Inarticulate ramblings of a management consultant

the day to day experiences of a consultant operating in weird and wonderful client situations

The only thing that matters in running a consultancy

As I reached an interesting milestone in the build of my consultancy in Asia last month, I had a moment to think about what it was that I was actually in control of. Not the stuff that you tell your shareholders, or your boss, or your colleagues or indeed your husband / wife…but the reality. And it struck me in a second of starting simplicity.

The only thing I can control with any degree of certainty is….

The people I employ

Surprised? Startled? Shocked? I thought not! Of course not. It’s incredibly obvious isn’t it? And yet it does provide an interesting backdrop to what it is to build a consultancy. For most people, including myself, where do we focus our attention in the first few months…surely in winning some work, rather than thinking about the people who might deliver the project. Inevitably we get caught up in the continuous cycle of resource, business development, resource, business development. Both activities provide their own stresses, anyone who says that having too much work is a ‘nice problem to have’ has not been there enough to realise that everything rests on the quality of the delivery and that compromise from that perspective is pointless and short term.

Let’s reverse the thought process for a moment and I know I’m conveniently leaving out practical issues like funding at the moment. Let’s start by employing perhaps just one person to sit alongside in the development of this business. What happens?

First of all, innovation happens. The collective process of dealing with burning issues such as: How do we sell / develop our business? What are we offering and how distinct is it from others? How do we interact together to deal with operational and strategic issues?

Secondly, network happens. Beyond our personal networks, where do our relationships meet so that we have collective influence over opportunities? How does your network enhance mine and vice versa?

Thirdly, reinforcement and moral fortitude happens on those dark days when rejection appears to take over the most optimistic of thought processes.

And when you reverse this process, something very interesting happens in my experience. The process of employing people becomes less of an exercise around specific tactical needs perhaps identified by a client or a strategic plan. Those things are still very important and they are a filter in the process of deciding whether someone suits your needs or not but they are not the only determinant. What is equally if not more important is the answer to the following questions:

Does this person fit into the kind of organisation that I’m building? (I’m emphatically not talking job description, value proposition (!), or organisational design here)

Will he / she grow with me in our business? (which requires me to form a view about what that might look like)

Can we ‘live’ together?

Whilst the last question seems very fluffy, our work life is a large chunk of the overall picture and no matter how able the individual is, it’s not going to work unless there’s a large degree of enjoying each other’s company.

A colleague of mine pointed out recently that we’d built something very special in our young business…around the culture of entrepreneurship and collaboration. He was at pains to point out that losing these elements would be a disaster and he placed the responsibility squarely on my shoulders which I accept.

Just a thought.

Categories: Consulting, Human Capital, psychology, Selling

Tags: , , , , ,

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