Yearly Archives: 2014


The Bulletin Board Stink Test

Compensation is a very tricky issue in a consulting company that sells its services by the hour to clients. In some ways, the clients dictate the salary by what they are willing to pay. Of course, it is indirect because the clients usually only care about the overall hourly rate after overhead and profit are added and then compared with like companies. If a company is willing to take less profit, or the company has very low overhead, they might get away with paying a higher salary.

The second way salaries are set is by what the market will bear. To attract new people to join your company, you have to pay what it takes to get them to say “yes.” What clients will pay and what it takes to hire people are related, but certainly not directly, especially with senior talent.

Relative to mid three- to four-level employees, you are selling their skills and experience, with the beneficiary being the client. It makes all the sense in the world that the client would be willing to pay for comparable talent from other companies. But when referring to employees at the senior level, the value of a person is not what they can directly sell, but their leverage value of selling teams. Senior people are often hired to open new markets or add key clients. They also start new business initiatives. So, for these people we set salaries not on what clients will pay but how they will affect our business platforms. When this happens, how do you set salaries compared to your existing base?

Each company’s HR department will show an orderly and gradually increasing set of raw salary brackets that is tied to your existing […]

By |June 1st, 2014|Career Lessons|0 Comments

The Large Job Effect

In the consulting services industry, companies are made up of a combination of a network of local offices doing recurring activity with repeat customers and an overlapping potential to perform occasional larger and one-off jobs. As companies grow in scale, they depend more and more on winning and delivering large jobs. Large jobs are longer in duration and have more intense manpower loading that leads to much higher chargeable time, and thus, higher profit. Depending on the allocation process, they also absorb a disproportionate level of overhead from the regional and corporate levels than they create.

If the company is organized to have a network of geographically spread offices, one of the key missions of local offices is to detect and help sell large jobs through local relationships and knowledge. But those large jobs only come along occasionally. Therefore, the more geographical offices a company has, the greater probability of finding the next large job.

For larger jobs, companies often combine known local trust relations with corporate level delivery capability. Many clients would prefer to give their work to local qualified companies and/or known client servers to reduce risk.

Branch offices, which routinely live off small and medium projects, occasionally discover and bring projects that are above their normal scale to perform to the attention of the corporation. In fact, a common strategic role of the branch offices is to cover their costs with routine business and serve as “watch towers” for larger jobs.

When a large project is detected, the marketing resources, expenses and required systems are too much for the branch office to handle, resulting in corporate involvement, if not total control. This creates the first struggle.

Does the corporate marketing force […]

By |May 1st, 2014|Career Lessons|0 Comments

When Comets Flame Out

There are many downsides to working for a single company for 36 years as I did, but there are also some unique opportunities to observe things over time. Due to my longevity, I was able to observe numerous people over decades of their career and the way the company regarded them. The phenomenon that I found most disturbing was the early and mid-career “stars” who flamed out over time.

These were individuals who were regarded early in their careers as productive, high potential and great fits for the assignments given them. Later, they were regarded as mediocre and even dispensable. Often they left the company and then regained their productive trajectory in another company. Why? Being that the genetics of individuals do not change that fast, why did they go from high potential to low performers?

I had numerous situations where I had worked closely with a team of individuals and then got transferred to another job assignment and, therefore, would lose touch. It was uncanny that it was in those situations where significant time passed and the changes in reputation were not incrementally slow, but rather were startlingly transformed when I revisited them.

I also thought it was bizarre how the “what have you done for me lately?” attitude prevailed rather than any appreciation of past results and accomplishments. A history of success did not seem to carry very far. Often the new supervisor is more concerned about “what have you done for me?” versus “what have you done for the company.” As a result, past “stars” usually were starting over with each new boss. This leads to a situation where what was high potential under one leader can become a disappointment quickly under a new job […]

By |April 1st, 2014|Career Lessons|0 Comments

Vision Versus Strategy

For the first 20 years of my career, I regarded strategy and vision as, essentially, the same thing. One might have a slightly shorter horizon, but the difference seemed more like “wordsmithing.” During those years, the strategy was to become the best and largest in a select vertical segment. This was accomplished through geographical expansion, investment in applied technology, hiring talent from the best schools, winning the most important projects in the industry and having a reputation for both doing good work and standing behind it. Each of the components of this strategy had plans and personnel responsible for their accomplishment. We hammered away, year by year, using industry “league tables” as our barometer for success.

Sure, I read the business articles about companies that had noble end goals like “we provide mobility, not cars,” but it didn’t register as to how that might apply to us. Implementation seemed so much more important than philosophy.

My perspective changed in 2005, when I was invited as the only representative from an engineering firm to join the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI). The CGI was devised by President Clinton to serve as a forum for nongovernmental organizations (NGO) and Fortune 500 companies’ leaders to look at world problems and brainstorm how these could be solved without government. It was nongovernment activism to look at poverty, climate change and education from the volunteer energy of the private sector. Due to the draw of President Clinton, world leaders and many brand-name CEOs attended and, before the end of the conference, gave huge monetary or in-kind gifts toward one of the issues. I must have been the CEO of the smallest company there, but was treated as an equal.

One evening I was seated […]

By |March 1st, 2014|Career Lessons|0 Comments

Leave Something Rule

Other than reading offices, it is key to always bring and leave something behind.  This concept essentially means that, after the first visit when you have the opportunity to study the space and engage in client conversation, you always bring something the next trip, relating to the previous one.  It could be a book, a research article, a magazine article, a small gift, a photograph—something small but thoughtful.

The purpose is to pick up the conversation where it last left off.  This symbolizes to the client that you not only listened, but were affected enough to continue thinking about the topic, even after the meeting ended. Some time may have passed, but you remember where you left the discussion and are ready to re-engage. A physical reminder of your visit will linger long after your discussion.  As you finish your second visit, study the office further and think about the third visit’s ‘leave behind’

Now in adopting this technique, there are several rules relative to what not to leave behind.  Obviously, you never leave a gift of such value that the client is uncomfortable or forced to make a judgment decision not to accept it.  Having a client reject a gift is a disaster and reflects on your bad judgment. If you don’t know about the client’s gift rules, a good rule of thumb is to never give anything valued over $25, even if permissible. In my experience, most of the leave behind gifts were paper.  The second rule, is to avoid gifts with a logo on them, except in the case of a research paper.  You do not want the client branded with “your” stuff, especially in the eyes of his peers or subordinates.  To be […]

By |February 1st, 2014|Career Lessons|0 Comments

Going Into The Fire

There are many traits that a leader must have and, certainly, among the most important are integrity, philosophical foundation, vision, quick learning ability, consistency in decision-making and emotional maturity. But the one characteristic I believe is critical to leadership is knowing when to engage personally with presence versus delegation.

The challenge with this issue is that you could err on either side. Engaging in trivial matters is wasteful leverage and undermining for subordinates. Failing to engage in large matters that affect the reputation and brand of the company is failing to do the job. I call the times when you personally engage and get out in front as “going into the fire.” I have also heard it referred to as “being on the coal face.”

The times when personal involvement is most appropriate can be best be described as true crisis. There is real risk to the company and its leader in these moments. If the leader does not fix the issue, there is no fall back. We saw this in the Exxon Valdez and BP Gulf Coast oil spills, when the CEOs went into the fire and did not perform well. In fact, they made things worse.

Most conservative corporate legal teams will advise against the top leaders engaging, both in the interest of protecting them and putting them in reserve. If a subordinate takes on a crisis only to aggravate the problem, there is room to disavow and reverse, if you have a leader in reserve.

On first glance, this looks like a topic for CEOs, but frankly it applies to all levels of leadership. The only thing that changes in lower levels is the severity of the crisis. For instance, in a project, if a client […]

By |January 3rd, 2014|Career Lessons|0 Comments