Standing out the "Wrong" Way
Throughout your career as a consultant, there will be times when you feel invisible. You are consistently passed over for assignments - even the safe, routine, low exposure ones. Your company's busy season suddenly plateaus and your HR manager asks you to take a forced vacation. Or you are only given administrative duties - just like when you first started and you billed all your hours to "Xeroxing." Yet everyone else looks busy and avoids the mandatory time off and the grunt work. Indeed, there is always that one consultant who gets assigned multiple engagements, while you lack even one. Naturally, you wonder what makes you different and whether the resume needs an update.
The Difference Begin with research. Think about why others remain undisturbed in their cubicles during low business cycles. Contemplate why they bill their hours to "professional development" or "practice development." In the meantime, no one sees the value you offer besides knowing how to operate the coffee maker and copy machines. Perhaps they score higher on their performance evaluations. Maybe clients refuse to hire your firm unless the same team they used last time is available. Or maybe they just dress better or use a more advanced vocabulary. It's up to you to determine what makes them different.
Often, performance and client parameters are not what really determine your rank in your organization. Instead, your image prompts how others perceive you. And based on these perceptions, your management and clients react accordingly. Therefore, if you project the image of a despondent consultant who has been languishing on the beach for a month, your perceived value plunges. But, project the face of an enthusiastic consultant doing something to improve your situation, and management will suddenly help you find the opportunities.
Standing out the "Right" Way Changing one person's perception of you can be difficult, but trying to manage multiple people's perception of you can be daunting. Break down your image one piece at a time and replace each piece boldly. Doing it surreptitiously works too, but it takes much longer and poses a greater risk that no one will notice. ~ First, understand what it means to be a "Go To" consultant of choice. These consultants commonly exhibit numerous behavioral traits that characterize them as star performers:
- Both peers and management consider her an expert on a specific and highly valuable subject. Often, very few people are experts, or no one else with this knowledge is available. Clients request her presence by name. Industry or specialty associations also request her by name for guest speaking. She always has a publishing project underway for journals, magazines, or books.
- The "Go To" consultant capably multitasks, which, at times, can be demanding and consist of many complex tasks and assignments. This consultant manages her time and consistently produces reliable work early or on time with few or no revisions required. Also, she rarely needs direction after the initial explanation of an assignment.
- When the budget is threatened because the client presents an unanticipated change in direction, the "Go To" consultant has the answers. She provides creative and ingenious solutions to every type of engagement problem.
- The "Go To" consultant also knows how to resolve conflicts expeditiously. She understands all sides of the conflict from each side's perspective and skillfully explains each of these viewpoints. People know she can persuade others to look at the situation through other vantage points and that she can dexterously facilitate reconciliation.
- The "Go To" consultant knows her career improvement is self-managed. She seeks new challenges and provides creative ideas with consistently high implementation records. She pursues these challenges unprompted by anyone else and meets them successfully.
- During periods of change, the "Go To" consultant maintains the highest performance level. Regardless of where the change occurs, whom it involves, and its nature, performance exceeds expectations. She is persuasive and has significant positive influence on the performance of others during periods of low morale. This person motivates and inspires.
~ This list is not comprehensive. There are many other patterns that draw everyone to certain consultants. In every case, everyone identifies this consultant as the "Go To" consultant of choice, because she is more than reliable. She is perceived as more mature, more capable, and more desirable. Managers and clients feel their teams are certain to succeed beyond expectations when this consultant is involved. Even if teams associated with this consultant perform on par with other teams, the perception of success lingers. And even on the rare occasions that this consultant falters, no one notices and/or forgiveness comes easily.
Hone your Image
Turn every disappointment into an opportunity. Read, for example, every document someone asks you to photocopy and incorporate it into your next conversation with her. Volunteer for tasks, even if they appear mundane, and find a creative way to exhibit your ingenuity through them. Create a program of interest to the department. Organize training for your peers and/or clients, and be the trainer. Other good starts include:
- Research a topic in which your company needs a specialist, and become that specialist. Read your major newspapers and industry publications and interject what you learn into your conversations and reports. Enroll for formal training in this area. Create documents helpful to the rest of the organization - like an engagement guide for specialty engagements.
- Start with your company's HR manual. Review your job description versus that of the next level. Select a few key criteria for promotion that you know you can demonstrate on future engagements. Talk with your manager prior to every engagement and make sure she is aware of your ambition. Tell her which specific promotion criteria you selected. Document all of your accomplishments, so that you can prove you successfully met the criteria selected.
- Find a mentor and talk with her. Get insight on how your mentor made it to the top. Submit a written list of accomplishments to her. Ask her to help promote your name at management meetings by highlighting from this list. Develop an action plan with your mentor for your next accomplishment.
Building a stellar track record takes time. When it seems no one wants to give you a chance, then find or make one and take it for yourself. There are lots of ways to do this, but always brim with enthusiasm in every situation. A positive attitude is the beginning of how people perceive you. And remember - if you feel better about yourself, you look better too.