Consulting is a profession that is challenging, variable and distinct. Consultants are brought into different organisations across a variety of industries, often from the cold, and given a problem statement to solve.
Over the course of a career, no two projects will be exactly the same and while my own journey has provided some lessons, the real difference has been the lessons shared with me by others.
I hope you will find the same value, or learn something you can apply, from this advice.
If you want to succeed in the management consulting (MC) environment, I consider the following characteristics key to that journey of success. These for me are over and above the fundamental and technical requirements of the MC field. I often look for these in candidates and individuals because, in my experience, they aid the heuristic process towards building great A-teams.
1. Attitude and Going Beyond – Nothing beats teams that go the extra mile, support each other and doing so with a great attitude, positivity and a smile.
2. Work Ethic and Avoiding Burn Out – As a business, we strive to solve what our clients cannot. Our industry is built on client satisfaction and meeting their needs. Each of us needs to be committed to progressing and learning. Sooner or later, peers who work hard and put in more effort will surpass others. I have seen it. This isn’t because of perception but their skill sets, through an excellent work ethic, become more fine-tuned with practice and exposure.
I have been asked many times about work life balance, which I used to call work-life integration. However, I have become convinced efficiency and focus on the right priorities is possible while not draining ourselves day-in, day-out – the proverbial hamster spinning a wheel. Achieving this means compromise. There will be peak times, so when your team and client need you, be ready to work so you can achieve what needs to be achieved.
I have experienced the burn out associated with continued peak work. It doesn’t help you, your team, the business or the client. Between projects, ask for a break where possible and if you are the manager or senior member in your team, focus on the right efforts. Be structured with your work streams and manage your clients if they are being unreasonable. You cannot serve their best interests if you or your team is not working to the best of your abilities.
3. Inner Drive and Resilience – I learnt about this from one of my team members when I asked what it takes to perform. She put ‘Drive’ at the top of the list and thinking about that answer, she’s right.
If each of us is highly driven and motivated to do what you need to do, you will progress. Another attribute worth taking note of and absorbing is resilience. During tough times, the ability to take it on the chin and keep going, especially in an experimental environment, is an attractive quality. The MC environment is rewarding yet demanding.
4. The Little Things Matter – The little things make a big difference. These include being on time, answering your emails and messages promptly, taking time to help others, being appreciative of your peers, teams and mentors, and being considerate of others, to name just a few. These little differences have a habit of accumulating over time to make a big impression.
5. Problem Solving: Find Trust and Balance Vulnerability – Every person comes from a different background, culture and has different driving forces. Keeping this in mind, I believe great teams can perform at great levels if they open up to one another, communicate often and arrive at problem-solving sessions and conversations with the right amount of trust and vulnerability.
What does that mean? Leave your armour, history and baggage at the door, be open minded, share willingly but also air out and debate/fight for your view without being rude. Find the right balance so that everyone in the team understands each other and can solve problems creatively with little resistance, second guessing and hierarchal overemphasis (but recognising the value of experience to fast track solutioning).
6. Honest but Tough Conversations – Make sure to provide open and honest feedback to your team mates in a respectful way. Poor feedback leads to poor growth while good and firm feedback clarifies expectations and provides a foundation for advancement.
As such, take your project reviews and direct manager discussions seriously. Enter them with an open mindset. If you receive some negative feedback, get to work on it. No one wants anyone to fail. Feedback typically comes from a constructive, not personal, viewpoint.
I’ve received feedback that I did not appreciate but after taking a moment, I knuckled down and tried my best to take that feedback on board. This is why trust and balance vulnerability are so important. If you trust the person giving the feedback, you are more likely to take it on board in a healthy and positive way.
I believe these characteristics will help you succeed in the MC environment. Every person will have their own unique mix of the above, and if applied and used in the right way, it will serve them well for the long term.