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May 8, 2020 06:59

Evolution of a consultant : manage your way up in the Mafia Family tree

What is the career evolution of an independent consultant?

Joining a consulting firm or a biotech company, the human resources department explains the potential evolution of your career during the very first days.

Face-to-face in a nice and comfortable office, they explain to you the salary scale, the extra-legal benefits, and the responsibilities that will increase over your corporate journey. One day, you will be a manager and will lead several people. Later you may end up as a director, managing several managers. Of course, you will be forced to move to several locations, perhaps to spend several years abroad, but it is also an opportunity to learn about different cultures and languages. It is even possible that you reach the position of Chief, allowing you to be at the head of several departments in a company. Seeing the path to reach the top of the pyramid is a morale booster when we're starting out. It gives us confidence that the next step is within our reach.

But what about a freelancer?

When we set up our independent consulting business, it is tough to think ahead and envision the long term. There is no human resources department to help us. We need to discover by ourselves what the next step looks like. In fact, there aren't even any stairs. We stand on the first step of the staircase and the rest of the stairs disappeared in a dense fog. Poetic, but not necessarily very reassuring.

What my career is going to look like in a few years?

How can I deliver more value?

Am I really compelled to provide the same services again and again?

The real beauty of being self-employed is that you are in charge of building the very staircase to your success. Standing firmly on one step, you lean back to take the plunge and leap to the next.

“Okay Julien”, you're going to answer me, “but how do I build the step? What does it look like? And in which direction should it point?”

I had no idea until one day while I was tidying up I came across The Godfather's ultimate collector's DVD box. It suddenly brought back a huge flow of nice memories: Nino Rota great soundtrack, charismatic actors, intertwined family and business stories, and the never-ending quest for success. But also my friends and I sitting in the couch, mimicking Don Corleone and laughing out loud at every new imitation.

And then it punched me in the face. I remembered one passage in particular where Lucas Brazzi and Vito Corleone discuss the good old days. They explain how they structured Italian-American Mafia on the basis of the military hierarchical structure.

What does this have to do with consulting?

I'll explain it to you right now. It's time for you to take your first steps in the mob.


Step #1: The soldier consultant, acting in the field


In the Italian mob, at the bottom of the tree are soldiers or “saldato” who perform the street job for their Capo. They spend days and nights in the streets, doing the job and getting their hands dirty.

Usually, the first step of consulting remains the job of a performer. Yes, even if you have a master degree or a MBA, you’re still making the job by yourself and you’re so-called a performer. For instance, if you’re a sales consultant, you’re making the calls, scheduling meetings, and negotiating contracts, exactly like I did when I started. Your customer (“The Boss” or “The Don”, I'll leave the choice of words to you) entrusts you with the entire job: from the implementation of the strategy to the actual day-to-day realization.


  • Of course, you’re delivering value. But only your actions make the difference. Usually, the customer told you what he wants and you do exactly as being told. There’s no room for improvement or creativity. Your customers expect reliability and speed. You’re the extra hands.


  • Unfortunately, there’s no leverage for your business. You’re trading your time for money. The only way to increase your fees is to spend more time on your missions, more efforts in the streets.


  • Another drawback is the value you provide is low. Even if you’re an efficient performer with outstanding outcomes, you’re totally replaceable by another performer.


Step #2: The Caporegime consultant, acting in a specific field only and relying on a team


A Caporegime is sometimes referred to as the Captain or the Capo of a crime family. The role of a Capo is to manage their own crew in a designated geographical location or for a particular racket to run.

The natural evolution of the performer is the technician. The Soldier becomes a Capo. You’re still a performer, but the customer expects a form of proactivity. The customer explains what he desires, but you’re free to choose the means.


  • This is already a nice evolution because you can choose to focus on your core value and to subcontract a portion of the job to performers. Performers can be employees of your customer company or even other consultants. To do so, you can agree with your customers which part of the job is performed directly by you and which part remains in its company. And in order to subcontract portions of the job, you can check websites such as Fiver or Freelancers to recruit your team of little soldiers.


  • Be careful to check in detail the performance of others: the boss expects deliverables and you’re responsible of the final outcomes. Capo’s career in the mob relies only on how much money he can bring into the family.


  • There’s a little leverage for you. You’re still trading a part of your time for money but you can manage to subcontract a part of your mission to less paid people and so keep the difference for you.


Step #3: The Consigliere consultant, advising the Boss


In the Italian mob, one of the most important people in the hierarchy, after the Don and the Underboss, is the Consigliere. He’s the right-hand man who acts as a counselor and the only one who can challenge the boss decisions. The Consigliere never gets involved in the business so everyone is sure he takes impartial decisions only.

As far as I’m concerned, the advisory is the beginning of consulting performance. You’re now engaged in the strategy, helping your customers defining the plan and the key decisions. Sometimes, you’re asked to combine this role with the position of a Capo: you define the strategy and then implement it in a specific area.

The ultimate evolution is to give recommendations and let your client make the entire implementation by himself. You stay neutral and trustworthy.

As a strategic advisor, you’re very well paid:


  • You’re now irreplaceable. The specific advice you deliver is unique since they’re related to your personal background and your own vantage point of the situation. You are not paid for your hands. You are paid for your ideas.


  • You’ve created leverage for your consulting activity: your time is now disconnected from your fees. You’re not forced anymore to work harder to get more. You’re just working smarter, trading advice for money.


  • You’ve engaged your customer in a tight relationship and you are whispering in the ear of your customer. The Boss understands the Whys of your reasoning for your actions and is willing to pay significantly more to know that the project is in good hands.


Step #4: The Underboss consultant, partnering with the Don


Just below the boss is the underboss. The underboss is the second in command in the mob.

A partner shares the risks with her associates. But when associates share risks, they also share the reward. When you reach this stage of collaboration, you’re not paid anymore based upon your advice, but paid upon the company outcomes. For instance, you ask a % of the net sales, or to be paid for reaching a certain milestone.


  • You’ve created a new type of leverage for your consulting activity. You’re trading results against a piece of the pie. Whatever the amount of time or effort you put into the mission, if you succeed, the reward is waiting for you.


  • Sometimes, The Boss is going to offer you to become the Underboss of his company or to sit at the Commission. It means that you can now become an associate, be paid with company shares, and have a seat on the Board.

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