Sunday, January 14, 2018

10 "success" habits every consultant should own

In a previous article, I made an assertion that people should focus on building habits instead of focusing on achieving goals.  I personally like the concept of creating and developing habits because of the shelf life.  Habits are hardwired into your brain and become part of your everyday life, while goals might be achieved but they can be short term. 

How you spend your free time, who you decide to be around, and what type of information you consume can mean the difference between promotions, raises, or sponsorship if you are an employee. If you are an entrepreneur, success habits could mean the difference between winning and losing business, profitably succeeding, or scaling your business to the next level.

Here are 10 habits that every consultant should develop and own in order to take their skills as well as the breadth and depth of experiences to the next level. 

·         Be a team player.  The world is small. I have seen former teammates become someone’s boss or client.   Simply put, don’t be a jerk. If you worked with a challenging colleague, let it go.  Allow the universe take care of it. 

·         Have manners and etiquette.  This one is super easy (or at least it should be). Stop and take a moment to thank those around you that are working hard to make you successful. Put the phone down and look people in the eye. Don’t bark orders at anyone. Be patient. 

·         Become business savvy and learn the language of business. There are tons of online resources available.  As a consultant, you should be regularly consuming quality information that makes you better understand the business world around you.  Know how to interpret charts and graphs.  Understand how the financials flow within an organization. Learn how to dissect the impacts of an organizational structure.  Watch interviews with industry leaders to obtain various perspectives.  And where possible, join the conversation.  

·         Learn the difference between perfection and excellence. Begin to create an eye for creating something that is excellent versus striving to create something that is perfect.   Depending on contextual situations, the standard varies.  Always ask questions to manage expectations and work towards excellence, not perfection.  

·         Walk the halls and talk to humans.  You should not walk into an office, team room, or client building to only then put on your headphones and not look up again until it is time to head out for the day.  Every time you tune people out, you miss valuable connectivity time. Missed opportunistic moments accumulated over the course of a career can cost you dearly.  If you truly need down time to do deep work, arrange to work remote.  But when you are in the workplace with others, stop people in the hallway and say hi.  See how people are doing.  Walk to the conference room across campus instead of taking the call at your desk. 
          How you show up.  Don’t wait until you think you are close to becoming an executive to develop executive presence. Developing executive presence early on help you speed through the middle management layer, which many people get stuck in and never leave.  Make sure you look put together at all times (however “put together” is defined in your culture).  Grow your confidence and ability to convey messages. Practice having good posture, pausing, and smiling. 

·         Have intellectual curiosity.  Consultants at any level should always be playing sponge.  At all times. Everyday.  When you are asked to do research, find out why.  When asked to complete a deliverable, understand the challenge. Ask a lot of questions.  Do research and ask again.  Your new perspective maybe just the fresh air and innovation a project or clients’ needs.

·         Have at least one breakfast, lunch or dinner meetup at least twice a month.  Don’t isolate yourself on an island. Build relationships early and often. With all types of people, young and old, senior and new, clients and colleagues.  Two meetups a month means 24 meetups a year.  Repeated and accelerated over a 30 year career, that can be 1000s of strong relationships you have made. 

·         Be prepared to interview any day of the week, at any time.  This applies for the rest of your career in consulting. Because of the temporary nature of the work, consultants are constantly having to update their resume, portfolio, website, or obtaining referrals/recommendations.  You are constantly at a crossroads searching for your next opportunity while completing the one you are currently working on.  Being able to become an amazing interviewee is critical.  This means having multiple elevator pitches designed for different stakeholders. It means always being well read and well versed on a wide variety of topics. 

·         Getting out of your own way.   Despite the political noise or posturing around you, the only thing that really matters in consulting is value creation.   Your age, gender, who you love, your educational or socioeconomic background, upbringing, etc.…does not matter. Do not let those things get in the way of doing what really matters – creating value for your team, clients, and ultimately the marketplace.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

An eye opening mini-guide to internal and external consulting

What many people don't realize is that the world of consulting is generally split into two major categories: external (market facing) consultants and internal consultants.

External (market facing) consultants operate externally of their organization and their expertise is provided on a temporary for a pre-determined fee. Internal consultants operate within an organization but is available to be consulted on areas of specialty by various business units, leaders, and individuals.

Out of my 16 year career as a consultant, fourteen years were spent working as a market facing consultant and two years as an internal consultant.     Nothing brought more clarity to my career than the combined experiences.  Here is an observation of the similarities and differences of the skills needed for both types of consultants based on my experiences. 

Let’s start with the similarities.
·         Heightened sense of psychology.  As a consultant, you have to learn how to play sponge AND be a chameleon at the same time.  You have to have a grasp on how people think, how to communicate with them, and what triggers fear, motivation, or action.  You also have to learn how to read between the lines of what is verbally said (and what is not said).
·         Systematic approach of change.  Consultants, whether working internally or externally, have to have a keen understanding of the systems to change.  Change of people, processes, technology, and data. 
·         Ability to influence.  While influence looks differently for each type of consultant, the ability to influence is what elevates a consultant towards becoming a trusted advisor.
·         Commitment to lifelong learning.  Access to knowledge and technical expertise are key pillars of the value consultants bring to the table.  To do this well, consultants must have a ferocious appetite for knowledge and best practices.  
·         Have passion for the work they do.  Given the demanding nature of the role, passion helps make good consultants into great consultants.  Passion allows you to see the root cause of problems, helps you to sift through the noise, and helps you stay laser focused on what really matters – creating an impact for your clients.

Now…the differences.
·       Stakeholder exposure.  While internal consultants have the advantage to build longer term relationships with broad set of stakeholders and establish rapport and affinity more easily, external consultants are better positioned to take more high stakes organizational risks with senior leadership that can transform a company.
·         Different appreciation for cultural nuisances.   Internal consultants are likely to be accepted as an insider because they work for the company. Internal consultants tend to lean into the culture when making recommendations because they understand (intimately) what will work and what will not work.  External consultants bring an outsider’s perspective to a culture and might not always be attached to the recommendations made or empathetic to the impact of the recommendations.
·         How they position their expertise.  Internal consultant position themselves from a place of trust, while external consultants lead with influence, expertise, and a market place lens because they bring experiences from working with other clients.
·         Integrating with the rest of the company.  Internal consultants are able to connect the dots a lot of quickly to gauge how a recommendation could potentially have downstream impact on the company’s financials, people, processes, or technology.  External consultants may not always have the bigger picture of other programs, processes, or business line activities in mind when completing a project but is able to take on more risks with less repercussions.
·         Different agendas.  Internal consultants are seen as being an ally with more skin in the game given their personal allegiance to their company.  External consultants are objective and typically focused solely on the results than a personal affinity.

As an internal consultant you have an opportunity to learn how to better influence, navigate organizational politics, and build deep relationships, all while having an empathetic understanding of the motivational triggers of your stakeholder groups.   As an external consultant you have the opportunity to work on numerous client environments, business problems, and projects. 

In order to become a great consultant with depth to your expertise, I believe you need experience on both sides of the table.