Weekly Blog #3 - Being a Consultant - Part II (Update Jan '20)
Updated: Feb 11, 2020
Part II - Evolving:
Early in 2013 I received a call from the Technische Universität München. Well, it wasn't really the TUM. It was a headhunter from one of the most renowned consulting firms in the world looking for experienced hires to join "the firm". It came as a surprise and I felt really honored. To keep it short: I made it through the hiring process and had my final interview with a senior partner in Hamburg on June 28th 2013.
After the interview I was given the opportunity to join the firm or become part of a Joint Venture that had just been established in collaboration with a company from the airline industry. I made the decision to join the start-up. I don't know how my life would've turned out if I had joined the well-established consulting firm and their "operations/manufacturing practice" instead - but I at least earned a lot of valuable experience in regularly working with their teams.
One important thing it taught me was the fact that no matter how good you've been at what you did before, there were a lot of highly talented and smart people that did better. I was given a warning in the final interview with the senior partner and experienced it first hand during my first projects. It took me a while to adapt to this fact and become open minded towards other perspectives and "ways of work". Once I had adjusted my perspective and my way of work, it was a great way of learning new things and creating meaningful relationships with my colleagues.
I was given the opportunity to shape a great start-up consulting company, and even though I was the youngest employee back in 2014 I had a voice in creating internal processes as well as developing and improving our business models and products. Especially in 2014 and 2015 with less than 30 employees it was a very personal and familiar atmosphere. Everyone knew what was going on internally and with our clients. Of course, confidentiality was key, but sharing experiences from projects every Friday during our office days was a key part of growing and learning together. We also organized bi-annual retreats, not in fancy hotels but in smaller places that matched our organizational culture and attitude. We worked hard and we celebrated our achievements - all in all we had a blast!
However, since I chose to work mostly on different stand-alone projects without leadership from my company, for the first two years my career path didn't develop the way I wished it had. Though the learning curve was great, I felt that I needed more air-time and exposure to my own colleagues and leadership and signed up for projects closer to my "home-base". These projects gave me the opportunity to learn how the largest aviation group in the world worked and to apply the skills I had obtained while working under different leadership.
I always managed to establish close relationships with my clients. As a consequence my engagements usually lasted much longer than planned, somewhere between 6 months and 1.5 years. I firmly want believe my clients didn't let me go because I did a great job - but I'm well aware that this wasn't always the case and sometimes they just didn't want to go with the alternative of having a different/new consultant on the team. Changing the "line-up" is always a tough task to handle for clients and also for the consulting company since there is an imminent risk of "frictional loss", meaning loss of knowledge and pace.
Besides managing to establish good client relationships, I was always keen to understand the bigger picture: What has led to executing a program/project and what are the true intentions and purposes? Why did they hire us for the job? Where do we go from here in the next years? I strongly dislike hidden agendas and not being in on the reasoning behind leadership, client or management decisions. I have struggled with that kind of secrecy since school so I developed ways of finding out what is going on - mainly through establishing above mentioned close relationships with my clients.
If there is one key take-away from my time as a consultant and project manager it's the fact that nothing is more important than understanding your key client's agenda. The key client's personal development within his organization can be a major driver in the way programs are set up and executed. If this is not understood and if the client is not willing to openly communicate this with the consultancy (or at least with the project manager), a project can become really tough to execute. Nobody has ever done anything in business solely for the sake of his employee. There is always a certain degree of personal fulfillment and selfishness involved - at least as far as my experience goes... (to be continued)