Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Working to Live

We have all heard the saying "Do you work to live, or live to work?" It is a universal way to identify people as either being career-obsessed workaholics or mere slackers cruising through until the next happy hour. The truth is that most of us fall somewhere in between. And for many of us, work and life are so tied together that simple distinctions just do not apply.

Take the consulting world, for example. My best friend from college works for one of the largest consulting firms in the country and has been doing it for the past ten years. Meanwhile, I am still adjusting to the consulting life. We were lamenting recently about how many hours we work and I reminded him of a little concept called "work life balance." He informed me that his employer has shifted to a new paradigm called "work life integration." I'm sorry, but that is so not the same as work life balance!

Seriously, this company wants its employees to integrate their work and life? Who would possibly buy into this concept? As if we are not already working way too many hours with the assistance of cell phones, blackberries, and our trusty laptops. I don't know about you, but I can do without the work life integration. As a matter of fact, these days I am looking for some work life separation.

For those of you who have not been exposed to the consulting world, let me give you a quick introduction. I happen to work for a company that sells software and builds data warehouses for various customers, but the general tenets could apply anywhere. Based on my eight months of experience, here is what I have been able to find out:

1. These large firms are driven by revenue, so they have a sales force out there trying to win as many new contracts as they can. Don't worry about the sales people, as soon as they get their commission check you will never hear from them again.

2. In order to win the contract, the sales people will do just about anything. This includes promising things that have never been delivered before in a compressed time frame for about half of what it will actually cost to deliver the project. More commonly known as lying.

3. Once the sale is complete, you start the contract negotiation process. While the client was promised that their contract would be "pushed through" quickly, the process actually takes months. During this time, the client is building resentment and starting to figure out that things may not be so smooth as the sales person had promised. (Hey, where did that Sales Guy disappear to anyway? He doesn't answer his calls. Must be with a new potential client.)

4. Just as they are getting really irritated, the contract is signed and the already frustrated client is assigned to their "account team." That is where I come in, by the way. The account team is not quite the seamless, integrated machine that was promised in the sales process. Truthfully, account teams are thrown together from a combination of new people who don't really know what they are doing and bad employees no one else wants to deal with.

5. Now we enter the black hole that is called an implementation. It seems at my company that every implementation is behind schedule, under-funded and under-resourced from the beginning, yet no one seems to link that back to the Sales process. (See #2 above.)

6. Assuming the client makes it through to the other side after the implementation, you enter into a phase called ongoing operations/support. This is the most profitable phase for the consulting company, and hopefully makes up for the huge financial losses they incurred during implementation.

Everyone seems to think this is ok. That is why the big consulting companies try to lock in clients for three or even five year deals. They know that the client will be miserable for the first year and want to get out. But they can't. And then eventually things improve and the real money is made.

So that is the five minute version of the consulting world. Unfortunately this is my world at the moment. And despite the fact that I am a "work to live" person, it is taking over my life. If you think that is crazy, just wait until I tell you about my boss.

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