Should you benefit from ACN’s bloodletting?

If you like great talent, you should…..Accenture has cut loose many senior executives recently and will pare some more given last Thursday’s announcement.
Written by Brian Sommer, Contributor

If you like great talent, you should…..

Accenture has cut loose many senior executives recently and will pare some more given last Thursday’s announcement. I know some of these folks. Specific vertical segments have been pared down to reflect new market realities. These include: automotive and financial services.

Would your firm benefit from picking up one of these executives? Possibly. While some potential employers still see these consulting executives as ‘Big 8 partners’, they imagine that these people won’t roll up their shirt sleeves and get their hands dirty. They think that ‘partners’ don’t know their industry, will want an excessive salary/comp package and haven’t hit a lick in years. Former ‘partners’ are expected to be expensive and take too long to add value. Theses biases, in my opinion, are often untrue.

As a former partner, I can attest to this market bias and am seeing this bias impact two colleagues who recently left Accenture. The reality around these executives is quite different and you might be surprised to learn that ex-consultants are quite adept at learning a company/industry and its problems really fast. That’s their forte. While it’s true that some of them have spent too much time on a golf course and may already be thinking of retirement, most of them are far from done career-wise. Many are fast, polished, sharp, knowledgeable and professional.

Some of these ex-consultants are actually looking for a change in lifestyle. If you’ve never had a 100,000 air mile month, worked out of the country for a year, missed your kid’s birth, etc. you’ve likely never been a consultant. Only then can you appreciate why it is a work style that isn’t for everyone or isn’t forever. Your body can take just so much jet lag after all. So, is it such a bad thing if one of these road warriors wants a bit of the life quality than many, many other workers and executives have?

If your firm needs an infusion of talent, skill, energy, etc., look into one of these executives. How do you know if you’re looking at the right kind of consultant to bring on-board permanently? Here’s my interview checklist:

- If the consultant has told you they want a different work/life balance, make sure they really just want to drop the travel and weeks/months away from home. Avoid consultants who want to cut back their work hours to 10-20/week. That could be a semi-retirement signal. Some consultants actually want to have a family and a family life. When a consultant is thinking of outsourcing the conception of their next child, they’re ready for a change of work/life. This person could be a real asset to your firm.

- Ask the consultant what their golf handicap is. If they have one, they’ve been doing too much ‘business development’ and may no longer be technically current. The consultant you want is the one that says “If it's a sport that I can’t do it in an airplane, I don’t get a chance to play it.”

- If the consultant told you they want to work somewhere where they are better treated or respected, that could very well be true. Some consultancies promote people based on their ability to sell work not their people skills. Great sales people sometimes do not make great leaders. On the other hand, the consultant could be a spoiled brat. They may be upset that they can no longer fly first class, get a private oak-paneled office and other perks. They don’t want a new employer or respect. They want a sugar daddy that will give them the trappings of high office. Avoid these imperial wastes of time and money.

- If the consultant doesn’t know every nuance of your industry, that’s probably because they’ve worked in 2-5 industries during their career. Where you might see that as a distinct disadvantage, you may be seriously selling your firm short. These executives have seen practices, technologies, etc. deployed elsewhere that could really make a difference in your firm and industry.

- If you’re worried that the consultant’s work ethic/culture will not fit within your firm, you may actually be afraid of change. Different consultancies have different cultures. Some are ‘plan the work and work the plan’ while others have a distinct ‘we put our people first’ mentality. Some, schizophrenically, have different sales and delivery people. And it goes on and on. When I hear executives describe consultants, they often express concern over:

o the directness with which many consultants speak, o the lack of respect consultants have for their chain of command o the speed with which consultants work or make decisions o the lack of appreciation consultants have for their culture, their way of doing things, etc.

And, you know, there’s some truth in all of these statements. That truth is sometimes people-specific and sometimes it’s due to the unfamiliarity of the consultant with the business practices in that firm. But sometimes it’s because the consultant is always aware of the fact that their time is billed hourly. They must move fast or the client fears they are getting ripped off.

When you cut through the objections though, you often find firms that are actually scared of change. It’s that simple: change. These firms would feel more comfortable getting another industry veteran who does the same things, works the same way, etc. With this safety, the firm is hoping to prevent change. If your firm fears change, don’t hire an ex-consultant.

- Ask the consultant for proof of their credentials. Make them produce something they’ve written. Have them show you a presentation they wrote (not gave) for an industry function. You get the drift. You want someone who will help you grow your firm not just occupy a desk or draw a salary. If they don’t possess some special value-add, you may have discovered why they got cut loose from the consultancy. If the consultancy couldn’t milk any value from them, you won’t either.

I often hear mid-market firms lament their inability to hire top-notch talent. Well, there are at least 336 or more top ACN people coming onto the market . Get yours now!

(Full disclosure: I was a partner with Andersen Consulting (the predecessor name of Accenture) and left the practice in 1999 after 18 years with the firm. I own a very small piece of stock in the company.)

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