only 40% of your team is allocated to that project (and 60% of that team’s time is spent on website enhancements), then the Corkscrew Upgrade Project is NOT your #1 priority. (That’s assuming you actually have priorities because if you have more than three, you have none.)

People who sell time – attorneys, consultants, physicians – have a keen understanding the value of their time. They understand billable hours, and “The Thousand-Dollar Meeting.” Unfortunately, this intuitive understanding of time is not reflected in many of the steady-paycheck-white-collar Americans I’ve encountered. It’s even worse in the executive ranks, many of whom see time their subordinates’ time as endless (and free).

Executives are salaried; and, for the most part, they come and go as they please. I have yet to meet a single one didn’t think s/he worked hard, but I’ve never met a single one who tracked his/her time with any accuracy. Truly a missed opportunity.

If no one – including you – is tracking company paid time against tasks or goals, then you truly have no idea where time is spent until it’s gone. You don’t know the real duration of anything (there’s no roadmap for future efforts), nor do you have any data to determine whether or not the time expended in these activities was a good value compared with other tasks.

Tracking time is not about punching in and out. I’m not questioning your work ethic, I’m questioning the value of the work produced. Those are two different things.

Tracking time allows you to see exactly how projects are advanced (or hindered) by activities. It’s about metrics, priorities, difficult choices, saying no. By tracking time, you will learn exactly how much of your time, AND your team’s time is consumed in churn, or consumed producing low-value work. Keep in mind, low-value work is not the same as poor quality! A perfect widget only has value if someone wants to buy it!

The inability to assess the value of activities as it relates to time expended is why projects fail and, frankly, why people fail.

Tracking time and tasks is not difficult. It requires a little discipline, but it is one of the easier things to fix. In some organizations, though, this is akin to stepping on a scale. You know you’re overweight and not running a healthy show, but you’re just too afraid to see the actual number! What happens when people start tracking tasks and time? Just like your money (or your food!) you realize that you’re spending a lot of it on things that bring no joy and offer little long-term value.

What am I Contributing?

The mindset of an Agile executive is the humble acceptance that the higher-up the food chain you are, the more removed you are from the actual work, and the less likely it is that you are effectively contributing to the success of effort. You might have a bigger title, make more money, or sit in an office with a big window, that doesn’t make you valuable to the project.

Executives need to ask themselves: What, exactly, am I contributing? Does this team need my expertise to direct their work? Is my participation improving output? If so, how am I measuring that improvement? How much time is this taking from my other priorities? What, exactly, is my role? Role is not the same as title.

Effective Agile Executives don’t just report up to their managers, they are also responsible for owning the relationships with their peers, and even more importantly they need to meet their “downward” obligations to their teams. Scaled Agile Executives insure alignment, negotiate with peers and stakeholders, communicate strategy. They don’t dictate the manner and methods by which the work is completed.

Drucker and Agile agree: Executives accustomed to hierarchy who now support Agile teams must resist the temptation to pull rank, second guess the Team. If your organization is making an Agile transformation, understand that if you want to be an effective executive, you must change your work habits and your leadership approach.

How to Become an Effective Agile Executive

The first step toward becoming an effective Agile executive is understanding that hierarchy – as an organizational model – is a relic of the industrial age, and it is poorly suited to managing knowledge workers and knowledge projects.

Traditionally, to be a “boss” implied that you were an excellent individual contributor. Being made “boss” was a reward for your hard work. The thought behind this structure of hierarchy was that the boss, as an all-star worker – would impart his wisdom and best practices to others. The result of his supervision and management would be subordinates who produce the same excellent results as the boss did.

In theory, this sounds perfectly reasonable, but in practice, we all know, it is a failed model. While being a good individual contributor offers some advantages when you’re the boss, now, it is commonly accepted that management – in itself – is a profession that requires special skills and aptitudes.

This boss-helper model is the foundation for factory management where work is repetitive and “neck down.” In knowledge industries, such as tech, this model is just not scalable. Why, because these industries are dependent upon high-skilled, highly-specialized “gold-collar workers.” Moreover, The Standish Group in Boston annual report shows, through data analysis, that traditional top-down management actually has a negative impact on an organization’s ability to deliver consistent value in cognitive and creative work like, IT, marketing, and sales.

Unfortunately, despite the overwhelming evidence of its lethargic ineffectiveness, top-down leadership is still practiced and greatly loved – by those at the top. Decisions are made, late or ad hoc, good or bad, thoughtful or capricious, and everyone jumps. It’s awesome. Having people do what you say, when you say it, without argument or push-back is kind of sweet. As time goes on, hierarchical organizations develop cultures that value compliance, over disruption. Inevitably, they become stale, risk adverse, old. No one ever gets fired for the bold decision that they never made.

Drucker correctly predicted that “Gold Collar” knowledge workers would ultimately elevate the role of labor and demolish hierarchy in future organizations, and it looks like he was right on trend. In 2020, Gartner predicted that AI would replace as much as 70% of a traditional manager’s workload. This shift will change the executive’s role to that of coach, not commander.

The relationships and mindset essential for a strong, successful, progressive, and high-performing Agile organization are the the exact same qualities Drucker encourages in The Effective Executive,

Executives are not paid to tell people what to do. They are paid to ensure that the right things are done, and that the money and the time expended return a value to the organization. The best way to support a meaningful value stream in a modern organization is to move from top-down boss-helper to bottom-up team-roles where the effective executive functions as a coach and advocate, not as a boss and commander.

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For a more nuanced view on change in mature organization, view this outstanding Ted Talk from Martin Danoesatro, What are you willing to give up to change the way we work? (15 min)

Turn the Ship Around, a video of one of L. David Marquet’s outstanding Talks at Google. In this session Capt. Marquet discusses common myths of leadership and how to become a more effective “flat org” leader in a large organization. (45 min)

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Copyright 2021 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission.

Ghosting: The Unrequited Love of Today’s Job Market

I see a lot of social media posts from people in angst over unrequited love. However, that love isn’t for disinterested romantic partners, rather it’s for jobs – jobs they never had.

Interviewing is a lot like dating, and the world is filled with bad advice on how to do both. Here’s mine:

Consider the Ubiquity of this Post

“Not hearing back from <prospective employer> is really hard. There is no closure or feedback, and it makes it incredibly challenging to gain insights to improve. It would be great if <prospective employers> were able to tell me why I wasn’t their best candidate, or that there were better candidates, or any kind of constructive feedback. Even if it’s harsh or disappointing, it will help me to be a better candidate.”

Signed: Every Rejected Job Candidate Ever

Now, let’s replace <prospective employer> with <blind date>, and let’s consider the absurdity of this same post:

“Not hearing back from a <blind date> is really hard. There is no closure or feedback, and it makes it incredibly challenging to gain insights to improve. It would be great if each of my <blind dates> were able to tell me why I wasn’t their top candidate, or that there were better candidates, or any kind of constructive feedback. Even if it’s harsh or disappointing, it will help me to be a better <blind date>.”

Signed: Seeking Validation from Strangers

Were I to publish the above is any self-help feed, no doubt I’d be hit with an avalanche affirmations to “be yourself,” and not to waste as single-second feeling bad about not hearing from my blind date, and that I should move on to someone who deserved me. Why don’t we feel the same about job interviews?

Interviewers Are NOT Better than You!

I’ve been on literally thousands of interviews over the course of my career. I’ve also had the misfortune to interview applicants. Let me assure you of one universal truth: The notion that the person who is interviewing you is somehow superior, more knowledgeable, more insightful, or “better” than you are is completely false.

We have been programmed to believe that any employer or anyone interviewing or evaluating us for employment is somehow a superior being. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sadly, many of the interviewers I’ve met over the years really have no business interviewing anyone! They have zero training, are terrible judges of character, and most are completely unaware of their implicit biases. Often they have little to no understanding of the job for which you’re interviewing, they’re unprepared, most know nothing about you, many haven’t even looked at your resume.

Worse, in far too many cases, an interviewer’s hubris and poor manners reflect poorly on the company and brand. As a result of this negative interview experience, the job applicant feels, “These guys are a bunch of ass-holes; I’m never working here…” Worse, that feeling is often shared with their friends and associates. This is why many companies now find themselves unable to attract talent.

People get rejected for jobs all the time. It has absolutely nothing to do with your qualifications or your worthiness, or your answer to this question or that question. Similarly, people get hired for jobs, and often it has nothing to do with their qualifications or worthiness, either. Stop internalizing rejection. It’s a number’s game. Keep throwing chips out on the board. Your number will come up.

Stop Dreaming

“I have to fight the urge to stop looking once I’ve applied to a dream job. It’s a tough market and I need to keep looking and keep applying while I wait to hear back.

Signed: Living in a Dream World (It’s cozy inside)

Applying for a “dream job,” isn’t the same as being hired for your dream job. You should never be “waiting to hear back,” from anyone unless you’ve countered their offer of employment. Applying (even if you’re “perfect” for the job), and “waiting” for them to call you? That’s akin to buying a lottery ticket, and then not doing your laundry because your winnings will allow you to hire someone for that.

Keep in mind, even if a job description seems perfect for you, that doesn’t mean you’ll be interviewed. Once interviewed, it doesn’t mean you’ll be hired. Also, just because someone offers you a job doesn’t mean you’re going to accept it. And, just because you’re hired, it doesn’t mean you’re going to stay.

In my book, The Temp Job: A Survival Guide for the Contingent Worker, I recommend to never stop looking for work. I think we have all seen that life is very unpredictable, and jobs can change very quickly. Being employed is great, but in the long-run, it’s much safer and better to be employable.

You’re Mourning the Life You Thought You’d Have

Like buying a lottery ticket, whenever you interview for a job, it’s only natural to dream about your future life and the possibilities. If you’ve been out of work for a while, these emotions can be even more intense. Perhaps the gig is exactly what you’ve been seeking. It might be in a more desirable city or location, the building is in a swank area of town, you’re looking forward to making new friends. Maybe you are in a awful job now, and this opportunity seems like the golden ticket to the chocolate factory. You go to sleep at night with sugar plum fairies dancing in your head, and awaken to a world that is shiny and bright and full of possibility.

And then? You never hear from them.

You call, no response. You email, crickets. And, poof! The perfect life you imagined for yourself is gone, and you are left in disgust, despondency, and despair.

Consider that ghosting is really less about the employer, and more about lotto fever. You’re not upset over the loss of a job — a job you never had — you’re suffering from the loss of the “perfect” life you imagined this job would bring you.

But why, why??!! Why no call? If you consider that question in the same context as you would a blind date, you can easily see the answer: They found someone they liked more OR they’re not ready for a relationship. Those are the only reasons. Do I have to send you a letter? What else is there to know?

It’s a Conversation

“It’s difficult to maintain motivation when there’s a complete lack of responses and reactions to the vast majority of applications. Searching for a job can feel like pouring time and energy into a black hole never to see a return on the investment.”

Signed: Confused about Investment v. Conversation

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received from a professional head-hunter was this, “It’s a conversation, it’s a little bit of your time, you have nothing to lose, and everything to gain,” and he’s 100 percent right!

Stop looking at applications and interviews as something you are entitled to receive a return on, like stock or real estate. Instead, look at every interview as if it were a conversation with friend or neighbor. I wouldn’t walk away from a cocktail party or conversation in the park thinking, “I spent so much time taking to her. I hope I’m not pouring my time into some black hole!”

If that doesn’t work, try to see your interviews as less of an evaluation of your worthiness and your credentials, and more of a low-pressure sales call. All great salespeople know the chance of rejection is high, but they also know that there’s a pipeline: You’re forming relationships, making an impression. Sometimes you make sale that day, most times you don’t. It doesn’t mean you’ve wasted your time. You got to meet people who are in your business. You got to practice interviewing, asking questions, listening, and evaluating jobs and companies. It’s a little bit of time that you spend paying it forward. I’ve had people call me y-e-a-r-s later after no-go interviews to ask me to join their team. I’ve had interviewers refer me to other companies. I’ve met friends and networking contacts. I’ve gotten referrals for hairdressers and restaurants and other services people. I’ve seen new areas of town, new cities, and learned new things. It’s just a conversation – go!

Ghosting is the Norm, Not the Exception

Life has changed since 1970’s when a secretary typed out rejection letters on her (never his) IBM Selectric, then, typed your address on an envelope, and then folded up the letter, put it in the envelope, and then ran the envelope through the postage meter, hoping the envelope wouldn’t catch on the flap, and rip the envelope. In which case, they would need to lather, rinse, and repeat. And why did they do this? To let you know that they were NOT going to hire you? Who in 2021 thinks this is a good use of anyone’s time?

I can hear all the, “Yes, but(s)” from here! Tough love time: We don’t live in that world anymore. Understand and accept that you will NOT hear from a prospective employer or staffing agent unless they’re interested in hiring you. If you can do that just much, you’ll save yourself a lot of ghosting angst.

***

My book, The Temp Job: A Survival Guide for the Contingent Worker offers straight-forward, no-nonsense advice to anyone navigating today’s labor market. If you’ve newly unemployed, or have never worked as a contractor or consultant, it’s essential reading.

Your job isn’t just a revenue source; your job is a relationship. And, interviewing for a job is a lot like dating. It’s 100% natural to be a little nervous and want to make a good impression, but not every date is going to result in a relationship, and that’s okay!

When interviewing, just like dating, focus less on yourself and more on your date. Spend less time thinking about what you want to say, and more time listening attentively, and asking thoughtful questions. In this way, both you and your prospective employer/client will feel comfortable pursuing a long-term a relationship.

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If you are unemployed, DM me for a free copy.

Copyright 2021 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission.

Should I Take a Contract Job?

Dear Plume,

I was let go at the start of the Covid shutdown from a job I had for the past eight years. Although they started to recall some of their employees, I’m pretty sure I won’t be one of them.

I’ve been looking at the job boards. There are some positions that seem to be a good fit for me, but the majority of them are only for six months, and most of them are contracts.

I’ve never worked as a contractor before. Should I apply for (and take) a contract job? There’s a lot of them out there, but I feel it’s a step down from being an employee.

I can’t be unemployed much longer, but I dread the idea that I’d have to look for another job in six months. What should I do?

– Unsure

***

Dear Unsure,

I recommend contract work to anyone who has been an employee for a while. It’s a great way to level-up your career!

Downsizing, reorgs, and virtual teams result in a lot of “combined” job descriptions – meaning that the responsibilities listed in the JD were likely accomplished by two or more people. Now, they must be done by one. This is when people are likely to consider someone who could do the job, not just someone who has…

If you’ve been an individual contributor, and think it’s time for you to move into management, or perhaps you want to slide laterally into a space that has more long-term growth, a contract job is the perfect way to do it.

Contract work has a fixed duration because very often contract work is related to a one-time (CapEx) project; there’s a beginning, middle, and end. For example, you hire a carpenter to build a backyard fence. You agree upon a price and anticipated duration, and the carpenter works and bills you according to the terms of your agreement. When the fence is done, the carpenter leaves. Most people don’t need two backyard fences. If you love the fence, and think, “Hey, I need a front fence,” or a neighbor wants a fence, that’s nice. But, for the most part, after the fence is built, the job is done, and the carpenter leaves.

Knowing there is beginning-middle-end allows you to prepare. Employees often have little or no notice of when their job will end.

Depending on the nature of the work, your initial contract can turn into more work or different work (very common). In some cases, the client may wish to hire you (less common, but possible.) If you decide you want to continue working for the client (and you may not), and the client has the money to keep you (often, they do not), great! Mazeltov! If it doesn’t come to pass, no harm-no foul. You made some money, some friends, and gained some new skills.

There are some types of work that must be performed by an employee; however, contract work is NOT a “step-down” from being an employee! In many cases, contract work is more challenging and more lucrative than being an employee, And, if you sell expertise, long-term, you may prefer to work as a contractor.

The only job security is to be employable.

In my book, The Temp Job: A Survival Guide for the Contingent Worker, I stress the importance of not confusing temporary, contract work with being an employee. Although you might feel like your an employee, you are not. When you are a contractor, you don’t have a boss. You have a client, an agent, and a lot of teammates — all of whom need to be managed (by you!.)

If you have a specific expertise, and think you might want to consult, I’d recommend working a few contract gigs to see if you can handle managing a client.

Not everyone wants to work full-time for an employer. If you have a special talent, expertise or own special tools, contracting could be the best way for you to make the most money per hour. If you’re young in your career, it can also be a low-risk way to acquire big-buck skills on someone else’s dime. Contractor or employee? There is no right or wrong choice. Only you can determine what is in the best interest of you and your career.

***

My book, The Temp Job: A Survival Guide for the Contingent Worker offers straight-forward, no-nonsense advice to anyone navigating today’s contingent labor market. If you’ve never worked as a contractor or consultant, it’s essential reading.

***

Copyright 2020 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission.

You Just Lost Your Job !

So, you just lost your job (seems to be a bit of that going around). If you’re new to unemployment, being without a job is a huge disruption to a well-established routine. And, if you’ve been a bit of work-a-holic, you could easily find yourself struggling to structure your time and set goals. Here’s a few things to do:

Stop Freaking Out

So, you’ve been working at the same place for 10 years, and thought you were like “family.” You can’t believe they let you go when <your nemesis> is still there doing the same lousy work. Losing that job was like losing a piece of yourself – like a death.

Except it’s not a death, it’s a job. You’ll get another one. Enough with the drama!

Don’t wallow in self-pity about how you’ve been wronged. Don’t think the people who were not let go are somehow better than you are. If you survived previous RIFs and downturns and assumed that your survival was because you were superior to those who were let go, I can assure you that your self-assessed superiority is overrated. People are let go (or kept) for all kinds of reasons. Sadly, most have little or nothing to do with their actual skills or competence.

If you’ve been with the same company for some time (10 years or more), and thought you would NEVER lose your job, I’m talking to you: You’re waay overdue for a bit of unemployment. You’re no better, no worse than anyone else. I also want you to think about the times you may have looked down on someone who was unemployed. Set aside your mistaken and misguided notions of people’s intelligence, competency, or worthiness and practice some self-love and self-enlightenment.

It’s okay to spend time grieving, but losing a job is not a death. People get jobs and lose jobs all the time. Why you? Why NOT you? You may have thought you were better – you’re not – you’re just equal.

Put Together a List and Structure Your Time

I cannot stress the importance of keeping a routine. I recommend structuring your tasks into 1-3 hour blocks for morning, afternoon, and evening with higher-energy tasks at the beginning of the day. In this way, you make progress on a variety of things daily. For example, the AM, when it’s cool and I have more energy, I’ll focus on physical tasks (A run with the dog, yard work, home repairs). The afternoon, computer work, job search, phone calls, writing. Evening: No-brainer food prep, house cleaning, shopping.

Looking for a job is going to take time, but it’s not going to take ALL your time, and when you do return to work, you’re going to be focused on your new gig. Don’t waste this opportunity. Knocking out chores, taking on-line classes, actually getting started on that (blog, certification, novel), losing some weight, will make you feel happier, more confident, and more in control of your life.

Stop Worrying

Eckhart Tolle says that worry is “too much future, not enough now,” and I couldn’t agree more.

Knowing that you are doing everything you can (sorry, worry isn’t action), will lessen the amount of worry and increase your level of confidence. People who are resilient focus on what they can do, and they do it. They don’t worry about things they cannot control.

If you’re worried about finding a job, ask yourself if you are DOing everything you can. If you can confidently say, “Yes, I’m doing everything I can,” then stop worrying about finding a job because you will.

Too often I see people substitute worry for action. They’re worried about losing their job, but not willing to look for another one. They’re worried about their relationship, but not willing to talk about it, or leave it. They’re worried about their finances, but not willing to give up cable or swap out of their $400 a month car payment. But, they’re worried….

No one has every solved their financial problems with worry.

Life is filled with limitless possibilities. As we emerge from this Covid crisis, we see a very different world than the one we left behind. You have changed your health and spending habits. Have you change your thinking or are you confusing worry for action? Are you seeing your unemployment as the end of your career, or as an opportunity to move into something different, more meaningful, less stressful, something that allows you to be all of who you are? Work toward the reward; stop worrying about risks.

Take a Contract Gig

I don’t run into too many people these days who have NOT worked as a contractor – especially in tech or healthcare – two of this country’s major industries. Every once in a while, however, I will meet someone who has only worked as a W2 employee (or only one employer), and of course there are still those who feel that working as a contractor is “beneath” them or that contractors as “less than” employees. If I’m talking about you: Time to move your mindset into this century…

In my book, The Temp Job: A Survival Guide for the Contingent Worker, I devote a entire chapter to Misconceptions About Contract Work. One of those misconceptions is that contractors have no job security. If you’re reading this, and you’re unemployed, I think you see that no one has job security. If you have been with the same employer for a long time, you also may see that your years there aren’t particularly helpful when it comes to finding a new job. The truth is that being employ-able is much more important than being employed. It really is the only job security anyone can have.

You never know how long you’ll be employed, but you always know if you’re employ-able.

Working as a contractor is different than being an employee. You have a client, not a boss. The dynamic is different. And there is very likely a beginning-middle-end to your contract. Contract work can be much more challenging and more lucrative than being an employee, and if you’ve been looking to level up in your career, contract work is an ideal way to get the experience you need.

My book, The Temp Job: A Survival Guide for the Contingent Worker offers straight-forward, no-nonsense advice to anyone navigating today’s contingent labor market. If you’ve never worked as a contractor or consultant, it’s essential reading.

Final Thoughts

Anytime you lose your job, even if it’s a job you didn’t particularly like, it’s upsetting. You feel rejected. You miss your former colleagues. If you’ve been an employee for a long time, you’ll feel overwhelmed by just the idea of interviewing, and petrified at the thought of starting all over someplace new. All these emotions are very normal, and I can assure you that they are temporary.

You will find another job, and you will get past this, and it will happen sooner than you think, so make the most of your time now that you have some.

***

Copyright 2020 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission. 

How Would YOU Caption This?

This cartoon and it’s original caption, “Describe what you can bring to this company,” has gone viral on Twitter and FB. I’ve collected a few hilarious – and a few very pointed – responses off the various feeds, and I would like to hear….

How would you caption this?

~Well, you are the most qualified, but I’m not sure I want to get a beer with you.

~I don’t disagree with your recommendations, but you need to tone down your presentation. You don’t want to sound bitter.

~We are ready to begin the inquiry into the sexual harassment complaint you filed.

~If you work really, really hard and prove yourself, we might consider hiring you full time.

~I’m not sure that the team will respond to your management style.

~The most important thing is we hire someone who reflects our culture and values.

~I’ll have the turkey wrap, and make sure there’s enough cookies and water for the afternoon.

“~~my life debating Republicans in committee each week.” – AOC

~I’m not sure you have the leadership skills for this job.

~We’re looking for a team player. Are you a team player?

~If all you bring is your gender and skin color, then you aren’t worth very much.”

So…You Want to Be a “Consultant”?

I’ve worked as a contractor, consultant, and direct employee. Each of these relationships is different; none of them is perfect. Are you ready to ditch your FTE and become a consultant? Here’s a few things to think about….

Can You Run a Business?

I’ve met hundreds of talented individuals who are terrible business people. Consider the great doctor who can’t manage or afford his/her private practice. The finish carpenter who can’t accurately bid out a project or generate an invoice. The full-stack software architect with no ability to write a statement of work or manage a project.

This is where I hear, “Ohh, puh-leeze, I’ll hire someone for that!” to which I respond, “Oh, puh-leeze, no one is interested in working for you!” (Small shops are not competitive employers – don’t think you can hire “some kid” to manage your website). Moreover, hiring help entails huge legal and financial responsibilities, and BTW, where are you going to come up with a weekly salary and benefits and pay taxes when you have one client and can barely support yourself?

Consider the following activities:

  • Marketing/Sales: Finding, qualifying, and pipelining new clients; promoting the business. You.
  • Legal: Licenses, in$urance, banking, taxes. You.
  • $oftware: Updates, equipment, desktop troubleshooting, web page(s), WiFi, Cloud storage. You.
  • Finance: Contracts, proposals, invoices, time cards. You.
  • Overhead: Office rent, supplies, printer cartridges, computers. You.
  • Benefits: Vacations, holidays, sick days, medical insurance, family leave. You.

And that’s before you do any real “billable” client work – which is often >40 hours per week, more if you are juggling multiple projects.

If you read that list and thought, “Ugh!” stay an employee.

Can You Run a Project?

Do you track your time? Do you track your money? Are you disciplined and organized in your personal life? Can you put together a schedule? Can you write a contract? What about a statement of work? Can you track, measure, and demonstrate progress? Can you make a deadline? Can you manage change and say no to difficult people?

When I meet with clients who are dealing with failed projects, high turn-over, and assorted other maladies, my first question is this: How does the team track their time? (They don’t.) Do YOU track your time? (Answer: I’m an “executive.”) Then, I get a big lecture about how hard everyone works, and they don’t have time to track their time.

Here’s my point:

I wasn’t questioning their work ethic, I was questioning their activities.

The inability to assess the value of activities as it relates to time expended is why people fail at consulting – and fail at a whole bunch of other stuff as well.

When you’re a consultant – time is EVERYTHING. Billable time, bizdev time, vacation time, career development time, commute time. And, there’s other things that take your time: Laundry. Food prep. Cleaning. Video Games. Your relationship(s). Did I mention the kids? You’ll need to manage ALL your time like the precious, finite, resource it is. That means you need to say, “I’m sorry, but that’s not a good use of my time,” even to your spouse.

Are You a Push-Over?

If you suffer from people pleasing, or have a hard time saying no, I beg you: For the sake of your personal health, personal finances, and happiness do NOT become a consultant!

Consulting is not all Power Point presentations and conference rooms with killer views. Consultants are small business owners, project managers, and buzz-kill realists. To be one requires a certain amount of cold, capitalist, callousness. How will you handle scope creep? Can you give bad news? Can you graciously deal with getting fired? (coz you will be). What about your ethics? Can you graciously dump a client (coz you’ll need to).

You want to run with the big dogs? You’re going to get pissed on. Consultants don’t have a boss, or HR, or a union, or labor laws – you have client and a contract. What are you going to do if they don’t honor it?

Are You Just Assuming You’ll Get Paid?

Very early on in my career, I worked for a couple of unscrupulous salesmen who refused to reimburse me for almost $2K in travel expenses I had foolishly put on my personal American Express card. This was back in the ’90’s, so that was a LOT of money then, and even more for an irresponsible 20-something who didn’t even have a savings account.

Although I eventually got my money, this whole thing was a huge financial fiasco, and it took me a l-o-n-g time to recover from it. These guys had let me go on Christmas Eve (for real), no severance, no final paycheck. I had to borrow money from family to pay AmEx and rent and bills. I had to go to court to get commissions, expenses, and back wages due me; and I had to freeze their bank account to collect. All of this taught me very important lesson:

No one is more unpleasant than someone who owes you money.

When you are a consultant, you’re a vendor. You don’t have the same legal protections that you would as a W2 employee. Consider the Crystal Geyser guy. If the customer decides to go with Sparkletts, Crystal Geyser doesn’t file for unemployment. If the delivery truck gets stolen, Crystal Geyser still has to service their accounts. They don’t call and ask their customers to buy them a new truck and front them for water.

An employee must be paid no less than twice a month. But you’re not an employee, so your clients will want you to bill every 30 days, and then pay you in 30 days – just like they do all their other vendors. But, what if they don’t pay you? What if they’re late? What if they disagree with the invoice? How long are you prepared to work without being paid? A week? Two weeks? A month? Three months? What if they claim your work is defective and refuse to pay? What about travel? Are you putting that on your personal credit card? What if they don’t reimburse you or take months to do so? What are you going to do about it?

I’ve worked for big, corporations my entire life.

You’d be amazed how many rich companies don’t pay their bills on time.

When you truly work for yourself, you can’t put up with excuses. Other people’s bills, emergencies, sick kids, corporate “process” and vacation time is NOT your problem. If you can’t write clear acceptance criteria for your work, can’t say no, or could never see yourself suing someone, don’t waste time trying to be consultant. I’ve listened to lots of people (mostly women, I’m sorry to say), who thought they could handle this kind of relationship, and ended up being taken advantage of by someone who was really, really, going to pay them when <crisis> passed.

When you consult, you need to track your time and tasks, keep copies of all your work, be prepared to withhold work until you’re paid for it, be prepared to walk out if you’re not paid, and be prepared to sue.

If you have a tough time sticking up for yourself, can’t handle people’s anger, or just can’t be “mean,” being a consultant is absolutely NOT for you!

Final Thoughts

Do you want to consult, or do you want more control over your scope and the direction of your career? Do you want to consult, or do you want more free time?

If you’re a full-time employee, and if you’re wondering if consulting could be for you, I strongly encourage you take a few contract, “temp” jobs. This will give you a feeling for what it’s like to have a client instead of a boss, and also give you some practice at managing the scope of your work and duration of your project.

My book, The Temp Job: A Survival Guide for the Contingent Worker offers straight-forward, no-nonsense advice to anyone navigating today’s contingent labor market. If you’ve never worked as a contractor or consultant, it’s essential reading.

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