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Problem of the day....

#1 Problem of the day....
25/02/2014 11:16



I would really appreciate some positive form of input/guidance (especially Bushy & Marsday) around a specific career scenario/case study which must have been played out many times over. Hopefully you will have experienced it at some point along the way in your own careers!

The scenario goes somewhat as follows:

You are an employee of a well-known global consulting firm experiencing what I, with obvious bias, perceive to be one of the more critical career defining moments (sitting at senior consultant looking to make the step to manager).

The consulting firm you are an employee of has realised that it has an unbalanced ratio between the number of managers and the career levels below - consultant & analyst. As a result, promotions from consultant to manager begin to dry up and heavy analyst and junior consultant recruitment kicks in.

You are at that stage where promotion from senior consultant to manager should be achieved within the year (performance and so forth dependant of course). You look around and see colleagues who are up for promotion and already at the aforementioned end of year point being denied a worthy jump. As a result they start to offload from your company to competitors entering at either manager or senior consultant level.

You definitely do not want to be in the same position as your unfortunate colleagues whereby you have slogged/sacrificed/performed well above your pay grade in the year leading up to the critical performance review period, only to be denied a deserved promotion. These events being played out before your eyes increase the probability in your mind that you will not be awarded the promotion regardless of performance and ability.

You could swim at manager level right now (you run a team of 10-15 people) but would rather gain further exposure to one or two specific areas (project commercials/financials) in order to better prepare yourself for the jump. Your current role offers you this and you should reach the skill level you feel will make the transition from senior consultant to manager more comfortable within the next 6 months.

I see a couple of main reactive options here (amongst others – these are more to kick start the thinking process):

1) Jump ship now to a competitor that offers better prospects within the year to hit manager but remain at senior consultant level. Amongst the negatives here is that you may not end up with the size team and responsibilities that you currently have and there is no guarantee of making the promotion.

2) Fight through a tunnel with seemingly no light at the end of it with the blind hope you will be one of the very few across all groups to get offered a promotion. The pro here is the current role offering you a decent sized team and manager level responsibilities. Amongst the negatives is that if you don’t succeed in being offered the promotion you will have to wait another year.

The main question(s) I want to pose is; what would your strategy be to the above scenario and why would you adopt that particular approach?

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#2 RE: Problem of the day....
25/02/2014 11:49

Rollercoaster to Tacitus1 (#1)

Switching firms now to another SC role seems a bad move. It would take at least a year to build up the network and reputation to even begin to be considered for promotion.

Stay where you are, go for promotion whilst at the same time applying for manager level roles elsewhere.

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#3 RE: Problem of the day....
25/02/2014 11:49

marsday to Tacitus1 (#1)

Hope is not a strategy.

My thinking is that you are trying to bring everything back to your current company - i.e. that the solution must lie internally, even though your peers who have also been due promotion have had to leave to achieve it. Unless its a firm designed to run top heavy, then of course not having enough analysts and consultants with skew utilisation, and besides how can there be more managers without anyone to manage? Frankly you could move now at Manager level - I think the perception that you lack certain skills to be in 'the comfort zone' for that move is making you hesitate when you shouldn't. No Manager is perfect - they all have to learn something along the way, and its that progression than will move you up to SM eventually, not being a perfect Manager. Don't waste time focusing on the 10% you don't have, focus on the 90% you do and the rest will fall into place with a move.

Guarantee the promotion by only accepting a Manager position elsewhere - otherwise what have you gained? One protracted tunnel swapped for another, and at least you know the situation where you are, you aren't in any danger of being exited from the business, and with your peers moving from the business there will, eventually, be vacuum at Manager potential grade for you to occupy anyway.

Ask yourself though what it is you want/expect from a Manager level position - not in terms of job description but what it means to/for you. There may be things which your current business can negotiate where you are and you'll be happy to sit tight for another year potentially. Be sure what you want before you leave to find it.

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#4 RE: Problem of the day....
25/02/2014 12:34

Tacitus1 to marsday (#3)

Thanks both - appreciate your responses.

@Rollercoaster - point taken. As a side note, I have strong networks elsewhere within competitors, in addition to a good reputation, having worked alongside them previously. As a result those two points shouldn't be too much of a hurdle. My inital thinking was that instead of essentially a year invested towards a low probability of gaining a promotion, would it not be better to invest a year towards a higher probability of promotion? Having said that, I am now more in agreement with what you have stated and it's also in line with Marsday's 'protracted tunnel' comment.

@Marsday - thanks for the in-depth reply. In terms of the unbalanced ratio it's more an issue with, for example, a one manager to ten consultants/analysts situation instead of what is seemingly a preferred one manager to twenty consultants/analysts (I don't know exact figures but you get my point). The 10%/90% is also helpful advice - it's good to get an outside point on this as it appears consultancies who are slowing down promotions to manager tend to pick upon small areas as a reason not to promote a resource (this is from what I have witnessed, not what has happened to myself), so I am aiming more at constructing as close to a watertight promotion case as physically possible.

To be honest it is becoming rapidly clear based off both of your responses that it does not seem to be a particularly smart move to consider shifting at this point unless, as you say, I can guarantee the promotion to manager. It's seemingly a time to be opportunistic should something come along at manager level externally, as well as focusing internally on my continued role which will settle me back down and hopefully result in me sitting tight for another year.

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#5 RE: Problem of the day....
25/02/2014 13:01

marsday to Tacitus1 (#4)

Sounds like its a frustration but not enough to prompt you to actively move from the business, so the solution, as you point towards yourself, is to re-embed in the role. Don't get too hung up on the consultant/manager ratios - these can vary even within the same firm, and frankly the wider the people base a manager has to manage the more important it is someone known to the business and consultant population internally. It will act in your favour in due course.

If you are staying put, then look to what you can do in terms of expanding your remit. In particular getting closer to sales within the business will accelerate your promotion, but also strongly differentiate you as a Manager potential who would realistically pass through that grade quickly anyway - show them, and other firms, you are an SM in waiting, not a M. that will get your M promotion.

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#6 RE: Problem of the day....
25/02/2014 15:33

Tacitus1 to marsday (#5)

@Marsday - frustration at events could well be the crux of the matter. There is a little side note of the following to take into account:

I graduated two and a half years ago. I was directly headhunted in by my current company at consultant level two years ago (skipped the graduate analyst programme in its entirety). I currently manage a team consisting of international resources (predominantly external to the UK but still EU) and split my time between client site in Western Europe and my base office in London each week. In terms of sales, I have engaged on RFIs/RFPs/BAFOs for consulting work worth in excess of £250m on a global scale (input, not management).

I have worked extremely hard to get where I have and don't particularly feel receptive to the thought of my career progression potentially being slowed down due to external influences. As a result, I feel the need to pre-empt my chances as early as possible in order to formulate some kind of approach to the matter at hand.

The equation in my mind, when taking all points into consideration, becomes something along the lines of:

The perceived negatives consisting of (Company drying up promotions to M + Potentially age) - the perceived positives of (Role currently being carried out + Achievements) = ? (promotion or no promotion)

It appears to hang in a fine balance, probably leaning towards more of a negative outcome at this current moment based upon the decisions I have seen being made with my peers (the old cliche of 'business is business' springs to mind). Is there anything further (aside from the above) that you can advise or would you say it's head down, continue what I'm doing and emerge from the trenches post decision time in a year to either initiate a pub celebration or a showdown/move?

In my mind it's all about early positioning and I may well be shouted down by you guys around that. However, when one becomes acutely aware of changes like the above occuring around them then they are almost inclined to take note and pose questions...

The fact of the matter is, I like my role so would preferably not move but on the other hand am not willing to hit a glass ceiling for a year or two in the company after the effort and sacrifices I have made in order to get where I find myself today.

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#7 RE: Problem of the day....
25/02/2014 15:45

marsday to Tacitus1 (#6)

Frustrating as it must be, your age will be a factor in slowing down that promotion - not a deciding one, but promoting to M only say 3 years out of graduation would raise serious questions about maturity of the business among some client circles. Early positioning is spot on here - and its a credit to you to be thinking this stuff through. But don't react to the slow down, go with it for now. You need a bit more experience to convincingly step up to M grade, use the time in the slow down to build your case for an external move (ie add to your skills). The fact that you have already got to SC level is little short of astonishing and a significant achievement - others have had to endue grad schemes etc to get where you are, now maybe you need to pay your dues in turn.

Chin up, don't get frustrated, bide your time and start shaping the Tacitus1 who will become Manager in due course - and still be staggeringly fast getting there :)

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#8 RE: Problem of the day....
25/02/2014 16:27

Tacitus1 to marsday (#7)

Thanks Marsday...I shall take your advice on board and look to make an attempt at settling in again.

As soon as I mention age it all goes downhill!!

I like to think I paid my dues when I rolled into 04.30am taxis to take me to the train station in order to travel from university to London balancing both degree and building my CV at the same time. My sincere apologies if that was an outmanoeuvre on my sleepy fellow students at the time ;)

In all seriousness though - appreciate the advice and the time you have taken to respond to me.

Have a great evening wherever you may be in the world!


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#9 RE: Problem of the day....
26/02/2014 09:14

Bushy Eyebrow Partner to Tacitus1 (#8)

Hmm. I can see why you find this situation tricky.

On the one hand, you sound pretty ambitious and have done well so far... but on the other hand, you're still young and you're understandably concerned that your age, because of other people's prejudices and related issues, might hold you back from progressing as rapidly as you would like - even though you're pretty certain you're ready for it.

The problem you might have by staying put is that you will:

a) not get the promotion and pay rise you want

b) end up lumped into a big pool of new recruits - albeit you'll be one of the more 'experienced' ones

c) end up watching those people that did manage to scrape through to manager suddenly start to soar ahead of you, as you get held back by the baggage of being just a number within a massive pool of junior new recruits and commodity grunts whereas they are now part of the inner circle "management team"

d) end up managing loads of really junior people if you do manage to get promoted in due course, which again just anchors you further down the food chain

The problem with moving is that you will need to build your personal reputation up again from scratch and that requires hard work and effort - especially if you're young for the grade.

On balance, given that you're still within the "cannon fodder" grades (ie. just another gopher that nobody really cares about... I hope this doesn't sound nasty, I don't mean it to be, but that's just how it is in these large companies sometimes)... then my suggestion would be to get the CV out there. Start your search for a new move and see what comes along. If your current employer is holding you back, then at your level you can't afford to show them loyalty, thinking that your patience will be rewarded by a long and successful career with The Firm. Instead, you may well and up waiting things out, still be in the same situation in 2 years, then get up or outed or made redundant or something through no fault of your own. Your colleagues have realised this already and are voting with their feet... that should tell you something. At the very least, by putting applications out there you are keeping your options open and are preparing for the worst come next year's appraisal time (if you're still there by then), and, who knows, you might find something that is good enough to entice you to move...

p.s. small firms are better than big ones, have you considered a small firm?

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#10 RE: Problem of the day....
26/02/2014 11:19

Tacitus1 to Bushy Eyebrow Partner (#9)

Hi Bushy! - appreciate your input.

You raise a number of very valid points and many of them have been playing on my mind over the last few weeks. Marsday actually went a long way in extinguishing these thoughts yesterday with some great input. This remained the case until you emerged this fine morning and dumped a lorry load of fuel on top of what was a pile of dying embers.... ;)

Absolutely agreed on the fodder point - I am very aware of where I stand in rankings regardless of achievement which is actually another driver of this 'dilemma'. You see, many of the points that Marsday and yourself have raised are the arguments I have been struggling with of late. It's pretty well balanced and depending on the day of the week, I annoyingly find myself leaning more one way than the other in terms of staying or picking up my coat.

What is concrete however, is that a decision has to be made and fairly soon in my eyes.

You raise a point on smaller firms - this is a topic I struggle with. I work within the natural resources consulting area (predominantly energy) and to be honest I haven't really explored the boutique route (although I am aware of a number of companies operating in this particular market segment).

A question around that if I may - would you happen to know of a particular boutique company in mind that you could recommend me carrying out a little research on - energy division, building a strong reputation, great clients etc.? (I could obviously google but it's worth seeing if you could point me in a somewhat narrower direction) Not to worry if not, it was worth a punt in asking!

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#11 RE: Problem of the day....
26/02/2014 11:42

Bushy Eyebrow Partner to Tacitus1 (#10)

I hear that Chaucer do some work in the energy sector... I'm not worked with them myself, but might be worth investigating?

I think you have nothing to lose from looking around. Conversely, you'll be just fine staying where you are. I really wouldn't get too worried if I were you... you do need to make sure you earn a good living, but do also remember that, in the long-run, life's not a race...

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#12 RE: Problem of the day....
26/02/2014 12:28

Camster to Bushy Eyebrow Partner (#11)

Your problem is not unique. There are so many consultants like you out there, i.e. considering options at SC level.

Please allow me to offer a third option. Going into industry.

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#13 RE: Problem of the day....
26/02/2014 13:02

Tacitus1 to Camster (#12)

Do you not think the pace of industry would be an issue Camster? From what I've witnessed, I fear I would be bored out of my mind.

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#14 RE: Problem of the day....
26/02/2014 13:39

Camster to Tacitus1 (#13)

I believe it's what you make out of it.

At SC level, I guess you don't do sales, no order entry? This might mean time on the..... golf course? Lol.

One of the good things about being in industry is, if you find yourself a good mentor, you can go far, not get bored, etc.

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#15 RE: Problem of the day....
26/02/2014 13:47

Arby the Manager to Tacitus1 (#13)

Seems like you're putting the cart before the horse. You'll always have promotion slots dictated by externalities and if you're not disappointed at least once in your Big X consulting career by working your @ss for the year and getting jack-all at the end, then I'd be surprised. If this happens multiple times then you have to question whether (a) you're building the right skills to operate at the next level or (b) the company is growing at a pace to accommodate you. However here it has not even happened once for you - therefore I would suggest you wait it out and see, as clearly you are learning and being given opportunities. This is the nature of Big Consulting. Yes, you can move to a smaller firm, but be aware that you'll be facing different, perhaps greater obstacles to your career growth.

It's natural to lose motivation and look elsewhere - but do this when you have something tangible to bemoan. If you're good enough, with the right experience and you play the politics game, you'll get your promotion eventually. Walking away before you're tried to get over the line does look a bit like snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.


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#16 RE: Problem of the day....
26/02/2014 14:43

Bushy Eyebrow Partner to Arby the Manager (#15)

That's good advice from Arby, I think he's right that staying put for the time being is the right thing to do. If you had been dinged once or twice already I'd say go without a second thought. But as arby says, you've not actually had that yet - in fact, you've progressed quickly and only recently have anticipated a slightly slowdown to your rapid ascent. So, I'd probably stay put on balance. However, also it never hurts to put the CV out there and see what comes back. Maybe you can hop straight across to another large generic faceless consultancy and do the same work with the same sort of people but go up a grade at the same time... or, at the least, you might find that you've lined up another option or given yourself another lever that you can pull if you need to in a year's time...

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#17 RE: Problem of the day....
26/02/2014 15:03

Tacitus1 to Bushy Eyebrow Partner (#16)

@Camster - an ideal world eh?! I haven't played a round in months, I dread to think what I would shoot if I picked up my set of clubs on the weekend!

@Arby - thanks for your advice and points taken/added to the growing list!!

In terms of external factors and as a controversial side point/light winded rant aimed at stimulating discussion with you far more experienced individuals - why is age still looked upon as such an issue when operating at these types of levels? There are certain people in their 20s out there in industry running multi £million companies with garrisons of resources underneath them. As a result, surely this smacks of an inherent prehistoric mindset within some consulting senior management who, when given the chance, delay capable younger resources promotions because it took themelves twice as long to make the jump to fully managing teams in the early part of their careers ;)

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#18 RE: Problem of the day....
26/02/2014 16:03

Arby the Manager to Tacitus1 (#17)

Interesting point. These people in their 20s managing multi-million dollor are (rarely) running the business day to day. Zuckerberg is for sure an intelligent guy but you can be sure he did not mastermind the IPO on his own. These guys bring ideas, they are visionaries to an extent. They are rarely deeply experienced business minds. And, to be honest, their ideas are also pretty game changing and they were typically running as "small" businesses as entrepreneurs before they were morphed into bigger firms with the help of people with the deep business skills.

I have honestly never seen age as a major factor for progression in the UK. Outside of the UK it can be a real factor to overcome. This is typically because the European culture - especially in the South - is very deferent to experience, age, seniority. This tends to be engrained in all businesses, even "modern" service firms. It's about cultural appreciation in this one.

In the UK - it's simple. Put yourself in the shoes of your client. Whether you have a good point or not, human nature means your 40 something client with 20+ years of experience under his belt is going to perhaps listen more to someone at his level of experience, age etc. then a grad with 3 years of experience. I know these are extreme examples, but you see the point.

Additionally - and finally - it's "generally" true that the people in Consulting who have had longer time within the industry have "generally" more knowledge and experience to bring to a client, can play the politics better, can manage others more maturely and ultimately can be better knowledge capital for the organization.

There are really key experiences you need - you need to manage people leaving your team to join the client, the client wanting to join your team, your team leaving for competitors. You need to manage loss-making projects, big wins, major client team conflicts. You need to go through the experience of life to be successful and drive success for your firm....

...also I'll be damned if some young whippersnapper is going to be my boss :p

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#19 RE: Problem of the day....
26/02/2014 16:13

Mr Cool to Tacitus1 (#17)

Being in a hurry to get to the top of the hill is all very well when you think your personal hill is Everest.

Sadly, many sprint to the top to find that they have reached the summit of a small hill in the Cheviots.

They then have to very, very slowly eke out the walk down.

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#20 RE: Problem of the day....
26/02/2014 17:08

Tacitus1 to Mr Cool (#19)


@Arby - I like your response. What I like most is the well rounded explanation (which I actually genuinely appreciated) finished off with a sentence politely telling any potential 'whippersnappers' to take a running jump ;)

@Mr Cool - I'll have to work a bit more in the gym to build those leg muscles in order to ensure I climb a higher peak than one in the Cheviots then wont I!! Oh and in the meantime, attempt to raise sponsorship in preparation for my impending attack on Everest's South side...

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#21 RE: Problem of the day....
27/02/2014 02:48

Camster to Tacitus1 (#20)

I once worked for this company (in industry). You sort of "applied" for your own promotion, justifying why you felt you deserved one. What I learned was..... you have to take charge of your own career and 'promotion'.

As you yourself alluded, there are so many in your shoes. How can you justify deserving a promotion over them? Consider the following. Big consulting outfit. There are a number of really, really good SCs. I'm sure you will agree that it's not possible to promote everyone, at least not at the same time. When I was in MC and leading a practice, I had this problem.

As Arby himself mentioned, management is about the development of people (hence mentor) - not the direction of things.

As Mars put it, try to "guarantee" the promotion by only accepting manager roles elsewhere.

Age is not an issue. Here's an example. The current CEO of Vodafone was a partner at McK in his 30s. In fact, I'd say that ageism is more of an issue when you hit your 40s.

The gist is..... I feel that you know what you need to do.

Finally, in the eternal words of one Matthew McConaughey,

"College girls! You grow older, they stay the same age" :D

Sigh! How do these ppl keep their full head of hair???

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#22 RE: Problem of the day....
10/07/2016 23:19

Tacitus1 to Camster (#21)

Hi guys - thought I would revisit a post of old to provide the update....

In short I rolled the dice against the odds - moved for same level and hit promotion in a year top ranked - brutal year of pressure I put myself under but wanted to prove a point to myself that it could be done. Now working with clients dotted around various countries.

In hindsight now and even later on - could be one of the best punts I'll make in my career.

Big thanks for being the sounding board at the time - it was and still is appreciated.

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#23 RE: Problem of the day....
10/07/2016 23:19

Tacitus1 to Camster (#21)

Hi guys - thought I would revisit a post of old to provide the update....

In short I rolled the dice against the odds - moved for same level and hit promotion in a year top ranked - brutal year of pressure I put myself under but wanted to prove a point to myself that it could be done. Now working with clients dotted around various countries.

In hindsight now and even later on - could be one of the best punts I'll make in my career.

Big thanks for being the sounding board at the time - it was and still is appreciated.

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#24 RE: Problem of the day....
18/08/2016 10:54

semon to Tacitus1 (#1)

That's true

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