Is it just me or have a significant number of 'A' players left our consulting firms? People come and people go. Ours is certainly not an industry of "lifers". However, within the past year or so, I've witnessed several of my consulting peers -- the folks I really look up to -- leave the consulting arena for [predominately] full-time technology product firms. A smaller number have left for full-time positions at businesses while an even smaller number left to start their own business|firm|freelance|etc.
Their departure struck me as odd because these were the type of folks who [I thought] would eventually become owner / partners at their respective firms. Certainly, the firms will carry on and continue to perform well but the departure of these folks would result in nothing less than a severe case of the hiccups and quite possibly a minor cardiac event.
You know who you are. Please comment. Do we [the consulting industry] have a brain drain issue? Is this a normal cycle / paradigm?
Taking some creative freedom, I'm going to speculate on an explanation for these unexpected [at least by me] departures. Don't be turned off by the "negative" speculations. I close with a positive one--which I'm optimistic is the case.
TAPPED OUT GROWTH OPPORTUNITIES
According to one of my Microsoft buddies, they essentially "fire" their employees from their role just about every 2 years. Fire is probably too aggressive of a word but in effect, you cannot continue in your same role.
While you're groomed to transition into a new, different role; you can't just stay put getting fat and happy, never challenging yourself in your current role. It's also not just some random role--it's a role that will assist you in achieving your and the company's overarching vision. I think this makes a heck of a lot of sense.
It's easy to become complacent. Despite what we may claim, humans really don't dig lots of change. Further, we like to relish in our accomplishments.
In stark contrast, the folks I highlight above were not wallowing in their success. They were some of the strongest innovators I've seen. They creatively developed processes, business models, and methods--some of which were adopted by both the regional and national communities. They are the influencers with, at times, a quasi-national following.
So, maybe their respective firms just couldn't keep up. The firm wasn't able or in a position to keep feeding these innovators new and interesting problems, challenges, and opportunities for growth. They just tapped out all the growth opportunities their employer could present.
FISCAL CEILING / SENSE OF OWNERSHIP
These might be two separate issues but I think they're related enough that I'm loping them together. Depending upon your levels of experience, what you bring to the table in talent, your skills, your market, and your network; many of us can only make as much consulting as our client is willing to pay.
You bill out at $x, your firm takes y% off the top leaving you with something we'll call $z. $x changes very infrequently. Every firm hopes to raise $x at some point but it never happens. Clients usually have the upper hand. Just about the only time $x changes is when switching clients; and even then the market will pay only so much.
Ok, so you quickly ratchet up your salary (translation: billable rate) and you nearly break your neck smacking into the upper end of rates for your market. What do you do? You could bill more hours--if the client is amenable--but your family might not like that. You could take on some side work. But again, this is consuming extra "life" time.
Personally, I think consulting firms need to overcome this downward market rate pressure with some sort of equity opportunity--and it needs to be very publicly broadcast as a carrot. When I have a clear stake in the game; a significant "up side", I'm more apt to contribute. I'm going to give it everything I have (well, I do anyway but this would help folks to stick around). Am I enticed by promotions? They're nice [Dear Employer: not spitting in the wind here...I love my job;-)] but it doesn't contribute to the bottom line.
So, maybe these folks outgrew the market and their compensation?
WORKING FOR THE MAN / CLIENTS ARE DIFFICULT
Again, somewhat related so I'll combine...were these folks feeling as though their contributions weren't valued? Were they working for The Man? "Bill more hours! Recruit more folks! Increase your project size!" Profitability is important but if that's all management is interested in, that firm won't be around long.
I love solving problems for clients but it can be a PITA at the same time. Despite all your great experience and wonderfully insightful advice, a lot of times, clients do the exact opposite of what's best. Sometimes there are valid and justifiable reasons but a lot of the time, it's bureaucracy, politics, budgets, "enterprise standards", centralized management, or some other non-value-add and less-than-optimal reason.
This can be very, very frustrating. Added up over time, perhaps these folks just said, "The hell with it! If clients don't want my advice, then fine. I'm John Galt and I'll take my motor elsewhere...off to my utopia land! Ha!"
These folks departing are quite talented. They are innovative and very creative. Perhaps this began to clash head on with a mature, lethargic, static company culture. Being ultra-creative and/or innovative can cause quite the disruption in a non-progressive or fat-and-happy firm. Maybe the culture had shifted to that of a "let's live high off the hog on the business and clients we've landed"...? Or maybe an acquisition or takeover from some other entity fundamentally changed the company landscape...?
I really hope you've made it this far. I'm sure I'll get tons of "TLDR" comments but here's my optimistic speculation--and I really hope it's true: these folks departed because they found their absolute dream job, role, and/or company. I may be a bit cynical from time to time (I can hear the, "that's an understatement!" chants...pipe down) but at heart, I'm an optimist.
TALK TO US
Maybe I'm just curious or maybe envious. Regardless, please provide your thoughts below.
- Do we have a significant issue with consulting firms and our most talented folks? Or is this just a natural migration / transition?
- If this is an issue, what should be done about it?
Feel free to post anonymously if you prefer.
Regardless, I wish these talent-studs and stud-ettes the best of luck in their careers and in their pursuit of contributing to the world and lassoing contentment.