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Archive for December, 2011

For whatever reason, I’ve encountered 4 of these types of consultants. They have all been female project managers. I am not sure why this is the case, but in defense of all female project managers out there – my experience does not cause me to stereotype the female species.

The “Flake”

Definition: A consultant who continuously drops the ball on tasks and never seems to be listening to anyone, nor understands what people tell them.

% of consultants that exhibit this trait: ~1 in every 100 consultants

Detailed definition: UrbanDictionary.com (yes, I look up words there all the time – for a laugh or just because the definitions are so true!) describes a flake as “An unreliable person; someone who agrees to do something, but never follows through”. I think unreliable is the perfect definition.

Example 1: The first Flake I encountered worked at my first consulting firm. She began her career at the bottom of the ranks and worked her way up. Since she was unofficially in the project manager role before she was promoted, it made sense to the company to promote her to that position. However, once she “officially” became a project manager, she changed. She started flapping her gums around her team for hours at a time (instead of focusing on work) and she would spontaneously not show up to the client on days when she was expected. When trying to reach her by cell phone, she wouldn’t answer half of the time…and when she did the cell phone would suddenly hit a dead zone and drop mid-sentence during hard conversations. Unfortunately for her, her consulting life there was short-lived and ended quite soon after the client complaints started rolling in.

Example 2: This next Flake managed a very large project at my second firm. At first she was fun to be around – vibrant and smiling. She stood up for her team when they needed support and she gave an encouraging shoulder to cry on when members of her team needed it. Seemed great, right? She was doing a “fine job” until the project went sour. Once that happened, people started paying attention to her performance. During meetings it was discovered that she was doing nothing more than nodding. She didn’t understand the details being discussed. People noticed that she wasn’t taking notes, either. She didn’t follow-up or follow through on things. And she didn’t document the important decisions of the project – crucial for CYA’s. (Sidenote: although these details sound very specific and, well…anal…they are well-known standards for project managers.) After the project hit rock bottom, it was suddenly hard to reach her by cell phone. She became defensive in conversations and meetings. She also started throwing her team members under the bus, one by one. After one incredibly stressful morning, her team members could not find her anywhere. After about an hour, she came in looking fully refreshed and smiling, exclaiming “It is such a beautiful day. I just needed to bask in the sunĀ for an hour!”. She was laid off several months later.

Example 3: This final Flake managed a large project at my third firm. She was an older lady and very refined – she wore skirt suits every day. Her manner was professional and she seemed to be a great project manager on the surface. She had a project plan, she stayed on top of tasks, and she kept her project status reports in tip-top shape and submitted them on time. But she drove her team mad…when her team members launched into any sort of technical detail in response to a question, she would nod her head and then turn around and ask them the exact same question…then space out again the second time around. Several people asked her “Are you listening to me?” She would nod and then ask the same question a different way. As she was there only on a trial basis, the client decided not to sign her onto a contract.

Why would a consultant behave in such a manner?

Flakes are flakes – they are completely oblivious. And if they receive any sort of positive feedback about their performance, they hang onto it forever and believe they are great! Unfortunately, I have seen the road end for all of them in some form or fashion.

How do you know when a consultant is a Flake?

If you find yourself:

  • repeating yourself a lot around them
  • confused when you are around them
  • watching them look like a deer in headlights when you explain something with any sort of detail
  • trying to reach them repeatedly by phone or email, with no luck

What can one do about Flakes?

Upper management involvement plays a key role in dealing with Flakes. But since most upper management is uninvolved at the lower levels, it can be hard to make traction on replacing them or removing them.

It’s important to be specific when communicating Flake issues to management. It’s also important to point out how their behavior effects the bottom line (money).

And if you do choose to take on a Flake, tread carefully. Remember that Flakes are usually in management – so they will get the benefit of the doubt (since they have obviously made it that far for a reason).

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