I entered the field of consulting somewhat by chance. At the time, I was working quite closely with my Master's supervisor, who invited me to collaborate on writing a book chapter along with one of his PhD students. The work was intense and had to be done over a very short period of time to meet our deadline. It turns out the PhD student was a partner in a great boutique consulting firm. He took a chance on me and, well, here we are 6+ years later: a very close-knit and dynamic team that I am proud to call my partners, colleagues, and work family.
I found consulting work to be both very exciting and quite esoteric at first... but once I learned the ropes and started joining my colleagues on projects, I really began to understand it deeply and love it. Ultimately, it was the team, the independence, the small business environment, and the varied work that kept me eager and devoted to the profession.
Several things. I love the freedom and flexibility to work outside of the “constraints”. We come into a project with a fresh pair of eyes, untainted and unfettered by workplace cultures, pressures, interpersonal dynamics and processes that constitute our clients' work worlds. We are able to get to work quickly, bringing together our knowledge, individual areas of expertise, and problem-solving skills with the sole aim of being of help.
I also love the variety and complexity of projects: at one time, we might be restructuring an organisational structure for a research-focused organisation; developing a performance measurement framework for a small, environmental protection group; helping a client launch a new professional development program; and evaluating a huge, multi-stakeholder, interdepartmental program. It's a lot of work and it's always fascinating. We really are privileged to work in an area where, by definition, we must constantly learn.
Finally, I love the interpersonal relationships that are built with every one of our clients, whether the connection is instant or must be built over time. Each relationship is meaningful to the project and deeply special on a personal level.
Something that I find really challenging is bridging or pushing through the barrier of the "traditional look and feel" of a consultant. There is definitely an expectation, both among the consultant world and from clients, of how a consultant should look. I am lucky to be lifted and supported by an incredible team who values skill, effort, and ability above all, but outside of that team, the "glass ceiling" is definitely thick. Making a crack in it takes an intentional and concerted effort.
I also spend a lot of time thinking about the concept of social corporate responsibility and ways in which we (all consultants) might increase our philanthropic, activist, or charitable work and impact. Unfortunately, some of the organisations, groups and initiatives that could benefit most from our work are the ones that cannot access our services, because that requires time, money, more mature organisational structures, etc. I would love to find ways to contribute more.
Two things really propel me: being challenged with an "impossible problem" that requires and allows me to express my creativity and contributing to work that has direct social, charitable, and/or environment impacts.
In one of my favourite projects, we had to evaluate a cyberbullying prevention/intervention app. This project was filled with question marks. First of all, the technology was from the US, leading to questions about information security and protection. None of the school boards we approached were willing to pilot the program, due to the perceived risk of increased liability. We had to find a way to engage youth, parents, and educators and come up with findings. All told, this project was made for me.
In response to these challenges, my colleague and I organised and conducted highly interactive focus group sessions: the youth we engaged were in the room with us testing the app, and the parents and educators were behind the screen, responding in real time. I was able to exercise my creativity and develop interactive skits and scenarios for the students to respond to (e.g. real time simulated iMessage and Whatsapp conversations, a totally fabricated Instagram account...). Our participants joined into the conversation and tested the app with candor, sensitivity, and real emotion. We were blown away by the results to this approach. I'm proud to say that we poured our hearts and creative energies into this project and it ended wonderfully.
My dad always said, “make yourself pleasant and useful.” His saying has a lot of merit. My energy, warmth, and perfectionism have both hindered me and helped me most in my career (as with everything, I’ve learned that balance and moderation are key). Above all, I aim to give my projects – and our organisation – all of my attention and effort. I hope it makes a difference.
At the risk of letting some of my eccentricity shine, I would definitely say 1) an herbal/medicinal field identification guide for the region and 2) my water filtration and purification kit. Perhaps I took this question a bit too literally, but my spouse and I are very deeply into camping and the off-grid outdoors and I am currently pursuing a degree in Herbalism. Sounds like a great challenge!
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