The power of choice is currently being hotly debated and discussed all over the country, more so now than usual, due to the sensitive issue of a workplace vaccination mandate. Choice is an outcome of what should be a proper decision-making process.
The office of career strategy out of Yale University has over time developed a five-step career decision-making process. These steps are now frequently used by HR professionals and career guidance counsellors in advising students and young professions on their career choices. These five steps include a self-assessment, researching job options, evaluation and prioritisation, the taking of necessary actions on a variety of options and finally, reflection and re-evaluation.
In my view, the most important of these steps is that of self-assessment. It requires the individual to first assess his/her skills, values and personality to develop an understanding of technical and transferable skills. It also requires the understanding that such assessments are not indicative of who you are but rather suggestive of areas for potential exploration.
The process for deciding and choosing the right career path, particularly one in consultancy is probably more difficult than most other career choices. However, if that is your decision it is because you value freedom and flexibility in terms of when you work, who you work for and what you do. When you work as a consultant you can create your own work structures and models and therefore be responsible for your impact. You however always clearly understand the problem for which support is needed, the consultancy resources available in the business environment, the internal support systems and the outcomes required.
I would like to also advise that not every practitioner will turn out to be a good consultant. Some do have to stick to their day jobs as it takes years of experience and a wide range of real world and industry related understanding, additional to theoretical frameworks, in order to find workable solutions to provide to potential clients. It is only then one can even be remotely considered a true subject matter expert (SME).
Although it is often required that you be recognised as a SME to become a successful consultant it is not always necessary. Typically, a SME develops his or her expertise in a particular discipline over a long period of time and after significant immersion in the topic and having pursued advanced studies in the particular area of specialisation. In my view however, it is possible to be able to effectively provide valuable consultancy support to clients while remaining a professional generalist offering advice and solutions over a relatively wide range of subject matters. Such a consultant must however be mindful of the need to call upon a SME at the right time when needed.
Indeed, and particularly in my area of practice, success is driven by having a genuine love for people and a personal investment in their businesses. This, more often than not, would mean taking calls and holding meetings well outside of normal working hours, days and even on weekends, providing creative problem-solving advice tailored to each specific client.
There are however two even more important ingredients necessary for a successful consultancy practice in my view. These are the ability to effectively manage complex relationships and the unquestionable integrity of the consultant. They are imperatives in this business, as clients must have confidence not only in you and your work but also in your character as they often must entrust you with their confidential information about their people, their finances, business strategy and even sometimes their trade secrets.
I have always found that constructive networking opens doors, but its importance is often overlooked. When I was considering starting my practice, I was reminded of an old saying by a well-respected senior in the field. He said to me, “Young man, it’s not what you know but who you know”. That indeed was very instructive to me, and I never forgot it. Networking is about building relationships and making connections both of which go a long way in helping to build one’s reputation. I genuinely believe that the potential impact on your consultancy business is directly proportionate to the number of professional network contacts you have developed. Ideally therefore you should have a network in place and growing even before you start up your consultancy business.
Consultants often work with challenging work deadlines and unreasonable expectations from clients and therefore an acute ability to juggle tasks is needed. This still should never circumvent your ability to produce the absolute best work and positive outcomes for your clients.
A consultant needs good business acumen simply because it is a business at the end of the day. Accordingly, one must strictly adhere to all the legal and regulatory requirements of running a business in your field of practice. You therefore cannot ignore government bureaucracy and should be able to understand taxes, filing of company returns and alike. There is also a need to quickly acquire the skill and knowledge of effective tendering especially given the procurement requirements in place in both the public and private sectors.
All these skills ultimately support your engagement with a client and help build trust in the relationship. Always keep in mind that no matter the discipline, this is a people-driven business and you can only succeed with having the ability to calm clients concerns and by continuously showing value for the money you are being paid.