Consultant as Utility Infielder

What do you do when one of your star team members goes on the DL?  Or exercises his/her option and heads to another team?  You replace.  Right away.  But what happens when one of your bench players leaves?  What happens when there are two or three departures around the same time?  That is when the wheels of a corporation turn painfully slowly.  First come the questions about whether or not “we really need that headcount.  Couldn’t we just save it and use it for a new position?  Can we save the budget and use it for something else?  Let’s discuss next week when we have some more time.  Let’s discuss next month when we look at our third quarter numbers.”  Meanwhile, the team is wrestling with how to get the work done, and the risk of losing additional members of the team increases with each passing day.

The first couple of weeks go by and the team covers the work, maybe not at 100%, but the wheels stay on the bus.  Mid-month, the team approaches management.  It’s starting to hurt so let’s figure out which jobs need to get done and hire a freelancer.  The team comes back; they have three things that need to be done right away and they have identified someone.  Now comes the paperwork.  After master agreements, SOWs, and w-9s are filled out, the work can begin.  But now it is not three things that need to be done, but seven things have now come to light.  Another SOW.  Another round of process.  Opportunities missed.  Team frustration building.  

We suggest an alternative future:  a utility infielder.   This person must be ready and available to play several positions.  She must be a problem solver and critical thinker.  She must understand priorities, anticipate needs, and know when “good enough” is just right.  She knows when to ask for guidance and when to move the ball ahead on her own.  She must have a lot of experience, a decent amount of knowledge, and a bit of wisdom.  Sounds perfect.   But someone like that requires a retainer, a commitment of hours, and an hourly rate that sometimes doesn’t align with the immediate tasks at hand.  And when management looks at the terms, they often come to the conclusion that this is just too much money to pay for that position—they look at the yearly numbers and come up with $100,000 a year for a $50,000 a year contribution. They hypothesize that the consultant may not work all of the hours contracted for, and they will be wasting their money.  They believe that the work does not warrant the fee.  But that is not what the company is contracting for in reality. 

They are buying someone:

  • Who can assimilate quickly and seamlessly

  • Who can relate the individual tasks to the bigger job

  • Who can anticipate needs

  • Who can present solutions to problems

  • Who can back up your team, whatever the need, allowing them to focus their skills on the project at hand

Sure, you might not pay $100 per hour for simple research or copy editing but true utility players can do the research, make the calls, create the content, build the focus group, analyze the reviews, qualify and contract SMEs in a quarter of the time of a task-based freelancer or agency temp.  At the same time, the company does not have to pay temp agency fees, divert already stretched resources to basic training of one or more freelancers, nor invest the time and money involved in hiring replacements for the initial or secondary wave of departing staff.  And three months later, when the new head is hired you will be assured that the wheels stayed on the bus.  And the team did, too.