How my love-hate relationship with Consulting keeps me in Consulting
Where’s the ladder?
Fyi, when I reference Consulting I’m including Corporate. I prefer Consulting since that is my daily bread. In simple terms, Consulting is built on selling time to an individual or organisation that needs an opinion on a topic of interest or help changing a certain part of their business. The need comes from constraints said individual or organisation experiences that keeps them from making the time investment themselves.
Consultants, as executioners of the trade are called, provide services and expertise across Supply Chain, Manufacturing, Social Transformation, and Technology, etc, overlapping in various industries such as Telecomms, Financial Services, Energy, and more. The essence of a consultant is to be a jack of all trades and master of a few - this is what drew me to Consulting.
Consulting gives me butterflies and ambiguity
It was love at first sight. Consulting was a gift that could offer something different every time I unwrapped it. I was involved in many different activities during my Honours year; Consulting made me realise that I didn’t have to choose one over the other. This “gift bag” could reveal a mystery prize every time I asked.
Back in 2017, I struggled to understand Consulting. It was draining and left me feeling hopeless on many occasions. Surprisingly, I was determined to fit into Consulting. I had a point to prove and I put in the work. Two years later in January 2020, I was swiping into the premises of a multinational professional services firm - I did it, I was officially a consultant.
My consulting journey has been rich - I’ve worked in different industries, travelled frequently across South Africa, co-created value-adding solutions for clients, and created a personal brand as a trusted and skilled consultant. I’ve also developed valuable skills I apply in my personal life such as negotiation and communication. My consulting journey has moved through three phases:
In and out of phases
As a senior associate with three-and-a-half years of experience, I repeatedly fall back on my experience to navigate new scenarios, fast paced clients, and solve important problems efficiently - with my current focus on developing my operational management and mentorship skills.
Consulting has been rewarding and given me more than I could have hoped for - notably, the professional growth, the relationships I’ve formed, and the brand I’ve created for myself.
Takeoff needs momentum
Tugging between yin and yang
My affinity for Consulting usually means I’m eager to dedicate more time to improving my Consulting ability. This time demand becomes long nights, a compressed social life, and declining wellness. Coping with these daily pressures gives me a chance to participate in my Consulting career, rather than being a passenger.
My Consulting journey has been punctuated by thrilling wins, painful lows, and a resilience that had no choice but to become firm. I’ve built up coping strategies that link my physical and mental wellness through physical training, meditation, and social recharging. Once I started coping with the rigours of Consulting, I was able to focus on thriving and being a world class consultant. This is one of my favourite things about Consulting; you can thrive and become world class - all it takes is a stunning amount of effort along with a journey mindset.
There’s a price to new possibilities
But don’t forget, Consulting has a steep price - make sacrifices, work hard and you’ll be rewarded. No brainer right?! It’s natural to work hard, but difficult to maintain when the finish line and rules of the game keep changing. This won’t be obvious and might manifest as extended time away from loved ones, unreasonable project deadlines or responsibilities, prioritising clients over staff, a leadership tone of “accept and move on”, microaggressions that are handled poorly, and a culture that is talked about but not practised. This is always complicated by the emotional effort required to deliver work and remain steady without falling apart.
When you do manage to put together an admirable hustle, the reward you sacrificed so much and so far for isn’t guaranteed! The ambiguity of Consulting is a double-edge sword.
Consulting can, and must do better
Change the price
If you’ve watched Championship Mode Collective’s What the Dark Side of Consulting Looks Like, you understand that some traits of Consulting can’t be traded away - Consulting gives and Consulting takes, but perhaps Consulting can “take” in a way that stretches performance without breaking individuals.
Here are four ways that Consulting can become a more manageable industry for talent retention. This should be driven by both leadership and staff.
Be objective instead of making excuses. Excuses are opposite to accountability. Once accountability goes, subjectivity dominates and leads to a false sense of security. Don’t let excuses be the norm. But rather, objectively interrogate the investments, human capital, and impact of the organisation at an individual, team, and organisation level
Don’t get defensive but rather listen when your staff speak. Consultants like to explain things away, especially when it reflects poorly on the organisation. Remember, be objective. Listening without prejudice creates an additional layer of feedback organisation’s can use to empower and maximise their human capital
Leave timesheets in the past, that’s where it belongs. A lot of value-based organisations still track time and billable hours. This is counter-intuitive to being a value-based organisation. Time shouldn’t be the main measure of revenue as this creates conflict between short-term benefits and long-term investments. Again, listen to your people and understand how they spend their time. Only then can you appropriately measure their impact (based on their roles, responsibilities, and future ambitions)
Prepare future consultants for the rigours of Consulting. The difficulties of Consulting are unavoidable. Rather than accepting the status quo or downplaying the significance, organisations should prepare their staff for the realities of Consulting.
It’s important to realise that Consulting might not be considerate to change - that’s the nature of the beast. It might ask “Why change when I’m not broken?” and carry on churning. This is why preparing for the rigours of Consulting is a must. Even if the first three points don’t materialise, jumping [and existing] into Consulting will be better with a parachute - you just have to find yours and wear it.
Consulting still holds me down
A fading light
I don’t plan on leaving Consulting any time soon! Consulting is my bread and butter. The personal and professional growth, client exposure, and problem solving ability I’ve inherited from Consulting is first rate. Consulting remains a highly rewarding career, but only with sacrifice that keeps asking more and more of you. In the long-term, I won’t be able to keep this up; Consulting is definitely a good-time-but-not-a-long-time arrangement...I can’t say for sure what’s next if I do leave Consulting but blogging and content creation are my two biggest passions at the moment. It’s safe to say it would be one of the two, or maybe neither…
But while we’re still here in Consulting, we’re gonna make it count - by being the change we want to see in Consulting.
What about you? Are you creating the change you want to see in your respective industry or work affiliation?
Irrespective of your industry or work affiliation, if you resonate with this energy, keep tuning in to The Consulting Diaries (season 1, season 2, season 3) on Championship Mode Collective to remain inspired and motivated. Stay in Championship Mode.