My name is Brian Vickery, and it has been 5-months since my last confession…err, blog post. However, there are some days where I wake up with enough passion compelling me to write about a topic. In the best case, this post will drive thoughtful discussion. In the worst case…well, at least I got it off my chest! So, let’s talk about how today’s consulting compares to a Martial Arts Belt Factory…or “buy a belt” system.
It all started when a close friend texted me about a mutual buddy who tore his ACL, MCL, and fractured his femur! This guy sustained all of this damage when his leg got trapped under him while doing a judo throw during a martial arts test. He gets to look forward to surgery in 3-weeks, and the injury puts a crimp in his livelihood since he is a martial arts instructor who actively runs and owns a very successful school. I wish him well, and I know his assistant instructors will more than pick up the slack.
Part of me wanted to step forward and help fill the gap, but then I remembered the reason why I left martial arts (umm, besides the multiple shoulder surgeries). Many of today’s martial arts schools have become “belt factories” – also known as McDojos or “buy a belt” systems. These schools are money making machines, yet they experience high student turnover in a low-attention-span world, so they often cater to families who just want to keep their kids active and check the checkbox on a modern youth milestone (☑︎ Have Little Tommy Get Black Belt!). My Facebook feed is filled with proud parents showing off pictures of their beaming kids holding their certificates with yet another crisp, high-rank belt tied around their waist.
The “eyes don’t lie” when you view youth martial arts students. Some of these kids are truly students of the martial arts, and they put in hours to hone their craft and perhaps even compete in tournaments. They exude technical excellence, strong fundamentals and quiet confidence. Other students represent sporadic weekly attendance, no practice outside of class, and a persistent pressure by the parents for the school to let their Little Tommys test for their next rank…with the implied threat that they will take their business elsewhere if the school does not cave to their demands. I’ve also seen ill-qualified instructors opportunistically strike out on their own, start their own “systems” where they self-assign their inflated rank or buy into systems that will grant them high rank, do a little marketing and self-promotion, and start milking that youth martial arts cash cow.
Advancement isn’t based upon merit — it’s based upon a sense of entitlement, or chasing the easy money, that permeates our society.
Now, let’s look at today’s consulting. Consulting can be a money-making machine, and it can experience high consultant turnover in a low-consultant-aptitude and unrealistic-client-expectations world. Consultants can get a few certifications (with no accompanying real-world experience), maybe self-publish a book or keynote a few local chapter events, pad the LinkedIn profile with the right keywords, and watch the competing offers come rolling into their queue. The jobs are plentiful, and the candidates are few, so below-average consultants can probably have a 3-5 year run of inflated bill rates before their reputations catch up with them. And it doesn’t matter if I’m talking about IT consulting…or marketing consulting.
So what steps can we take to ensure we have a reputable consultant (or martial arts school) vs a charlatan (belt factory)?
1. Check Lineage
School: Is the school tied to a reputable governing body that dictates rank requirements (think USA Judo for Judo or Kukkiwon for Taekwondo)?
Consultant: Are the consultant certifications recognizable and from reputable sources? Think Project Management Institute’s PMP, ScrumMaster Certification, or certifications provided by SAP, Oracle, and Microsoft.
2. Check Time in Rank
School: Are students allowed to test every month – regardless of class time or demonstrated proficiency? Are higher ranks, like black belts, able to test every year? If you see 4th Degree Black Belts with only four years of experience – run away!
Consultant: Do the consultants have resumes, and LinkedIn profiles, claiming more experience in a technology than the length of time that technology has been generally available? I’ve seen examples where consultants did not “do the math” and claimed more years experience in AngularJS and SAP HANA than how long the framework/product was available to the public! I also had at least two other job candidates claim so much experience…that they would have been about 16 years old when they started.
3. Check Tournament (Competition) Results
School: This is where the analysis can get a little gray, and the consumer needs to determine what is important in a school. I’ve seen very good “teaching schools” that produced outstanding students that knew – and could demonstrate – their art. They could even compete in tournaments in Forms and Demos. However, they were not taught how to spar.I’ve seen other schools that focused specifically on practical techniques to win matches. These students may not know as much as the students from the teaching school, but they could “go all Ronda Rousey” on those knowledgeable students and put them on the ground in a heartbeat (and optionally tie them in a pretzel until they tap out).
Each school has its merits – and some rare schools can offer both knowledge and practical application experience.
Consultant: Martial Arts schools have trophies and certificates lining the wall. Consultants have Client Case Studies, Testimonials, and LinkedIn Recommendations/Endorsements (although I do not put a lot of credence in Endorsements). Each success story was a result of winning the business from the competition – and then successfully delivering on the promise!
4. Check References
School: We live in the world of Yelp, TripAdvisor, AngiesList, and Google Reviews. We also have our smaller social circles on Facebook. Leverage those resources, and throw out the outliers on the highs and the lows.Then there is the old fashioned way of watching a class at a candidate school, leaning over to the parent next to you, and saying “which one is yours”. Ask them about the classes, the instructors, the owner, and whether the kids actually LIKE the class (just because excellence comes through hard work doesn’t mean it can’t be ENJOYABLE). Do the students respect the instructors…do the instructors respect the students and give clear instruction? Do the instructors, and senior belt students, show proficiency? Don’t let the trophies and certificates on the wall, in this “everybody gets a medal” world we live in, dissuade you from running the “eyes don’t lie” test!
Consultant: I have personally received unsolicited and unfounded endorsements on LinkedIn…where the endorser is in no position to judge my proficiency in that skill set. I know many people on LinkedIn practice reciprocity, to the point of embellishment, with endorsements. We’ve probably ALL seen at least one padded resume where a person may have ridden on a team’s coattails and then claimed they were a key contributor or team leader. Ask for client references – and then follow up with them. If someone claims to be “published”, then read their work. I also do read LinkedIn recommendations because I think you can better judge sincerity vs reciprocal embellishment or empty platitudes in a written recommendation.
In conclusion, I invite you to try the “eyes don’t lie” test with ProKarma. Our consultant teams have the lineage and time in rank, we are very proud of our competition results and are happy to share Customer Case Studies, and several clients are more than willing to provide a great reference for us. So if you need any help in the following areas (onsite, remote, near-shore or offshore), give me a shout and we can start the vetting process:
FYI, my indictment of these martial arts belt factories does not apply to my buddy’s school. I have seen him weather the storm of parent pressure and stand firm in teaching excellence vs allow entitlement. If you are looking for a Martial Arts school near Aurora, CO, I invite you to check out Premier Martial Arts. If you favor judo, I love the instructors – and the WORKOUT – at Denver Judo. And the picture in this post is me throwing that same buddy as part of my Shodan test in Judo. He is always there when it counts, and he took many a bump and bruise while supporting my own martial arts journey.