Beach blanket bingo

In my continuing attempt to provide simultaneous translation to those of you outside the gilded circle of professional services professionals, here is a supplementary explanation of terminology you should know.

On the beach.

This is actually an expression from the good old days before HR got its finger in everything. It does not mean that you are on vacation although you might well be on your way to a permanent vacation if you don’t get off the beach soon. The beach is where you land when you have finished your most recent assignment and are awaiting billable work. Time, as we know, is not a renewable resource. As revenue generating units, consultants that are not currently on a project are like an hour glass slowly divesting itself of sand. And if you have too much sand you end up with a very visible beach, which is not good for anyone involved.

In more recent years, not being billable has changed to being ‘on the bench’. This connotes a more hopeful and anticipatory state of consultants waiting in the wings to be called up to quarterback the next big project. However, much like changing the name of Unemployment Insurance to Employment Insurance, this does nothing to change the ultimate outcome if the bench becomes too crowded. Benched consultants resemble airline seats. The fixed cost of an empty airline seat (i.e. the salary you are paying) is the same as for a full seat, but the full seat is paying for itself many times over. If you have too many empty seats your airline will go under. And just like in sports, if you are on the bench too much you are about to get put on permanent waivers.


Something key is obviously important. Or at least it should be important. The fact is that pretty much everything is labelled key in consultant speak because if it wasn’t key why would it possibly be coming out of our mouth or be in the deck? But perhaps the key-ist of the key are the key takeaways. This is the net-net of why you have paid us the big bucks. However, don’t expect to understand the key takeaways or know what to do with them. We all know that the job of the consultant is to take something you understand and make it completely confusing. That’s so you will pay us a retainer to call us every week to remind you what was key.

Take the lead on.

An inexperienced consultant might think this is a good way to show initiative and increase their odds of keeping their seat if they end up on the bench. In reality, you only suggest someone else ‘take the lead’ if it is a completely thankless and/or meaningless task. After all, why would you give away something that would prove valuable for your own reputation or upward trajectory in the firm? Also, most situations where you are asked to ‘take the lead’ don’t actually require anyone’s leadership and for which you are most likely to be (sometimes literally) the chief cook and bottle washer. My best advice is if anyone suggests you take the lead is to tell them your plate is full, you have no bandwidth and your current utilization is 120%.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *