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Tag: management

Too Many Cooks

Every company that is successful eventually runs into a problem which my favorite business-comic strip Dilbert pokes fun at in the two latest strips:

(from Nov 20)image

(from Nov 21)image

Think about it. How many large companies do you know of where there isn’t a massive layer of mysterious “vice presidents” (or some other equally meaningless-sounding title of doubtful seniority)?

This isn’t to say that all these positions are filled with useless people, or that distinctions like “senior vice president” and “executive vice president” and “associate director” aren’t important, but this proliferation of senior-sounding titles is indicative of companies facing a “mid-life crisis”, where the promise of massive growth and exciting future job prospects are no longer certain enough in order for a company to retain all of its talent.

As a result, companies are forced to create these new levels of management to keep their good people, either because there are not enough positions of seniority for these people to be promoted into or because they are being drawn by other companies/competitors who have already made the jump into “vice president land”.
This practice, in and of itself, is not in and of itself a bad thing. After all, why shouldn’t a successful company make a minor concession like this to retain talent? But, the problems emerge when:

  • These new positions add new layers of bureaucracy that muddy up what used to be a very clear decision-making process and make the company less agile
  • These new positions create “organizational bloat” — where costly and inefficient “manager” positions are created which don’t actually manage anyone or which manage departments/groups of little value
  • These new positions allow senior managers to play politics with promotions and/or lower promotion hurdles, lowering the talent/efficiency of the company overall

While there is no easy way to tackle all of these issues (and, in my mind, the fact that companies feel they have to create these new “vice president” positions feels like a cheap cop-out to me), it is something for all general managers/consultants to be aware of as many companies suffer from the dilemma of keeping a company lean and efficient and yet retaining the talent/size that they need to grow.

(Image credits – Dilbert)

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18 months

image My consulting experience has been pretty atypical so far. Most consultants rotate between cases and roles every couple of months. Me? Up until about a few weeks ago, I had been doing corporate strategy work for the same technology client for 18 months (which is a long time – hence the picture of the old man – I know, I’m clever).

And, although many consultants (yours truly included) entered the field to experience as many industries/functional roles as possible within a short period of time, I’ve found that spending this much time on a single client in a single functional role has benefited me greatly by letting me build:

  • Depth of expertise – Simply put, there’s no way that a consultant who’s constantly changing functional roles and clients to develop a deep expertise on the same level as a client’s employees. I can’t say I have the same level of expertise as someone who lives and breathes the stuff, but given the technical knowledge and understanding of the broader industry that I’ve picked up over the past 18 months, I’ve become knowledgeable enough to see connections/moves which people with less experience have yet to be able to see.
  • Deep relationship with management – Having worked 18 months on a case, I’ve built up a level of rapport and trust with the technology industry partners/managers at my firm. They now routinely include me on emails about tech industry developments, and don’t hesitate to put me on special projects. It is a position which grants me greater input and exposure than most people of my tenure, and it is one I am very grateful for. It is also good from a professional development standpoint, as I now have partners/managers whom I respect who will be in my corner.
  • Perspective on corporate strategy – I think very few people (even those in the technology industry) understand how corporate strategy at large companies is done. 18 months of watching a firm chew over the same issues again and again gives one a unique perspective on the pace and process of major strategic discussions, something that a consultant who’s rapidly rotated in and out of cases is unlikely to develop.

Several of my coworkers have asked if I’ve felt like I’ve missed out because of being on only one client. My answer is a no for three reasons. First, I am deeply interested in technology so being on a tech strategy case was like a dream come true. Secondly, as corporate strategy is an ongoing process which looks at a wide range of topics, I have had a wide range of topics ranging from premium branding (where I actually went to a Safeway’s to see how Procter & Gamble price their products relative to others), to emerging computing trends, to mobile convergence, to manufacturing outsourcing strategy, and even to formulating a process for the client to actively monitor and evaluate acquisition opportunities. Lastly, although I came into this job hoping for one thing (wide range of diverse case experiences), I believe that experiencing the exact opposite of what most consultants do see has given me a unique perspective on the corporate world – one that I would not trade away.

So, to all the new consultants (or even to the old ones), don’t knock the long-term client engagement path. You’ll be surprised at how valuable the experience can be.

 

(Image Credit)

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