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Consulting 101: Unprofessionalism like Sharp Poke to the Eye

Consulting 101: Unprofessionalism like Sharp Poke to the Eye

Is everyone familiar with the reply, when someone asks you “how are you doing”, of saying “well, it’s better than a sharp stick in the eye!” Or, is that just a Texan expression?!?

Well, I was hoping for the Denver Broncos to make a furious comeback, and for Peyton Manning to break the NFL Games Won and NFL Passing Yardage records, when this happened…

Are you freakin’ kidding me – who does that (is what I was yelling at the TV)? Well, the Denver Broncos’ Aqib Talib did this incredibly unprofessional, unsportsmanlike act that cost the Broncos any chance at making a comeback. Since I’ve worked in a consulting capacity since 1996, I immediately saw the parallels with unprofessionalism in the workplace and how the faults are magnified when it comes to consultants. Let’s look at a few of these parallels.

1. Unprofessionalism penalizes your team

The Broncos had just made a key stop and put the Colts into a long 3rd down situation. Stop the Colts one more time, let them kick the field goal, and the Broncos still have a shot to get the ball back and score. Instead, Talib’s penalty resulted in an automatic first down. A subsequent penalty gives the Colts another first down, and the Broncos lose without the offense ever taking the field again.

Consulting 101: In chaotic or high pressure client environments, stress can quickly escalate. As consultants, we can ill-afford to get sucked into the spiral and subsequent arguing or finger-pointing. At the end of the day, the client is still the client – and will also still have a job regardless of the escalated outcome. Consultants are not afforded that luxury of continued employment, and an individual consultant’s brief loss of control could result in burned bridges for the entire consultant/client relationship.

Instead, we need to always focus on being “part of the solution vs part of the problem” to maintain that strong consultant/client relationship and sustained trust.

2. Unprofessionalism costs you money

Professional athletes are paid “funny money” compared to the rest of us, but that one unprofessional poke in the eye lead to Talib getting suspended for one game without pay. That equates to $323,529!! I think that penalty is too punitive, considering the outcome and what goes on in an NFL game, but his loss of control is definitely hitting Talib in the wallet.

Consulting 101: As an independent consultant, who just burned a client relationship due to unprofessionalism, what do you think your prospects are for continued employment? No workee…no money! And if your unprofessionalism is not an isolated case, then you are faced with either (1) not advancing as quickly as your peer consultants in the same company, or (2) developing a reputation in a “it’s a small world” consultant market.

3. Unprofessionalism risks injury to you and your client

The worst consequence was not Talib demonstrating unprofessionalism on a national TV stage, or Talib losing substantial amount of money due to a suspension. Instead the worst consequence could have been a substantial injury and permanent eye damage for the player he poked in the eye. Any of us would suffer if we lost our eyesight, but this is a tight end in the NFL – he needs his vision for his livelihood that already has a short shelf-life (3.3 – 6 year average NFL career depending upon the source of the statistic).

Consulting 101: Clients engage consultants to bring professionalism and market-leading expertise when they are trying to increase productivity, reduce costs, or achieve competitive advantages over their peers in the marketplace. Now, imagine you are writing customer-facing software or a mobile application for your client – and your poor code quality and testing leads to a bad user experience. That potentially impacts the customer relationship with your client and could directly impact their bottom line (even magnified if the socially-savvy consumer writes a negative review). Another example could be consultants writing reports and dashboards as part of a business intelligence solution. If they do not take the time to adhere to proper data governance practices, followed by correct data modeling and ETL, they could steer the client wrong when it comes to analyzing inventory and customer demand right before Black Friday. Or perhaps their poor queries result in web page errors in an age where consumers are quick to go to competitors’ sites to order gifts on Cyber Monday.

4. Unprofessionalism impacts more than just the present

Aqib Talib’s eye jab directly impacted the outcome of the Broncos/Colts football game. That loss now puts them a game behind two other teams in the AFC, so they would have to travel for at least one playoff game if the playoffs started today. In addition, the suspension means Talib is not available to play an important divisional game against the Kansas City Chiefs. String together a couple of losses, and a “crisis of confidence” could ensue before the playoffs ever begin. And every playoff win, and Super Bowl trip, are precious for those short NFL careers (and for NFL team bottom lines by impacting apparel and ticket sales).

Consulting 101: Consultants, and consulting companies, rely on their reputations and references from prior clients. Not only can all of those references disappear, but bad reputations can rapidly precede you in that “it’s a small world” consulting world. Benjamin Franklin once said, “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.” Great consultants hold themselves accountable for their own professional reputation as well as their company’s reputation.

I have run into some model professionals in my career, and I’ve run into consultants that made me beg the question: “How did you survive this long?!?” Let me, and ProKarma, be the consummate professional consultants for your company to increase productivity, reduce costs, and achieve competitive advantage in your target market. Drop me an email if you have needs around Enterprise and Mobile Application Development, UI/UX, Analytics, SAP, and DevOps. We would love to help.

Go Broncos!! Oh, and I believe in second chances. Once Talib serves his suspension, and takes that hefty hit to the pocketbook, I think he deserves the opportunity to prove that poke in the eye was an isolated and momentary lapse of judgment. In many cases, consultants deserve that same second chance to redeem themselves.

Photo Courtesy of Guy Donges via Flickr and shared via Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0

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Brian Vickery

I love my Vickery Girls - and now grandsons! I am blessed in that I also love my job as a VP of Enterprise Solutions for ProKarma. I appreciate the convergence of big data and data visualization in our Pulse Analytics social listening and analytics platform as well as our core software / mobile app development, business intelligence, and test automation services. I enjoy teaching and coaching, watching football and basketball, and playing tennis. I graduated UT-Austin. You can find Brian on .

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