When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. – Wayne Dyer
If you’re trying to build a business or just get ahead in your career how should you think about your job?
Should you turn up and expect to be given work to do and told what sort of training you need?
Or can you take the initiative and figure out what you can do to add value?
But that’s not easy, especially if you’re early in your career or trying to change roles. It can be hard even if you’ve been in a job for a while and get given more responsibility.
Change usually starts, however, with a change in mindset and it might help to start with a model of how a consultant might operate.
Let’s say you go into an organisation as a consultant: it doesn’t matter what kind – marketing, IT, sales – what is it you’re trying to do?
Clients don’t always know what they want or need
It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that most people don’t really have a clear idea of what they want or need.
Only the simplest problems can be reduced in that way – most real problems are more complex and there is no right answer.
So one skill you have to develop is to listen to what clients say they want and try to figure out if that’s what they need.
That’s where your experience comes in – and your skill at educating them on the difference between the two.
Look at the big picture
Your value really comes from your ability to look at the big picture – to see how the various elements in the business operate and spot the cracks and flaws and missing pieces.
It’s very easy to get draw into the detail and miss what’s really going on.
And you can only do that by keeping your eyes open and trying to look at the situation from multiple perspectives.
You need to understand the people involved
Perspectives live in people’s minds – and you have to talk to them to see what’s going on.
Whenever there are people working together there is politics – the tensions and fears and desires are always there, simmering below the surface and occasionally bubbling over.
You’ve got to understand the people and figure out which ones matter in which way and how to keep them engaged and informed.
Communication is oxygen
The way you keep people informed and engaged is by communicating – not just for the sake of communicating but because you want them to understand what is going on and tell you early whether they think you’re on the right track or see problems.
Many people won’t speak up until it’s too late – and they won’t speak up unless they feel it’s safe to do so.
All too often you think you’re doing a great job only to find later that other people had a completely different idea of what you were doing.
Suggest a way forward
As a consultant you’re there for your advice – for your thoughts on which direction to go in.
And that means you need to have an idea – based on research and analysis – for what needs to be done next at each stage of the process.
You have to look up from the work, look around and point where you need to go to next.
Be a professional
What does it mean to be a professional?
One way to look at it is that you’re being paid.
But a more important way to look at it is that you’ve committed to deliver – to get the job done.
You’re taking responsibility – a personal one – to see the job through and not just abandon it because the going is tough or things aren’t working out.
Being a professional is about showing up even on the days when you don’t feel like it.
Everyone is a consultant in knowledge work
Work is increasingly about applying knowledge – and that is what consultants do.
If you see yourself – even if you’re employed full time – as a consultant to your employer then you’ll see yourself differently.
You’ll look for ways to add value – even if that means persuading people and changing the system.
And that skill is not a bad one to have.
The concepts in this post are based on the paper “Consultant or entrepreneur? Demystifying the war for talent” by Stephen Stumph and Walter Tymon Jr.