Recently I did some quick napkin math and figured I\u2019ve spent 85 percent of my professional life in consulting. Although I\u2019m no longer a consultant, some of my best friends are. And I meet tons of people who share the intention, often whispered, to one day leave their jobs and go out on their own.\nI also keep in touch with many of my former clients who relate recent experiences with management consultants, both good and bad. Hearing these stories either makes me happy I left consulting when I did, or makes me wish I were a consultant again, if only to set things right.\n\u201cWhat they should do\u2026\u201d I hear myself telling my clients-turned-friends. \u201cI\u2019ve seen it before.\u201d (This is how technology professionals over 40 console ourselves that our skills are still valid.)\nIt\u2019s unlikely I\u2019ll ever return to consulting. But if I did go back I\u2019d definitely do things differently. Here are a few of the changes I\u2019d make.\n1. I\u2019d spend more time interviewing people\nI led a boutique consulting firm for over 20 years. We were self-funded and lacked the capital to keep a robust bench. That meant we often interviewed new team members only when we had a gig waiting. In other words, too late.\nWhen we needed to hire someone we\u2019d check online job boards or ask friends for referrals, pushing through interviews and reference checks to get the new hire billable posthaste.\nIf I were starting my firm today I\u2019d keep closer tabs on exceptional people who were already in my network. I\u2019d update them on our latest projects (whether or not they were looking) and share the skills clients were requesting. I\u2019d remind them when they decided to make a change, we\u2019d love first dibs. As a leader, I\u2019d remember that I was empowered to slow down the fire drills and delay project start dates, assuring clients that the right talent would be worth the wait. (It always is.)\n2. I\u2019d use more templates\nMy firm did a respectable job defining packaged services and developing standard delivery frameworks. At the same time, we prided ourselves on treating every customer differently. \u201cMeet the customer where they\u2019re at!\u201d we\u2019d repeat, mantra-like, laughing off the bad grammar. \u00a0\nIn reality companies aren\u2019t that unique. That\u2019s heresy in the consulting world, of course, where every client insists that her company, the business problem or the political climate is special, and very, very complex. \u00a0\nPoppycock. The reason our services worked so well is that they were repeatable. After all the best practices for strategy mapping, launching an analytics center of excellence, or integrating data aren\u2019t that cutting-edge. The challenging clients were the ones that had the people problems. The technology and process issues\u2014okay, I\u2019ll say it: we\u2019d seen them before.\nInstead of conducting protracted meetings and facilitated sessions to diagnose problems, I\u2019d give the client a standardized questionnaire, then delivering a standard timeline with meetings pre-approved and deliverables scheduled. The timeline would form the basis for the statement of work, project milestones and pricing. We\u2019d upload it to the cloud and update it regularly. Anyone with access could check in on progress, due dates, and commitments. We\u2019d also make our forms and completed deliverables available there.\nAfter every engagement we\u2019d fine tune our workstreams, automate new processes, iterate new deliverables as needed, and practice continuous improvement. In other words, we\u2019d do what we were telling our clients to do.\n3. I\u2019d speak truth to power\nAs a founder and managing partner at my firm I was often invited to meet CEOs, board members, and other captains of industry. These meetings were usually conducted around huge conference tables in wood-paneled suites crowning high office buildings. Typically the CEO and his executives would ask the requisite questions about our firm and explain \u201cthe problem as we see it.\u201d Then the CEO would ask some version of the question, \u201cHow do we compare to our competitors?\u201d\n\u201cYou guys are right there!,\u201d I\u2019d gush. \u201cI suspect once we conduct our interviews and facilitated sessions we\u2019ll find some process issues, but your people are first-rate (queue the self-satisfied nods around the room) and the timing for this engagement is ideal!\u201d\nWhat I should have said was, \u201cYou\u2019re late to the game. And you being the head coach isn\u2019t going to matter if you don\u2019t give your people full permission to play completely differently. Close. Your. Playbook. No one cares how big you are. It\u2019s a new game, and the rules are changing. There are new teams out there, and yours is getting ready to lose. Bootcamp starts now.\u201d\nI was a coward. I had employees. We had to let executives save face, to make them feel that our collective effort was a set of minor fixes, not a wholesale transformation. Now I understand that I owed this to them.\nBut I did occasionally have what came to be called the \u201cI Love You, But I Have to Kill You\u201d conversation. It took place exactly six times in twenty years. Three of the prospective clients decided to \u201cregroup,\u201d two of them engaging us within the year, one of them three months later. (That project was subsequently heralded on the cover of a national magazine.) Two of the remaining clients absorbed the difficult news and moved forward without missing a beat, engaging us for subsequent work and keeping in touch with questions and progress reports. We were happy to oblige.\nAnd the remaining client? We never heard from them again, and in retrospect that was how it should have been.\n4. I\u2019d stop researching technology for its own sake\nI will never get back the hours I spent reading up on emerging tech. I need to understand how hashing algorithms\/canonical aggregate subqueries\/cost-based optimizers work, I\u2019d reason. A client might ask.\nRarely would somebody ask. And if they did, odds are I\u2019d have a colleague who was far more qualified to answer. But it didn\u2019t stop me from trying to learn everything I could while forgetting important stuff I knew. Like: surround yourself with people who are smarter than you are. In my case that\u2019s not hard to do, and I did it. But I often forgot why.\nBeen thinking you need to unpack the details of GPU acceleration, blockchain or Flink? Ask a coworker or employee to explain the topic for you. What? You don\u2019t have anyone in your circle who knows that stuff? Then you might not need to, either.\n5. I\u2019d connect my clients to one another\nIn retrospect, my clients had so much in common but knew so little about each other. Sure there were conference cocktails and reference calls. But at times we\u2019d be working on nearly identical issues across several different companies, our consultants solving the same problem at a bank, a media company and a retailer, comparing notes and using Yammer to share ideas and approaches. Yet our customers never knew.\nIntroducing executives struggling with similar issues should have been a no-brainer. It would have let us connect smart people, broker valuable meetings, create new opportunities, and innovate collectively. Maybe I assumed everyone was too busy, or bringing diverse clients together would somehow backfire. But I never really tried it, and likely lost opportunities to grow as a result.\n6. I\u2019d read more fiction\nThis is my version of the well-worn \u201cI\u2019d take more vacation\u201d lament. \u00a0\nWhat I was missing wasn\u2019t more free time, but more time away from the \u2018round the clock functions-and-features fest, where attendance is required if you want a seat at the at the high-tech table. I needed to switch my right brain back on, take a poetry class, discover an emerging writer, re-read Milan Kundera.\nMoving into my new house last year I stumbled across some notebooks I\u2019d kept from college. Opening one, I was shocked at how incisive and confident my work was, to the point I began wondering if I\u2019d since regressed.\nIf I only had it to do over again.