New Year’s Resolutions for Consultants
By Tristan Smith
The trajectory of a career in management consulting is an unparalleled opportunity for leadership and learning, but we often forget what makes our job so special. At the core of our business, we help our clients bring to life their vision for excellence. While day-to-day tasks require razor-sharp focus on project-specific details, our underlying focus on the big picture and final outcome differentiates the scope of what we do from the ordinary routine of corporate life.
“…We help our clients bring to life their vision for excellence.”
An awareness that I walk hand-in-hand with our clients to collaboratively realize their vision sets the stage for my top three resolutions for the new year:
Resolution #1: Take time to know the people.
When interacting with a new client or new deliverable for the first time, it’s just as important to learn about the stakeholders who will be driving change as it is to learn about the details of the project itself. One of my biggest takeaways from the past year is that projects have faces. Faces, in turn, have personalities, and understanding personalities is a key first step in devising any successful business strategy.
“…Understanding personalities is a key first step in devising any successful business strategy.”
Just as baking an elegant cake requires a mold, achieving a client’s vision for excellence requires many stakeholders to do their part after the delivery and handoff phase of a project is complete. You can’t simply pour in the ingredients and stir. Taking time at the beginning of a project to understand the unique leadership style of stakeholders is a great way to build rapport and add personal touch. Ultimately, it drastically improves buy-in as well as measurable results.
Resolution #2: Take time to learn.
Consultants bring a distinct advantage by partnering with our clients to bring:
- An objective perspective to the table
- Knowledge of best practices
- Awareness of many different industries
A consultant’s value to a client is only as great as his or her capacity to learn. Every day at work, we are exposed to a diverse mix of industry experts and huge repositories of data. If information is missing, we collect it. However, exposure to information does not guarantee that we absorb and retain it. Learning is a conscious, directed effort that requires a sharpening of the senses combined with periodic reflection on what we have learned. Reflection is key because it is the milestone by which we measure our progress.
I recommend keeping a journal to record best practices and committing to weekly or even daily entries. When the pace of client work accelerates and project deadlines loom, dedicated check-ins keep a consultant accountable to learning goals. Knowledge capital is a consultant’s greatest resource and helps empower our clients to reach their vision for excellence.
Resolution #3: Take time to celebrate little wins.
Big wins are easy to recognize and often earn praise from clients. It’s important to celebrate them and congratulate stakeholders on progress toward their vision. However, a succession of little wins precedes most big wins. Little wins are indicative of performance and help a consultant keep pulse on a project’s overall health. The Harvard Business Review recently highlighted the power of little wins, acknowledging:
“Because small but consistent steps forward, shared by many people, can accumulate into excellent execution, progress events that often go unnoticed are critical to the overall performance of organizations. – Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, Harvard Business Review
In consulting, noticing little wins is not enough. A consultant who is serious about achieving a client’s vision for excellence should:
- Track the accumulation of little wins
- Point them out to the appropriate stakeholders
- Applaud those who deserve recognition
Vocalizing little wins is not about promoting yourself to a client or scoring a contract for another project. Instead, it is about celebrating the success story of your client and keeping track of their journey toward their vision. Just as stories are written in chapters, journeys are undertaken in stages. As a consultant, you are the narrator and navigator of your project. Set sail into the new year with confidence.