How to deal with the Consultant Performance Review or a.k.a. Mastering the Unbalanced Scorecard


If you are an independent consultant you get performance reviews on every engagement by your client. Your year-end performance review can be objectively judged by the size of annual check you send in for income tax.  (Not my favorite day of the year) If your clients like you and you do excellent work, you will be highly billable and well paid. That’s a good performance metric for independents.  For those of us inside a consulting organization, we have 2 clients; the real one and the internal one that creates objectives and standards that are rarely negotiated, broadly applied to the organization and captured in metrics with funny names and acronyms. The full purpose is to create a standard and then measure each consultant against the standard. 

  • Jim can produce 230 lines of code per hour with a defect rate < .5 errors per thousand lines of code. The standard is 200 lines per hour and 1 error per thousand, therefore Jim is an overachiever
  • Jim billed 1701 hours this year against a target of 1700. Jim is therefore an overachiever.

But we are not commodities and the real questions that should be asked for a review are much, much tougher to create, to ask, to validate and to answer.Woman with thumbs down

  • Jim. That design that you did for this piece of code. Is it a high quality design? Is it maintainable? Does it perform well? etc.
    • Jim, that piece of code is over 2000 lines long. Let me show you how it could have been done in less than 100 and be much more maintainable and perform better. – Jim is an underachiever
  • Jim. How productive were you in those 1701 hours? Were you providing excellent value to the client or just time-sheet stuffing to make your billable quota?
    • Jim, that module you worked on really should have been completed in 2-3 weeks but it took you 2 months to do. Part of that is the exploding code base but also you’re just not getting concise designs. – Jim is an underachiever

So depending on the metrics, Jim is either in for a compensation increase or Jim is in for a performance improvement plan. (a.k.a you’ll be fired soon but we need it to be better documented so you don’t start a law suit)

Objectives and metrics can be weird, but here are some common inviolate truths that we all need to pay attention to and be the overachiever.

Now all large consulting organizations have a “balanced scorecard” for reviews. They will share some common elements:

  • A revenue or profit metric either measured in utilization%, billable hours, billable revenue, gross profit, net profit or some combination of these (money)
  • A revenue-generation metric either measured in renewals, extensions, change orders or new billable business (money)
  • A client satisfaction metric either measure in feedback, on-time delivery, on-budget delivery or delivery quality metric or some combination thereof.(client happiness which means more future money)

So this is 3 key elements of the “balanced score card”. Not to restate the obvious but consulting is about making profit from happy customers that will continue to make you more profit in the future. Therefore don’t be shocked when the balanced scorecard is heavily weighted down by the 3 categories above.

The reason that I mention this here is simple. You MUST nail these metrics. Whatever label you put on them, every consulting organization has them and if you miss these, your stellar performance on the latter scorecard items will not matter. The scorecard is never really balanced.

Now there will be lots of scorecard filler…

  • teamwork
  • practice contributions (IP development, mentoring, training)
  • personal development (training, certifications etc.)
  • client relationship management
  • Innovation
  • Adherence to Policies and Standards (timesheets, project reports, audits, code quality etc.)
  • being nice to puppies and children etc.

My recommendation to you is to focus on the 3 key elements and then look for a major, noteworthy contribution. Specifically, something that you can do that will drive substantial benefit for your consulting organization. The people looking at your review are employees of your organization. Their bonuses and general well-being are impacted by the success of that organization. Think about them like a client that you need to drive value for. Think about a challenge your organization has and then fix it.

Some examples of extraordinary ideas I have seen over the years are:

  • practice was challenged with timely entry of timesheets, so a consultant built a PDA application to track daily time for everyone (it took 33 hours to build and was a MAJOR hit, improving cash-flow also)
  • consultant that ran brown-bag lunch information sessions for customers on technology areas that resulted in an extra $500,000 in projects.
  • consultant convinced a client to use an automated tech QA tool saving the consulting company $1M on a fixed price contract
  • consultant started a social network in the universities looking for new grads to recruit and they cut recruiting costs in half

Want to love your next performance review?

  • Make sure you at least hit base objectives in the money and client happiness category then
  • Think of one thing that will really drive value for your organization and just do it!
  • When you drive value, you become more valued.


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1 Response to How to deal with the Consultant Performance Review or a.k.a. Mastering the Unbalanced Scorecard

  1. Pingback: Infinite Shades of Grey – A year later and a little greyer | Infinite Shades of Grey

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