When it comes to management consulting, the expertise that you have developed as an independent consultant is probably just as important as the interpersonal skills you have learnt, or been naturally gifted with. So, whether you’re looking to change course, or looking to augment the skills you already have, these are the skills that make a good management consultant, great.
Ability to work in a team
A typical interview question, we recognise. But what does it truly mean to work in a team. We’ll tell you what it’s not. Working in a team is not about purely trying to convince others that your idea is the best solution. Working in a team does not always mean that you’ll be accepted immediately (especially as an “outsider”). Working in a team brings its own set of challenges. So – although you may work well in a team who accepts you, what do you do when you aren’t?
The Happy Manager defines teamwork as “the willingness of a group of people to work together to achieve a common aim.” As an independent consultant, it’s likely that you don’t already belong to that team. So, while you may work well within a team environment, your biggest challenge may lie in being accepted into that group first, and being recognised as someone who is not there to upset, but rather as a dedicated person working to achieve the best for your client’s organisation.
So, before you tick that box, it may be worth looking at new ways to establish trust, build relationships and shorten the amount of time it takes to become part of the team – especially when the odds are stacked against you.
Creativity and innovation
Your role, as the management consultant is to help your client to solve an issue, create value, maximise growth and improve business performance. You use your business skills to provide objective advice and expertise and help an organisation to develop any specialist skills that it may be lacking.
We know that no two organisations are the same. Yes, many organisations share the same challenges and face the same uncertainties – but every circumstance is unique. There is a unique team, with unique individuals behind those teams. There is a unique client requirement with their own unique agenda. It takes a well-versed management consultant to draw on their knowledge, training and more importantly, their own experiences, to think creatively to turn challenge into opportunity.
Not naturally innovative? Or feel that you may have lost your Innovation mojo? Annabel Acton gives some great advice for finding your innovative spark again, and it starts by turning “I can’t” into “I can”. Innovation is not something you lose – it’s something that you simply need to keep working on, and practicing.
Problem-solving & strategic planning
Similar to keeping up your innovation power, problem-solving is a skill that is constantly growing, being shaped and moulded by the challenging situations you face as an independent consultant. No doubt, the mere fact that you decided to take the path as an independent worker, brought along its own sense of challenges, which you have, and probably still, work through, overcome and solve. So problem-solving, as a management consulting skill is one that you would probably have no issue with. Probably very closely linked to developing your innovation skills, problem solving and strategic planning is a meal best served by thinking laterally, using language that creates possibility, simplifying the challenges you face, viewing problems neutrally and keeping an open mind.
Using your assets (and they may include your own experience, your team’s knowledge, your executive leadership’s insight, their clients’ feedback, the data supporting or highlighting the challenge and opportunity), problem-solving is simply about reverting back to what you know, what you have at your disposal, and the opportunity or outcome that you desire to achieve – and then plotting the best route to get there.
We recently spoke to a great independent consultant who summed this up perfectly for us. May says, “Consultants deal with data. That’s what most of us do, most of the time. But without the reality of a story, data is useless. That’s why you need a consultant who can read the story behind the data and who takes the time to getting to know the organisations they work with and the teams of people they work alongside, to develop and identify the story which ultimately defines the path of that organisation, and gives them a chance to change the story, and reach their business goals”. And she sums it up perfectly.
Setting a destination for your client cannot be fictional. They could be betting the success or failure of their business, on your suggestion – so it’s critical that you don't get it wrong. (No pressure). But one that that seldom lies, is data. Data in raw unformatted self, is not a pretty thing to look at. What does become something to look at, is the story that unfolds as a result of the raw data, that enables you, in partnership with your client, to plot the road to success.
Katy Huang sums up a flexible approach to consulting perfectly. She says, “What I discovered quickly as an independent consultant is that it’s critical for you to work according to your client’s environment and pace of work. You have to adapt to their company culture and build a relationship with them so that you are able to deliver the success they need, and which suits their culture and pace of work. You also have to adapt to the speed of change within that organisation. In some businesses, you may be expected to deliver something within 2 days, and in others, it may take a week for a decision to be reached. What has been good about my training and foundation with McKinsey is that I have been trained to work at a quick pace – which means, that for my clients, I’m never the bottleneck when things need to be done. I simply get things done”.
Ability to cope with pressure and challenges
Coping under pressure is something that is a rather glibly, thrown-around phrase which holds so much more power than what we give it credit for. The ability to cope under pressure is certainly not referring to a semi-conscious, meditative, zen-like state, but rather a clear, focussed, can-do approach; one that can eliminate noise and listen for integral information that will help you to achieve your client’s desired outcome.
The ability to cope with pressure is not the destination, it’s a skill en-route to reaching project success. And if you know how to focus on your goal, the ability to cope under pressure will be something you don’t necessarily give a second thought to.
However, and we do recognise that this happens, there will be times when you are required to focus on the challenge that lies immediately ahead of you – whether you face an unhappy board or exec team, whether you face a difficult decision, whether you face economic upset, maintaining your composure, and bring it all back to your determination to reach project success for your client – will no doubt result in an organic and natural dissolve of upset. After all – you’re there to do a job, and deliver what your client needs. That’s pretty much the most important thing you need to focus on.