The Consulting Performance Management Process Survival Guide

Consulting firms are among the most companies with the most rigorous performance management process. Their evaluations have many features that make them distinct among the other industries. The top consulting firms are renowned for talent development as well as a fair and also highly competitive work environment. There are project vs. annual reviews and many other opportunities for informal feedback. We cover the most important aspects of the performance management process below:

performance apparisal process

Consulting competency model

The performance management process for most consulting firms involves a competency model for consulting skills. The competency model is a matrix that defines what skills are needed and how to demonstrate them by consultant level. For example, the competencies could be communication skills, analytic skills, firm building,… Each competency has some sub elements: Communication competency could be split into written communication (e.g. writing presentations, emails) , oral communication (e.g. presentations, leading discussions). An entry level consultant vs. a seasoned consultant will have different levels of competencies expected of them, in general the higher the level of the consultant, the more expectations, in particular in areas such as client management, business development/sales, leadership. The performance management process will include the assessment of your skill set against the competencies for your level in the firm.

Up or out… or up or on?

The infamous “Up or Out” policy is enforced in many consulting firms. The policy refers to the fact that you can stay within a consulting title for a limited amount of time. You are then expected to move up the ranks to the next level. If you do not progress in your skill set and the corresponding appraisal results, then are you are asked to leave the firm. This policy is meant to ensure that the consultants of the firm grow personally and at the same time, the firm can have more consultants that can be in the leadership roles and eventually as partners to grow the firm. Another consequence is that some people do not make the cut and leave the firm. This is not necessarily a bad thing, since the firms work hard to place those people in good new roles and want to maintain good relationships with them as the firms’ advocates and potential customers.

As you can imagine, Up or Out policy creates a high-pressure and performance oriented culture and at times, can seem overly competitive, it is not for everyone. This kind of advancement expectations are almost unique in consulting firms vs. other industries.

Independent appraisers

The person that writes a performance review for you will likely be someone that you have not worked with closely, at least in the past year. This is to ensure that the appaiser is unbiased due to any personal interactions and can present a clear picture of your trajectory and development. It also means that you need to educate them on your story, progress in the firm and where your aspirations lie, so that they get reflected in your appraisal.

360 review

Many companies’ performance reviews. The appraiser will talk to most of the people you worked with in the past year. These will include partners, managers, peers and consultants you managed as well as mentors and any internal staff you interacted with. This could mean they interview up to 15 – 20 people to solicit feedback and then, they combine and distill all of the input and create a unified view. This is a significant investment of time in creating a through appraisal.

 Committee reviews

The reviews are presented to a committee that can include your practice team leaders, office or geography team leaders and the outcome of the appraisal depends on a discussion and a vote.

The performance management process in consulting firms is through and they do every effort to make them as fair as possible. Though, it is still far from perfect and it takes time to learn how it works and how to excel in this environment. If you have questions about the performance management in consulting, let us know by leaving a comment or a post in the consulting career forum. We are looking forward to it, enjoy!