Thursday, May 31, 2012

Why Consultants Burn Out and what they can do about it.

I’ve recruited dozens of consultants. Fresh MBAs from the best campuses. Some with limited experience from the world outside. Many very senior consultants from competitors. Through a process of trial and error, I manage to identify individuals with just the right set of ingredients. In a previous blog article (, I spoke of the six skills a consultant needs to possess to be successful.

And yet, I see that many consultants “burn out” in less than ten years. They may be really intelligent and may possess all the skills I’ve spoken about. Like meteors, they set the sky on fire and then – they fizzle out. Why? Here are some reasons:

  1. They’ve never fully understood that to be on your toes constantly is very draining. The exhilaration of creating and communicating compelling visions cannot be sustained if you don’t have other things to re-energize you. In other words, a specific attempt to attain balance is important. How? Sports, hobbies, reading – all help.
  2. They don’t understand that sacrifices are necessary. This is not a profession for the placid and timid. You need to travel and be on the road. That means a personal ecosystem that tolerates such constant disruption and knows it is a price one needs to pay to be successful. If you aren’t able to manage that, then burn-out is a given because of the stress of juggling
  3. They don’t keep up with changes in their professional area.  Resumes need to be updated constantly with new skills and certifications. In the business world, trends and fads come and go and you’ve got to keep tabs and ensure you stay relevant at all times. Being a legend in the past in a particular area guarantees nothing today.
  4. They can’t handle the travel. The relentless grind of the airport experience is really hard for some to handle. Keeping track of flights, airport check-ins, rental cars, new hotels and so on – while being focused on the client’s issues – one requires significant stamina to keep up over an extended period.
  5. They can’t handle change. Consecutive Engagements that are entirely different in nature, cope and geography, client personnel with different agendas, styles and priorities, different levels of intensity, different team dynamics – the fun can erode and some long for predictability.
  6. They can’t handle professional pressure. The Consulting Profession is very challenging and works on very short cycles of gratification. Performance measurements include delivery excellence and business development acumen. With that come rising expectations of rapid career progression and fairly stern measurements of success.
And so it’s no surprise that very few manage to survive the rough and tumble of the Consulting world beyond a few years. I’ve often heard it said that a single year of consulting experience is often equivalent to seven years of any other kind of experience.  That’s the huge payoff for sure. But being aware of the stresses and strains of the profession – as described above – can make all the difference in building a long-term career in this business and becoming a Partner, the apex of the profession.


Aniruddh Jain said...

Sorry Mr Vasudev, too much jibberish. A few lines of single thought stretched into 6 reasons.
(Extreme lack of minimalism?)

All 6 reasons combined into one:

> They're not able to handle the pressure and maintain a healthy work-life balance?


Writing style apart, I would mention a big and perhaps a more important point of why consultants "burn out".

Disclaimer: Never a consultant, never will be. Just a keen observer.

And that reason is the kind of often mindless, repetitive, non-impactful work (read updating powerpoint slides, manipulating excel sheets to suit client tastes instead of depicting reality) kills your inner need of doing work that matters.

"What I learned is that burning out isn’t just about work load, it’s about work load being greater than the motivation to do work."


(I highly recommend you to read this full article. If you're short on time, do read the "Burning Out" part to get some insights)

Vasudev Murthy said...

:-) Thank you for your kind observations.

I shall certainly look at the links. But if you haven't been a consultant these specific points will not appear distinct to you. Unfortunately they are. You can certainly be appreciated for trying to combine everything into one point which may be adequate for most purposes. And your observations about killing your inner need is also insightful. Thank you

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