Layoffs, Firings and Consultants

Written by . Posted in Consulting Industry

Tearing the contracts

About the author: Lew Sauder is the co-author of The Reluctant Mentor and author of Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting.  He has been a consultant with top-tier and boutique consulting firms for seventeen years.  Lew can be reached at

Civil war general William Tecumseh Sherman is famous for saying “War is hell”. As one who has never engaged in battle, I can only imagine how true that is.

I have to believe that the business world equivalent of hell is terminating someone’s employment.

When you relieve an employee of their duties, it usually comes under one of two broad categories.  The person is fired for cause: Perhaps they were caught being unethical or, after efforts to improve their performance, they have proven to be incapable of performing their job. While firing someone for unethical activity may not be easy, it is probably the least difficult way of letting someone go.

Firing someone for incompetence is a little more difficult.  There may have been an attitude that you had to deal with from the employee, but it may have been someone who tried hard and just couldn’t cut it.

The second category of letting an employee go is through layoff. Anyone who has been in the marketplace over the past six or seven years has almost certainly had experience with this type of layoff.

Layoffs occur when an organization has over-hired staff in the anticipation of an increased or continued need for productivity. Market situations changed causing the organization to have too much staff, or at least too much skill in a low demand area.

The economic recovery has been a slow and jagged upward climb.  Any manager who was involved in layoffs from the “great recession” is certain to be hesitant to aggressively hire back loads of staff.

After experiencing the difficult and life changing face-to-face conversations, the resulting fallout of morale issues and the monetary cost from an HR perspective, a manager will make her next hiring decision with great caution.

Many organizations have turned to consulting as an alternative to manage their staffing needs. A basic core of full-time employees is usually needed in most organizations for knowledge retention. For any additional needs, organizations have found that consulting provides the nimbleness to meet their needs in many ways.

Business Advisory Services

Businesses have found that turning to management consulting firms provides industry insights to anticipate market needs and develop strategies that provide them with readiness to market changes instead of being reactive to them.  This allows them to change their staffing practices before they overload with skills that will soon be redundant.

Project Teams

Having a more proactive strategy allows an organization to define and prioritize the efforts that make the most sense for their long-term sustainability. Rather than staffing full-time employees for these projects, they can contract with consulting firms to provide the knowledge and experience to manage the project, implement the initiative and train up their existing full-time staff successfully.  When the project is complete, the team leaves as expected, without career interruptions, morale issues or severance packages. The next project team, with their own specialized skills can come in for the next project.

Staff Augmentation

There are times when an organization simply needs a surgical strike.  They have a temporary need for a consultant/contractor to fill a skills gap for a specific or indefinite period of time.  A temporary computer programmer or even a temporary CFO, contracted until a full-time employee can be hired is an excellent opportunity for both the organization and the individual.

Workers are joining the consulting ranks in record numbers.  This phenomenon is largely driven by demand created by organizations who have found consulting to be an excellent approach to reducing the risk of reductions in force. It is also a great opportunity for knowledge workers to join the consulting industry and learn what consulting is all about.

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