You may work for a corporation, medium sized business, or even a start-up. Since I’ve consulted for companies of all shapes and sizes, I may have worked at your company or a company very similar to it as a consultant. Perhaps I was helping you develop a mobile strategy, or performing work in the Business Intelligence space, or perhaps I’ve helped you manage a project or even brought a product to market.
As a consultant, the thing I love most about my job is helping a company see itself through a new set of eyes and help solve problems that prove the value of why I’m there at each step, in a unique way that is a value add both for the client and the company they work for. Despite all the bad buzz on consulting (primarily focused around management or strategy consulting), there is a lot of good consultants do for companies but there are also a lot of bad eggs out there, taking advantage of desperate situations and locking clients into contracts over steak dinners that they may very well look back on and regret.
Regardless of the purpose or your view on consulting, I’ve noticed a number of things that you and companies like yours have in common, regardless of the size. Some of these things you may very well already know, or perhaps suspected but could never confirm.
1. Politics and/or ego will be the thing that holds up progress on a project more than anything else
With all the MBA-trained consultants in the world, some projects are doomed to fail not because of a lack of resources but because there are decision makers in your company that are playing politics, which is causing blocking issues. Sometimes even, it’s more advantageous to let a project fail and point the finger at someone else then raise your hand when you see the project going off a cliff and bring the issues to everyone’s attention.
In cases like this (especially with so many projects going over budget, and beyond their deadline), the necessary skills won’t be having more do-ers or managers in the mix, but rather people that have the ability to see the situation for what it is and use communication, motivation, and internal salesmanship to remove bottlenecks and get a project back on track. When you see this happening, know you’re not alone, but also know that more than likely heads will be thrown at the project, hired to a certain tangible spec, when intangible people skills are really necessary.
Sadly, sometimes the project is out of your control, but even if it is, consider the skills you can bring to the table to not play politics but be proactive in helping calm nerves, relate to where project members are coming from, and work to simply defuse the emotion and drama in a given project.
This can often create resolution, and put you in a leadership role through gaining trust and influence which you can in turn use to get to the root of what’s causing the project delays (miscommunication, dislike between team members, lack of organization, etc) and work through resolving the emotion wrapped around those issues that keep people from thinking logically and instead continue to pull on emotions that only push the project further off course. Stress, panic, and fear are strong enemies but a calm approach over a 5 minute coffee break can go a long way helping someone to see what they need to do to contribute positively to a project, and help undo the issues bubbling up around the personalities or situations blocking progress.
In cases of ego or politics, it’ll become obvious to everyone once the hysteria has died down who is really getting in the way, which makes it much easier for a project sponsor to identify what on the project needs to change vs the project plan looking like a war zone, confusing the real problem.
2. An employee is only as powerful and influential as they choose to be
Often consultants are seen as super heroes in the corporate world, where people have come up and asked me how they can become a consultant because it’ll give them a significant boost in their career. If you’re having a hard time getting traction in your current job though, it’ll only magnify the difficulty as a consultant because you’re coming into new groups as an outside party with no authority, where it’s 100x harder to gain trust and work with a team than an employee who’s worked there for a period of time. “Tribal Leadership” can be far more influential, and help you succeed internally at your company much quicker, than if you came into that company as an external party.
What happens though is people use the “Well, I’m not a consultant” as an excuse for not driving change, and building bridges up to their executive leadership, leaning against something other than themselves to help make their point. The truth is that an employee is only as powerful as they choose to be, regardless of the role, and an executive would love to hear about an employee making a difference in their team or business unit. It’s not as common for employees to go above and beyond to the point someone two or more levels above them would hear about it, so consider what thinking outside the box, and making a difference beyond the job you have in front of you might do to get you the reputation and influence you need to really make a difference.
It won’t be a certificate, MBA, time machine, or new job that’ll help you be successful – it’ll be that still small voice inside you saying “This should work better, and I’ll work to make the difference” that’ll drive changes in your career far beyond anything else. It’s good to have help, but be sure never to use that help or lack thereof as a crutch. You’re far too powerful as a human being and employee to let an opportunity go, and your fellow employees need you out there making a difference for the good of the company.
3. Your company has problems, but so does every other company
Often I’m asked about what companies are better or worse than the company I’m at, by employees. Perhaps it’s because they’ve worked at that company their whole life, or often wondered what it would be like working for a different vertical or live in a different part of the world. As many companies as I’ve worked for, each has their own set of problems, and often the employees that I encounter that are unhappy feel like it’s just their company that has the issues, so they want to pursue a new job somewhere else in hopes it’ll be a greener pasture.
Each company certainly has different things going for it, but no company is perfect, regardless of the size or local. Instead of leaving your job because of the issues you have in your role or your team, consider what you can do to change your company for the better and take a proactive approach in making things work smoother. It’ll not only help you on a resume or interview, should you decide down the road to leave, but will help you rise above your peers as someone with initiative, that could get the attention of your management team and in turn find yourself with an entirely new opportunity within the company you work for.
4. Positive change in your company begins with you, regardless of your position, and will never become easier with a promotion, but may in fact become harder
I’ve spoken to many employees in the past that feel like their management is standing in the way of a new idea, initiative, or project they’re looking to get out the door and if they were a manager it’d be different. The truth is that management has a boss too, all the way up to the CEO, and more is on the line the higher you climb. For any manager, they have to balance what is good for their team and each of their employees along with hitting the numbers their boss has given them.
The higher you go, the more you’re responsible for, which causes you to measure risk in entirely new ways. What may appear like a lack of initiative, could be caution based on information you don’t have. Instead of blaming your manager for not making a difference, ask them what things are in their way that you can help them move out of the way so a pro-active change would be possible. There will be things they can’t share, but you’d be surprised how far empathy and a willingness to help goes because believe it or not, your manager wants to make a proactive change just like you do. A good company for you, is also a good company for them.
5. You aren’t a prisoner in your job, unless you let your fear or worry imprison you
The sad reality of most people that are unhappy with their role, is they feel like they have an obligation to stay in that role. It’s perhaps due to a family situation, financial means, “golden handcuffs” or any other number of reasons. The reality is that you aren’t a prisoner to your circumstances, and there’s always a way to make positive progress into a different role or career. Perhaps it’s small steps, such as working on your LinkedIn profile off hours, or a big one like going back to school. It’s often never easy to make changes, and it’s far easier to just stay where you’re at. But not being happy in what you do is a far worse fate sometimes than most of the things you’re afraid of, so consider what you’re gaining by being unhappy in the thing you spend most of your day on. It will always begin with a step, though the elevation may change, but have the courage and will power to keep taking a step each day and see where you’re at 30-60-90 days from now.
There are many other things I could share about what I’ve learned doing consulting, but these are the most common things I’ve personally seen working with companies. I have had the pleasure of working with a lot of great people at a number of companies, and have gotten some great experiences helping to make a positive change within a variety of different companies. There are other consultants like me though, that you may work with, and I encourage you to buy them coffee and ask what they’ve learned working at your company. You’d be surprised what they have to say, that can not only help you in your career but also help the teams and groups around you. It may not always be positive, but it’ll be productive, and not only help you understand them but also help them better understand your company which can have a positive impact on the work they’re doing.