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Nurturing Talent

24 Jun

Creating an environment that is fun, flexible and fulfilling is essential to keeping young professionals engaged and committed

As published in Consulting Magazine, June 2013

http://www.consultingmag-digital.com/consultingmag/june_2013#pg24

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The sustained success of a management consulting firm is almost exclusively based on the continuous professional development of its people. The ability to attract, develop and retain young professionals is crucial to the long-term health and vitality of our firm, and of any other similarly structured firm.

The current generation of new consultants has been shaped by tumultuous times. The average new MBA was in high school on 9/11 and likely completed his or her undergraduate studies just as the global financial crisis was unfolding. These events and the macro-economic environments that they created shape the world view of young professionals. While there remains a tremendous collective anxiety on the economic front, new consultants are looking for more than just job security. They want to create a better, more secure and more stable world.

While these young professionals are ambitious, the odds of a new college graduate or recent MBA making it to the partner level are not good. In most firms this is an eight to ten year journey with a success rate of less than five percent. The reasons people leave the profession are well-known. Some fall out because they fail to develop the skills or lack the intellectual horsepower to be promoted. The “up or out” model is still prevalent in the industry. Other individuals decide that the lifestyle is not for them and opt for a job without the constant travel and long hours.

How then do we create an environment in the industry that attracts outstanding young professionals, allows them to develop rapidly and, most importantly, keeps them engaged on the long road to becoming a partner?

Our investment in the development of young people doesn’t always show up directly in the firm’s financial reports, but it is up there with new client acquisition as the most expensive — and most important — function of the firm. Attracting, developing and retaining young professionals require the leaders of the firm to create a work environment that is fun, flexible and fulfilling.

Hire Fun People and Create a Fun Environment

The idea that working in consulting should be fun is certainly not new. The “work hard, play hard” ethos was imprinted on us very early in our careers. The work we do for clients is very serious, but that doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy ourselves and the company of our colleagues while we go about our daily duties.

Hiring fun people that pass the “pizza test” is the first step in creating this environment. Would you really want to spend fourteen hours a day locked in a conference room with someone that you wouldn’t want to go get a pizza with afterward?

Once a firm hires fun people, it can retain talent for the long haul by helping its employees view the firm as a social network. There is a strong positive correlation between those people that routinely show up for Friday afternoon happy hour and those that make it to partner. When you work with your closest friends and have fun doing work you love, it is pretty hard to walk away. Working hard is a natural part of a career in consulting. The leaders of the firm should encourage and facilitate the “play hard” component of the equation and make sure that our teams are enjoying themselves.

Making sure that eager, energetic and fun young consultants have a good time is not that difficult. It might involve leaving the client at 6 p.m. once a month for team bowling or taking off a little early every once in a while for some “pau hana” festivities. With a little imagination we can almost always come up with something to celebrate. (National Margarita Day is February 22 and my birthday is on November 20if you need an excuse to party.)

Create a Flexible Work Environment

Young professionals are also looking for flexibility in their jobs. Delivering on this objective means moving away from the rigidity of work and travel schedules that tend to be the norm in consulting. The easiest way to accomplish this is to provide our teams the autonomy to negotiate a schedule that meets client demands and provides flexibility for each of the members of the team. An occasional week working from home or fewer nights on the road can be the difference between a sustainable career and our industry’s most valuable people looking for the exit.

Flexibility extends to liberal personal time off and sabbatical policies. We might even question why we have vacation policies. Doesn’t the individual utilization metric give us the information we need about each consultant’s contribution to the financial health of the firm? Are we just being ironic when we refer to time between assignments as being “on the beach?” We all need time to go to the dentist, get the oil changed and attend a child’s school play. Providing our young professionals with the autonomy to make their own decisions regarding how they get their work done will go a long way to improving retention.

Help Young Professionals Find Purpose in Their Work

Finally, young professionals are seeking fulfillment in their work. Having come of age in an era where their exceptionalism has been called into question, they want to know that their life’s work has meaning. When candidates are evaluating career opportunities, they are not just looking at compensation and career path; they are asking hard questions about the purpose of the firm itself. If we can cast the work we do in the industry in a manner that promotes growth, global competitiveness and sustainability, we will be a more attractive home for this generation of professional.

Creating outlets for community service within the firm and providing time off for individuals to pursue their passions outside of work are both avenues to addressing the need for fulfillment in a career. Taking on an occasional pro bono assignment for a non-profit is a great way to harness the intellectual horsepower and energy of the firm in a manner that serves the consultant as well as the client.

Fun, flexibility and fulfillment will go a long way to improving our ability to attract and retain young professionals. People are attracted to consulting because of the diversity of experiences available in most firms, the rapid development potential and the excitement of a fast paced lifestyle. Keeping them engaged and committed on the multi-year path to partner is the challenge. Our younger professionals are seeking direction, yet they crave autonomy and flexibility. They are willing to work hard when presented with opportunities for development, especially when those opportunities serve a greater purpose.

It is a trite truism that people are our most valuable asset. In consulting, they are often our only asset. Proactively increasing the value of these assets through development and retention of young professionals is one of our most strategic objectives. We should do a little consulting to ourselves and make sure we are adapting the industry to ensure the future generation of partners stays committed to the profession.

Favorite Things of 2012

1 Jan

Kalypsonian of the Year

10 Sep

I get a lot of email. On rare occasions, I get an email that has a meaningful impact on my life.

Seven years ago a former colleague of mine sent me such an email. It was a short note referring his younger cousin as a potential candidate for our new and growing innovation consulting firm. She didn’t have much to offer in the way of relevant business experience, but my friend assured me that she had a strong character and was willing to work hard to make a difference. We needed help, and she didn’t make much money, so we took a chance and offered her a job.

We’ve made a lot of mistakes over the years. Hiring Pamela Soin is not one of them. She joined the team as a smart, inexperienced young lady a couple of years out of college and quickly made herself indispensable. In the intervening years we have traveled the world together, serving clients in exciting cities like Seoul, Sydney, San Diego, Amsterdam and even Appleton, Wisconsin. We have shared a lot of laughs, a lot of love, and more than a few tears.

Watching her grow into an accomplished professional advisor with personal eminence and business stature has been one the great privileges of my career. Some moments in life create indelible memories. My repertoire of stories from a twenty-year career in consulting is pretty large. Pam is the principal actor in many of the best and funniest stories I have in my collection. She is one of the original Kalypso “characters with character”.

The Kalypsonian of the Year award is reserved each year for the team member that embodies the ideals of the Kalypso consultant; that leader behind the leader that demonstrates a healthy lack of respect for hierarchy and positional authority. Pamela Soin believes that innovation combined with action can change the world for the better. She is passionate about what she does and knows how to have fun at work – and after. Most importantly, she genuinely cares about the success of her colleagues and goes to extraordinary lengths to help them. Pam is a true professional and a personal role model for us all.

After seven years I am honored to call her a colleague, a friend, and our 2012 Kalypsonian of the Year.

KARMA

8 Sep

In late August of 2005 a small band of characters gathered in Austin, Texas to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the founding of their innovation consulting firm. Kalypso had just completed its first year and we were still alive. We were an ambitious bunch with dreams of changing the world and the consulting industry. In reality, we had no idea what we were doing. We weren’t making much money, but we were certainly having fun.

This weekend we are celebrating our eighth year of craziness at Kalypso’s KARMA 2012 in Washington, DC. We have moved from the capital of Texas to the capital of the United States. (Some would say that is a step down.) There are 130 people here from countries all over the world and the energy and enthusiasm is infectious. The Kalypso Difference is on display as our work hard, play hard mantra is put to the test. The two major political party conventions have nothing on this event. I’d vote for us.

What is KARMA? Well, karma is what you make it. For me, Kalypso’s KARMA is a celebration of our shared values, a recommitment to our mission of delivering on the promise of innovation, and an opportunity to spend some quality time with our colleagues and closest friends. I love every minute of it.

The story of Kalypso is the story of its people. The annual human histogram at KARMA highlights the dynamic growth of the firm and is a source of tremendous pride in the accomplishments and development of our team. We celebrate promotions, recognize success, and announce the recipient of the coveted “Kalypsonian of the Year” award. Who will it be this year?

KARMA is still what you make it. This year we are making it bigger and better than ever. We continue our quest to change the world and the industry is taking note. Let your voice be heard. Vote Kalypso!

Evolving with PLM

8 May

The enterprise product lifecycle management (PLM) software market is entering its third decade of life. The vision of the leading PLM solution providers has evolved dramatically since the early 90s, while the capabilities of the software platforms have continued to expand and improve. The early sales pitches and solutions were almost entirely centered on engineering workgroups and document management. Over the last ten years, the PLM software industry has gone through a consolidation phase and has seen significant R&D investment in PLM platforms. Today, companies have the opportunity to take advantage of mature, integrated enterprise solutions with modern user interfaces. The value proposition is now truly cross-functional and PLM has emerged as a respected enterprise software domain that is a source of competitive advantage for companies that harness its power.

These platforms support the end-to-end innovation cycle from the definition of requirements through after-sales service and support. The systems facilitate industry best practice process optimization and workflow configurations that can be implemented “out of the box.” Solutions have also improved bottom to top with more seamless integration to heterogeneous CAD environments up through innovation portfolio management and performance analytics that connect the engineer’s desktop to the executive suite. In essence, we have gone from a stripped-down utilitarian commuter vehicle to a high-powered Italian sports car.

In addition to the core functionality of managing bills of material and engineering change, today’s PLM solutions are easier to use and have developing capabilities that enable innovation by addressing:

  • Requirements management and traceability across hardware and software development
  • New product development stage-gate process, program, resource and portfolio management
  • Product and component cost management, often with supplier management functionality
  • Systems engineering and the integration of mechanical, electrical and software development
  • Manufacturing process design including simulation and validation linked to product engineering
  • Connection with internal and external supply chain and enterprise resource planning systems
  • Social collaboration and community tools for global information sharing and problem solving
  • Comprehensive product quality management including CAPA and statistical analysis tools
  • Environmental and regulatory compliance based on product content and sources of supply
  • Integration of product packaging, labeling and artwork with underlying product information
  • Management of technical publications and information for after-market service functions
  • Product and process performance dashboards and analysis tools for continuous improvement

In some cases, these new capabilities were built into the core Product Data Management (PDM) product and are available to existing customers with no additional licensing fees. However, all of this new functionality has made implementations more cross-functional, and therefore more complicated. This makes a comprehensive PLM strategy and plan for your enterprise more important than ever.

Find out how to take advantage of the power of PLM by reading the rest of this viewpoint on the Kalypso website by clicking here http://kalypso.com/viewpoints/resource/evolving-with-product-lifecycle-management/.

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