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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.

Stelos Scholars

16 May

2013 Stelos Scholars

The Stelos Alliance Awards Banquet was held on Sunday, April 28th in San Marcos. We had about 70 people attend the event where we awarded scholarships to exceptional student leaders from Texas State.

Stelos proudly leads the effort to raise money for a number of annual awards that benefit Texas State students. The scholarships include the Bill Hogue Memorial, John Garrison Leadership Award, Tommy Raffen Memorial, Student Foundation Scholarships, Chi Omega Virginia Moore Scholarship, and the Housley Principled Leadership Awards.

We also began a fellowship program this year. Students selected as Stelos Fellows create a paid, semester-long internship with the Stelos Alliance that is customized to best suit their individual career objectives.

This is the 23rd year that the Bill Hogue Memorial Scholarship has been awarded to a member of the Texas State Student Foundation. The recipient this year is another outstanding student leader, Ryan Gates. Ryan will be graduating with honors this May with dual Bachelor of Science degrees in Mathematics and Biochemistry. He currently serves as the Vice President of Administration for Student Foundation and has been a member since 2010. His GPA of 3.89 kept him on the Dean’s List every semester of his college career. His older brother Stephen received the same scholarship two years ago. The Gates do it right.

We recognized another five members of Student Foundation with scholarship awards:

  • Danielle Bonanno graduates this May with a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice and starts law school in the fall. She also won a Housley Principled Leadership Award this spring.
  • Nathan McDaniel will be graduating August 2013 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science. Nathan completed the Housley Principled Leadership Program as a sophomore in 2011.
  • Ashley Brown is graduating this May with a Bachelor of Public Administration degree.
  • Devan Reynolds graduates in May with a Bachelor of Public Administration degree.
  • Terrile Murphy also graduates in May with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology.

The John Garrison Leadership Award recipient is Lindsey Hendrix. Lindsey graduates in May with a Bachelor of Science degree in Communication Disorders. She served as the Executive Assistant in the Associated Student Government and was an active member of Student Foundation. She went through the very first edition of the Housley Principled Leadership Program back in 2011.

This is our fourth year to award the Tommy Raffen Memorial Scholarship and this year’s recipient is Andrew Henley. Andrew is graduating in August 2013 with a Bachelor of Public Administration degree. He currently serves as the Executive Vice President of Student Foundation, as well as, Senate Pro Tempore for the Associated Student Government. Andrew is a Housley grad and was a Stelos Fellow this spring.

This year, we were proud to award the Virginia Moore Chi Omega Scholarship for the second time. The recipient of this award is Mindy Green. Mindy is currently majoring in Public Relations at Texas State University. She is an active member of Chi Omega, where she currently serves as the sorority’s Scholarship Chairwoman. Mindy was a star in the Housley Principled Leadership Program this semester.

The Housley Principled Leadership Program continues to grow. We conducted the class in both the fall and spring this academic year and had over 60 Texas State students complete the course. These are amazing students. For the past two years both the President and Vice President of ASG have been through the program; Nathan McDaniel, Alison Sibley, Vanessa Cortez, and Eddie Perez are all graduates, as are a large number of ASG senators. We are proud of all that they are accomplishing during their time on campus.

The following eight student leaders participated in Housley in either the fall or the spring and received scholarship awards for their active participation and contributions to the success of the course:

  • Karli Koerner is currently majoring in Communication Studies at Texas State University. Karli was also a Stelos Fellow this spring doing marketing, event planning and Housley coordination.
  • Adam Odomore is currently majoring in International Relations at Texas State University. He was the only freshman in Housley last fall and is simply an extraordinary young man.
  • Danielle Bonanno graduates this May with a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice. She is also a Student Foundation Scholarship recipient and future Supreme Court justice.
  • Taylor Dorn is graduating this May with a Bachelor of Science in Geology.
  • Loic Hamilton graduated this past December with a bachelor’s degree in Accounting.
  • Kameron Fehrmann is currently majoring in Communication Design at Texas State University.
  • Ryan Elliot is currently majoring in International Studies at Texas State University.
  • Jamie Lahiere also graduates in May with a Bachelor of Business Administration in Management.

We are extremely proud of these young leaders and are amazed by their character, commitment to service, enthusiasm, and incredible accomplishments.  They will all go on to do great things and make us proud. Please join me in both congratulating and thanking them for all they have done for Texas State.

Roots

22 Sep

“The roots of my raising run deep.” – Merle Haggard

I confess that I am a middle-class white kid from a small town with two parents that are still married and love me very much. This isn’t a great start for an “up by your own bootstraps” kind of life story. I am not my own sculptor. There were – and are – many people heavily invested in shaping the person that I am.

All of this was brought into focus yesterday as we kicked off the fall edition of the Housley Principled Leadership Program. I learn so much from teaching. The first class attempts to increase self-awareness by exploring the familial sources of the most marked characteristics of our personalities. Here are mine.

Extreme Work Ethic – My paternal grandfather was a welder that built many of the buildings that make up the Houston skyline and later in life ran his own shop until he was physically unable. My other grandfather ran the dairy farm where I grew up. Up at 4:00am seven days a week, he set a very visible example of what it means to truly toil. From drilling rigs in high school and full-time graveyard work in college to managing hotels and management consulting, 70 to 80 hour, six-day work weeks have been normal for me for thirty years. A 60-hour week feels like a vacation. If you are not comfortable with that pace, you can thank my grandfathers.

Academic Excellence – At report card time, a “B” has always been completely unacceptable. I received the gift of high academic expectations from my grandmothers. In a highly unusual coincidence for young women in the 1920s and 1930s, both of them went to college and one of them went on to teach alongside my mother for close to thirty years. I know that the fact that I did not follow her to the Rice Institute broke her heart. This probably compels me to study even more. So when my kids accuse me of going all “crazy Asian mom” on them about their grades, they can blame my grandmothers.

Responsibility & Reliability – My father has three boys. As the oldest, I watched him work to provide for us kids very early in his career. He taught me that any job worth doing is worth doing well. He is a stickler and a perfectionist when it comes to follow through. He used the word “half-assed” to describe the results of most of my chores and then invited me to do them over and over until his standards were met. I soon learned to do it right the first time. Accepting responsibility and then reliably delivering on commitments with excellence is a lesson I learned from my dad.

Fun & Adventurous Spirit – With fifteen or so siblings in my grandparent’s generation all centered in the same small town, the family tree had exploded by the time my many cousins and I were coming of age. Family get-togethers often had over 100 people. My mother was a force of love and fun in these events. As a teacher she also had the habit of throwing us all in the station wagon and traveling across the country every summer. The explorer and adventurer in me comes from my mother. The desire to have fun and create meaningful relationships while working hard is the result of the “work hard, play hard” ethos that permeated my early life. Thanks Mom!

We are all products of our raising. Mine included tremendous advantages. There is no such thing as a “self-made man.” The roots of my raising run deep. These examples give me the strength that I need.

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.

Stelos Alliance Awards

29 Apr

We are wrapping up another great academic year tonight with the Stelos Alliance Awards banquet. We have the incredible honor to reward fourteen extraordinary student leaders for their service with scholarships and fellowships. They are the “stars” and it is our mission to make them shine brighter.

Tonight we will also honor four professionals for creating opportunities for these super stars. The inaugural Stelos Alliance Awards celebrate individuals and their organizations that support our mission by providing post-graduate opportunities for dynamic young people who assume the responsibilities of leadership while in college. The recipients cultivate a workplace that empowers young leaders and nurtures them through those first crucial years of their careers. The first award recipients are:

Each of these deserving award winners will have someone that they have mentored speak on their behalf at the banquet. I can’t wait to hear what they have to say. Thank you from all of us and those stars that you have made shine brighter.

I would also like to express my gratitude for Kim Brewskie Booker and Sandler Training for sponsoring this evening’s event. When we half-heartedly put out a general request for an underwriter, Kim said yes within fifteen minutes. Her faith in the mission of the Stelos Alliance is appreciated by us all. Thank you.

This is the fun stuff. Honoring, recognizing, awarding, and shining a light on the great work that these students and professionals do every single day. I can’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday night.

Shine Bright!

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