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Sophisticated clients, high-level responsibility, and dynamic teams: these items top the wish lists of most candidates seeking consulting positions. And for very good reason—working alongside high-caliber colleagues on the most cutting-edge work provides invaluable experiences.
But there is one often-forgotten area that job candidates should also prioritize when assessing consulting firms (or any employers for that matter): training—more specifically, holistic training.
Holistic training doesn’t merely address the practical skills a person needs to complete his or her job; it goes beyond those to consider the person as a whole—their experience level, their specific concerns, their relationships, their learning style, and more—to provide them with the tools they need to excel.
In developing its current training program, Putnam Associates embraced a holistic approach. According to Ben Diop, Principal at Putnam, the firm asked itself, “How can we make sure that everyone gets the kind of support and tools they need to be 100% engaged every day at work?
This question was particularly important to Putnam because it grooms consultants to stay with the firm long-term. And it should be equally important to jobseekers as they consider a firm’s commitment to employee growth and development.
Some holistic-development areas that jobseekers may want to consider as they search for the right firm are tiered training, relationship building, and—most importantly—employee input.
Tiered Leadership Training
Clients who hire top consulting firms expect the brightest minds. But they also demand impeccable service and a team that is ready to hit the ground running. The firm must provide its consultants with the practical know-how to tackle assignments. Whether it’s in-house sessions, role play, interactive programs, or outside-expert presentations, consulting firms may implement various tools to arm employees with the requisite skills needed.
Not all trainings are equal, however, and tailoring training to consultants’ needs and experience levels can add major value.
“In recent years, we fine-tuned the kinds of training we’ve done for very specific levels,” says Diop. “Having a tiered approach to the training helps address developmental needs that an employee may face at various stages of their career, rather than going through the same process year over year”
In a consultant’s first year, they typically receive technical training on how to structure a case, how to write discussion guides, conduct interviews, and perform in-depth quantitative analysis. But many consulting firms stop at this point and fail to offer advanced training for more senior consultants. Putnam recognized this deficiency and developed more-advanced skills training, such as case team operations, workflow management, presentation and storyline development, and how to handle conflict within teams.
Beyond Everyday Skills
But technical skills alone aren’t sufficient for optimal professional growth.
It’s very easy to train our employees in cool Excel skills or master SPSS, but with these trainings we try to go beyond the technical requirements of the job.” says Diop. “The idea is to ensure that soft skills like presentation and client management are also being addressed in a structured manner.”
In exploring its consultants’ training needs, Putnam found that one major area was lacking: soft skills. Consultants were achieving great results, but there was an opportunity to provide training that would increase communication, build more effective teams, and improve employee engagement and satisfaction.
The firm bolstered its tiered-training model by incorporating soft skills. These training opportunities include how to lead a team, how to mentor, how to build talent, how to understand and appreciate differences, and how to think strategically about one’s own development.
Out of Office
A holistic training model goes beyond “conference room” learning. Hosting off-site development programs can bolster team bonding, provide a forum for discussion, and better reach those with differing learning styles. Off-site trainings also reinforce the firm’s support for their consultants’ development.
“These off-site trainings really do protect the training time and convey that ‘this is time that is important for you and to us,’” says Diop.
Consultants at Putnam are enthusiastic about the firm’s off-site trainings. The firm hosts a Case Leadership Training at Chatham Bars Inn, in Chatham, MA; a Team Building Outing at the Museum of Science, and an Advanced Consulting Skills Training at Wentworth by the Sea in New Hampshire.
Built into all of these programs is time for staff to mingle and bond, which on its own is critical for building teamwork skills.
“The interactive workshop sessions are very important to building firm camaraderie,” says Archana Murali, Manager at Putnam. “Part of the appeal in having these off-site trainings is the ability to interact with all levels of employees outside of the formal office environment and get to know your colleagues better. This is a big part of building Putnam’s culture.”
“Particularly useful during these sessions is the opportunity for consultants to share on-the-job experiences and discuss strategies that worked and didn’t work,” says Ryan Wyrtzen, Principal at Putnam. “These interactions provide the opportunity for employees to find common ground and cement relationships but also learn from each other’s rich experiences.
Encourage Employee Input
Truly effective training does not take place in a bubble. A critical component to holistic training is considering what the actual trainees need. In other words, effective development programs incorporate staff feedback. Employees at Putnam have a voice in the firm’s development programs and can make specific requests for training topics. By keeping its finger on the pulse of consultants’ professional needs, the firm has been able to tailor its training to its specific functions, work, and clients.
“I think one thing that is unique to Putnam is that everyone is invested in the growth of the firm,” says Murali, who explains that the firm listens to everyone’s feedback when creating training goals and programs. “We have been able to maximize the training because of the fact that it is developed internally and addresses specific requests brought forth by employees.” says Murali.
For example, after employees requested greater emphasis on diversity, Putnam formalized a diversity initiative. The goal of the initiative was to provide an open forum for employees to explore and discuss diversity and to provide proper support to employees of all backgrounds.
The firm’s diversity forum meets quarterly and includes large and small group discussion, as well as takeaways and plans for how to implement some of the tools discussed. Employees actively engage in the forum, proving the value of honoring staff input and has been very well-received to date.
Several years into their expanded training program, the feedback from Putnam’s employees has been positive. Employees report feeling more effective in their jobs, having clear goals for their own professional development and a positive outlook for the long-term.
As you embark on your job search, consider how your potential employer will help you grow both professionally and personally. A firm that values holistic development is invested in your personal growth, specific training needs, and overall work experience and may take you further in your career.
This post is sponsored by Putnam Associates, No. 6 in the 2019 Vault Consulting 50 ranking.
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