I landed my second official (getting paid for it) consulting job in July and I’m finding it really isn’t a bad way to go.  Strategic or process consulting is fun because you get to solve big problems without the burden of day to day responsibilities.   My career focus has been manufacturing operations and supply chain.  Depending on the industry, it can be hectic on a good day.  Being able to get into the guts of the business without having to deal with the daily operational issue, unhappy customer or problem supplier is a nice change.

The bad thing that I always heard about consulting is that you are always selling yourself between jobs.  And how is that different from the real world?    Selling yourself is a fact of life these days.  No matter if you are currently employed or in-transition, you have to constantly be on the lookout to protect your turf or find a new range.  From CEO to entry level, there’s someone out there that would love to eat your lunch.

The most important thing for any employee to do, contract or not, is to demonstrate value add over time.  The more the value added over the shorter the amount of time the better.  A happy customer can turn into a full time employer and at worst help sell your next opportunity.  In the current economic and employment climate, more and more senior roles are temporary by nature if not by circumstance.   You have to sell your way in, but you also have to sell once you get in.

Once your inside you need to get to scoping out the real depth and breadth of the problem you are about to solve.     That’s going to require you to get behind the scenes and find out what is really going on.  The best way to do that is meet with the people directly involved or affected by the process you are working on.   The most important thing to get across is that you are here to help and you need their help to understand how you can do that.

Don’t expect to get the real answer on the first try.  You may hit the jackpot early, but until people trust you, it isn’t likely.   If you do well on your first couple of meetings, word will get around that you’re “OK” and people will open up to you.  It’s very important to read people and change your approach as you go.  If people are answering you with small word count sentences, keep it soft and easy and retreat for a deeper follow up on the next try.   If the flood gates open, don’t change the subject!

One of the natural circumstances of being a consultant is that you are a permanent outsider.  Most people do not welcome change in the first place so when it comes from an outsider, resistance finds friends very quickly.   You have to get used to the fact that the best you can do is make a strong case and hope common business sense takes over and people pick up on it.   Having the right executive champion can be the difference between success or failure.  They should help coach you when things get rough, but try to keep their help behind the scenes or whatever trust you’ve built will quickly vanish.

Be careful how you introduce and carry yourself.  People are much more likely to chip in and get behind you if they trust you are here to make them all look better and it’s not about you.  In this way good leadership strategies make the same sense for the consultant as they do for line management.  There is no ‘I’ in team, etc.  When you are asked to make observations and recommendations about the current state of a process or operation take care at how you present things.  Keep it impersonal and objective.   Soften every criticism with a positive point.  Choose your words very carefully.  Point out better ways to do things instead of finding fault with how a particular function or person does it today.




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