A Day in the Life of a Management Consultant

In mid-2020, I had a casual contract with health consultancy firm Emerson Health. It was an interesting experience, as I’d never worked in health before, so there was a lot of new information to absorb. A lot. And I had to be quick about it.

Once I’d finally finished building the company’s professional development site (Emerson.Live), we’d pivoted to a content creation focus. Part of the plan involved writing some interesting and original blog material. Here’s one such post I wrote.

“You cannot look twice at the same river, for fresh waters are ever flowing in.”

– Heraclitus

In the world of management consultancy, a lot of people focus on the outcomes, but less often does anyone wonder: “how do they produce what they do?”

In today’s blog, that’s exactly what we’re going to look at. We’re going to pull back the curtains on the life of a management consultant and show a day in the life of a management consultant.

Before getting underway, we’re going to provide a rough, generally-agreed upon definition of a management consultant does. Simply put, a management consultant solves problems for people – usually within a particular field.

Most days for a management consultant involve processing a hefty amount of information, wading through the data, making sense of it all, from both macro and micro levels, and stripping all the data into their assorted, basic parts, so that an important question can be asked: “so what?”

The question exists to frame layers and levels of importance among all the information presented, to establish levels of priority, urgency, and importance. Being able to distinguish between competing levels of importance helps identify where value can be derived, assorted bottlenecks and problems, and drivers of change – or lack thereof. It’s the first step towards the management consultant value proposition of solving other peoples’ problems.

The Sight of the Sun

By identifying the problems plaguing a client, the consultant can then begin the next stage of their job: ideating solutions to the problems and communicating solution suggestions to the client. All the work put into solving a problem is for nothing if it can’t be communicated to a client in a way that will make sense to them.

The ideation process can take place in any number of ways. Perhaps the most common approach utilised during an ideation (or brainstorming) session is to use a whiteboard to write ideas out, to identify correlations, ties, connections, pathways, and – hopefully! – solutions.

A successful ideation session will lead to then determining the best possible way to communicate a strategy to the client. Most often this will come in the form of an easy to digest PowerPoint presentation that lays out the key points and goals in easy to understand language that the client will be able to process and understand. As one of our co-workers like say: “simple but no simpler.”

Why not simply provide a quick verbal update or an email instead?

The simple answer is: that doesn’t respect the relationship between the client and the consultancy. A diligently prepared presentation communicates to the client that real effort is being put into the solution-seeking. Beyond even its function as a value-add proposition, it communicates to the client that their needs are being taken seriously. Beyond the solution-seeking, what’s being fostered is hopefully a continued, long-term relationship between the two organisations. As such, it needs to be treated with an appropriate level of care, thoughtfulness, and trust.

Developing trust between the two parties, establishing a rapport, this helps the management consultant in the long term. Especially when hard, difficult questions and propositions need to be raised to affect a beneficial solution and outcome.

The Speed of Trust

One of the many tasks a management consultant performs is what would likely nowadays be called ‘relationship management’ – maintaining and managing a relationship with a client, having a regular back and forth to identify new concerns, pain points, frustrations, issues, and challenges, and hopefully some solutions.

The formula that can dictate how some management consultants operate is this: when trust goes up – speed goes up. Meaning: decisions are more quickly made, red tape becomes less of an issuer, the number of barriers are reduced, and costs reduce. As a result of this increase in speed, everyone’s job theoretically becomes easier to do, and things get done more at a faster pace.

Conversely, a disintegrating relationship where trust has disintegrated and the rapport is poor results in a slower decision-making process, sees an increase in red tape and barriers to success, and a hike in costs.

Resultantly, management consultants keep in the back pocket of their minds the importance of maintaining a positive relationship with their sponsors – it ultimately reduces friction for all parties involved.

Aim and Ignite

But a management consultant’s job doesn’t stop there. Beyond regular check-ins and face to face meetings and onsite visits, there’s still more work to be done. Like their clients, governments never stay still, and release new guidance, policies, and rules that need to be brought into consideration. Therefore, it becomes necessary to keep apace of changes in local, state, and federal policy shifts, as well as meeting the needs of one’s line manager/reporting line.

Of course, ultimately, the aim of a management consultancy is to produce a positive outcome, and that means having to not only create – as mentioned earlier – PowerPoint presentations. Some days it will be necessary to prepare ‘deliverables’, including reports, onsite client shadowing as a form of client support, and guidance around and on risk.

Carry On

The picture we’ve tried to paint of a management consultancy is a little like a busy painting: on any given day there’s a lot going on, and certain personalities are better suited than others to deal with such a dynamic environment.

Empathy is an absolute must, towards co-workers and clients alike. Judgement is unwelcome company. An agile, considerate personality will find success. The hours will be long. The tasks will be many, and they will vary. Compassion – not ego – must be the guiding principle of the day. You will have to ask hard questions of the client. You will need to be clear. And confident.

This will be your day. Each different – never the same as the one before. Your comfort zone will be challenged. And you will grow as a person. This is a guarantee. It’s like Heraclitus tried to teach us: you never step into the same river twice. So too will no two days at a management consulting firm be the same.