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Surviving a consultant’s axe

imageGawker, who seems to really hate McKinsey and other management consulting firms, recently put out a “Complete McKinsey Survival Guide” in response to McKinsey recently being retained by magazine publisher Conde Nast where they lay out a couple of interesting thoughts on how to survive a consultant’s downsizing tendencies including:

Suck Up—Kiss ass, Kiss ass, Kiss ass. “Suck up to your own superiors, and their superiors, and theirs.” It’s just that simple. A brown nose could give you a minute edge on your fellow layoff-eligibles.

Practice Subtle Backstabbing—You don’t want to be seen as a desperate bastard ready to sell out any and all of your colleagues to save your own job (even though you are). You just want to plant the seed. Take it from someone who’s been there: ” Don’t talk shit about individuals, talk shit about DIVISIONS in a passive-aggressive way. Saying things like: ‘Those fellows that work in [blank] division are really nice guys, but I’ve worked here for five years and I still don’t know what they do’ is a winner.” Corporate espionage at its finest, ladies and gentlemen.”

And they even made a suggestion that you practice some form of sexual quid pro quo as a means to escape the hatchet…

While the read was entertaining, albeit a little ridiculous with some of the suggestions, this consultant wanted to clear the air and offer three thoughts:

  1. A consulting firm is not necessarily there to fire people. Yes, that is what they are often called on to do because many firms are staffed very inefficiently (too many people in some divisions, too many managers with no reports in other divisions, too many layers of management/bureaucracy) and management oftentimes lacks the competence or the courage to trim headcount on their own. That being said, management consulting firms are also frequently brought in to do other things like:
    • Business strategy – what markets or market strategies should the company or business unit pursue
    • Supply chain strategy – how can a business reduce its cost structure by re-negotiating its contracts with suppliers
    • Workforce re-deployment – how can a business re-organize its salesforce (not necessarily downsize) to optimize its results (e.g. move X people from West coast to Europe, etc)
    • Operations support – how can a business optimize its decision-making process (e.g. how many people need to approve a decision before its made) or operations (e.g. how can I make a factory process work more smoothly)
  2. If the consulting firm is here to help your company fire people, there’s probably not much you can do. Any consulting firm worth their salt will come to their final recommendation based on objective fact-finding and analysis where they poll many experts both from within the company and externally. It is relatively unlikely that Gawker’s suggestions that you subtly backstab another division or suck up to the consultants will change any of that, unless you have an amazing ability to prove the value of your division or group in such a way that even your senior management and external experts cannot (in which case you should have been doing that already…).
  3. You should see if you can join the joint-working sessions. Although this won’t change the outcome, regardless of if you’re going to be canned or not, it probably makes sense to join the consulting firm-internal team joint working group if you can, if only to help raise your awareness about (a) how senior managers think and rationalize large business decisions, something with which can help your career, and (b) come up with a sensible way for how to spin whatever decision the consulting firm comes up with.

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