Daniel W. Drezner

Ten Timeless Tips to becoming a management consultant

Your humble blogger participated in a panel discussion at a "global strategy conference" over the weekend that was run by a Management Consultancy Group That Shall Remain Nameless.  The audience consisted of a lot of CEOs, corporate officers, and at least one business coach.  Seeing as I’d just edited a book related to this topic, ...

Your humble blogger participated in a panel discussion at a "global strategy conference" over the weekend that was run by a Management Consultancy Group That Shall Remain Nameless.  The audience consisted of a lot of CEOs, corporate officers, and at least one business coach. 

Seeing as I’d just edited a book related to this topic, you’d think I’d have known what to expect in discussions about business strategy.  However, with my limited exposure to, you know, the for-profit sector, this was quite the eye-opening experience.  Management consultants are kind of like think tanks — they matter a great deal, but no one is precisely certain why they matter so much. 

Chatham House rules prevent me from revealing anything that was said, but after 24 hours of exposure to cutting-edge management consultant practices, I am confident that I can pass on Ten Timeless Tips for How to Excel at, and Even Enjoy, Management Consulting. 

Ready?  Here we go:

1)  Market Every Piece of Advice as a Product.  Did you noticed that this list is called "Ten Timeless Tips"?  That’s mine, baby!  [NOTE:  the Ten Timeless Tips may be updated at a future point in time.]

2)  Know And Repeat Your Buzzwords. This is an absolutely crucial aspect of the job.  The more business jargon you employ, the more your clients will need you to interpret what the jargon means.  For example, at the conference I attended, there was a lot of talk about the need for a "granular" perspective. 

For extra fun, try using neologisms from The Simpsons as your buzzwords.  Example:  "You need to embiggen your strategic perspective!" 

3)  Only Speak When You Have 14-Foot Graphics-Laden Screens Behind You to Amplify Your Points.  Otherwise, just nod sagely.  Bonus tip:  if you’re having difficulty finding good graphics, just use this

4)  In Every Coversation with a Client, Mention Your Last Trip to China. This is tricky, as you have to be casual about it, while still drivng home the point that you are intimately familiar with the world’s fastest-growing market.  Here are some possible ways to get this point into casual conversation: 

  • "I was talking to one of our clients in Shenzhen On Monday, and…"
  • "I was sunbathing in Chengdu a week ago…"
  • "When I went bass-fishing in Chongqing last month…"
  • "A funny thing happened when I went to a cockfight in Harbin on Tuesday…."
  • "If, like me, you ever find yourself in Tianjin biting the head off of a live chicken…."

5)  Wear Lifts/Heels, and Stand on Risers Whenever Possible.  Remember, height is positively correlated with success in the business world.  To send a non-verbal cue to your customers that you deserve their money, try to sky over them. 

6)  Use Factoids To Distract Amaze Your Audience.  To drive home a point that might encounter pushback from the audience, be sure to snap off a statistic that seems related to your point.  For example, if you’re trying to convince your customers that Western Africa is a more promising market than Western Europe, you can say, "Did you know there are more live births in Nigeria than in W. Europe?" 

Some other possibilities:

  • "Did you know that in Tokyo, a bicycle is faster than a car for any distance less than 30 miles?"
  • "Did you know that the most popular first name in the world is Muhammad?"
  • "Did you know that the first product to have a bar code was Wrigleys gum?"
  • "Did you know that Jedi is an official religion in Australia?" 

7)  Put a Modern Spin on Old ClichesExample:  "To paraphrase Keynes, ‘In the long run, we’re all liquefie– I mean, we’re all liquid.’"

8)  Get Your Clients To Work For You.  The point of being a consultant is to get your client to give you the necessary information to do their job better.  Anything that gets them to reveal more local knowledge to you is useful and labor-saving.  Example: breakout sessions!

9)  Synergize!  Mention the various ways that multimedia campaigns can augment and properly orient your business strategy.  Oh, and say Web 2.0 a lot.  Example:  I already built buzz for this post using Web 2.0 — a series of Twitter tweets.  How awesome is that? 

10)  Leave them wanting more… in exchange for $$$$Example:  I have many more tips for those who truly want to know the Management Consultant Way.  Just send a check for $10,000 to the offices of Foreign Policy and you’ll receive a registered letter containing the rest of them. 

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and the author of Theories of International Politics and Zombies. His latest book is The Toddler in Chief. Twitter: @dandrezner

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