The Three Marriages of the Professional Services Consultant

Published on: September 2017

Written by: Philios Andreou

By Dr. Philios Andreou Sphika, Global Partner, BTS

The other day, a friend of mine told me that we tend to work with three marriages in our head: our marriage to the people we love, our marriage to our job, and our marriage to ourself (in terms of self fulfillment and growth). And overall, we are only as happy as we are in the weakest of our three marriages. While this is by no means a theorem, it does make a lot of sense. Over the years, I have seen the impact on lots of people’s overall well-being when they are struggling in any one of their “marriages.” Borrowing this analogy, in professional services organizations, consultants have to deal with three additional marriages, and they can only thrive if they manage to keep all three of them alive and thriving.


The Three Marriages

Marriage 1: Your Client

Working with clients is an art rather than a science, and all consultants know this. It is the art of balancing a service mindset, an advising role, and the intution and skills of a psychologist. Using the psychological/communication skills, you practice active listening and understanding through probing deeper in the interactions without losing objectivity or respect. This is key to ensuring that you are on the same page with your client, and focused on the right issues (as seen by the client). Under the service mindset, it is all about a “yes – can do” attitude that allows the client to feel validated, well-serviced and supported. There is a tricky balance between being a partner and an employee, which requires exhibiting the right service mindset – an extremely important trait as it links to the third sphere of advising. As an advisor, you need to offer value and non-biased advice while suspending any self-interest. This may mean that at times, a can-do attitude must be filtered through your advising mindset to ensure that you are not simply trying to make the client happy by serving them, but that you are also working with their best interest in mind.

Marriage 2: Your Firm

As professionals, we represent our firm and our firm represents us. At the end of the day, we are employed because of our ability to solve problems and offer clients a service that they value enough to pay for. It’s in the industry name – professional services. This element of service in our business is apparent through the consultants that make up the firm. Clients often assess the quality of our service based off of their judgment of the people who provide that service. This means that our margin of deviation can have terrible – or great – effects on the success of the firm in the marketplace. We need to be closely aligned to the way the firm sees their clients, the work that needs to be done, the outcomes for the clients, etc.

At the same time, our relationships with the rest of the family in this marriage – the teams we work closely with, the colleagues that we help and compete with for resources – are extremely important. Attention to and prioritization of managing this family becomes key. The test will always be to ask yourself, how happy am I with this marriage? The answer to this question translates to our alignment with the firm’s strategy and way we move forward. Our satisfaction index with the policies, processes, and our view of the working environment include elements like collaboration and sharing.

Marriage 3: Your Personal Well-being

Using well-being as a measure of success allows for a greater consideration of factors that affect happiness, since this marriage may involve a consultant’s personal life, his or her growth and development, and his or her well-being in terms of health and stress. When recruiting, all professional service firms look for a “consultant mindset,” or people who understand the benefits and disadvantages of the consulting career but are still willing to be immersed in it. In the past, long hours and frequent travel used to be characteristics of the consulting world, but nowadays many companies outside consulting demand this from their people as well. However, consultants still tend to deal with many sources of stress – changing assignments, difficult clients and projects, as well as a wider range of quickly acquired expertise that needs to be absorbed on the job and used on a project in the next instant. These factors, coupled with long hours, travel, and the pressures of up-or-out or grow-or-leave type structures, augment stress and can negatively affect well-being. Knowing how to manage this becomes an art for the service professional. It is all about an individual finding his or her own work life balance and understanding that each person may need a different balance at different moments in life. Some may find the balance in flexibility between assignments, others in the possibility of working remotely, some in the result-based versus time spent culture, and others by using the career and wealth to help deal with personal needs. In addition to this, personal growth is also key. Although in professional services, the possibility of development as a consultant or leader is inherent to the system, there is also a piece of personal growth that is associated with developing interests and personal motivations. Managing this marriage well is all about balancing well-being in the personal space and in the professional space.

In my opinion, working as a professional services consultant is more of a way of life than a job, and that is why some love it, and others hate it and get burnt out in the process. Understanding the implications of managing the three marriages is key for ensuring the success of any consultant. And of course, being able to laugh at the joke: “if you can’t do the real work, be a teacher and if you can’t even teach, then be a consultant!”