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5 Skills You Need to Make it to Partner

Posted on January 29, 2019 at 5:40 PM

Reaching the partner level is a career goal for many a new lawyer, consultant or other professional. It often requires several years of getting promoted through the ranks, from an individual contributor to a manager. Many a successful manager has failed to make the leap to the partner level, however. The skills required to become a good manager are required to become a partner - but they are not enough. Here are the five skills that high-performing managers need to demonstrate to make it to the partner level. The first two are easy to measure and are often set as clear expectations. The last three are tougher to measure. If you have demonstrated the first two skills but still haven't made it to partner, then you still need to focus on these last three skills.

1) Selling - Managers often are expected to sell new work to existing clients. That helps demonstrate selling skills. But getting new clients is essential for revenue growth, and partners have to be able to attract and close deals with new clients too. Opening doors to new clients requires different skills than closing deals with existing clients. Managers have to demonstrate that they can use their networking and promotional skills to bring new clients in. This is often the first clear hurdle that a successful manager has to cross to show partner potential.

HOW TO BUILD THIS SKILL -> Practice selling wherever you can. Find training. Ask the successful partners for advice and books you could read to learn how to sell. (SPIN Selling is the one I recommend the most.)

2) Thought-Leadership - Another way partners make themselves seem valuable to prospective clients is by positioning themselves as "thought leaders" in their field. Publishing books or articles in trade publications are great ways to do that. Speaking at conferences or getting interviewed by the media are even better. Partners who don't have strong selling skills can sometimes make up for it by prolific thought-leadership, because the brand-building value of their content spills over to help their other partners sell.

HOW TO BUILD THIS SKILL -> Start small by posting blogs on LinkedIn. Find a friend who has successfully published a book and ask for their advice. Contact a coach to learn how to publish a business book.

3) Executive Presence - Getting clients to pay the high fees for professional services requires partners to generate a lot of trust with their clients. It takes more than just subject matter expertise. Partners need to project the confidence and gravitas that makes their C-level clients see them as equals and trusted advisors, not just as "vendors." These clients are staking part of their reputation in their decision to bring an expensive professional services firm in. They need to be confident the partner leading the engagement will impress the other executives in their firm and make that decision seem smart.

HOW TO BUILD THIS SKILL -> Find good training on developing executive presence. Ask a mentor to help you. Work with an executive coach to get feedback and coaching on your executive presence.

4) Resilience - Professional services at the partner level can be a high-pressure job. Selling generates lots of rejection and stress about meeting targets. Thought leadership begets critics. The best way to demonstrate the ability to handle the pressure at the partner level is to show resilience at the manager level. Managers have to deal with lots of stress coming at them from demanding clients, busy partners, and stressed-out teams. They need to show they can handle anything that comes at them and stay positive and in control at all times.

HOW TO BUILD THIS SKILL -> Find good training on building resilience. Ask a mentor to help you. Work with an executive coach to get feedback and coaching on your executive presence.

5) Decision-Making - Finally, partners are more than just colleagues - they are, well ... "partners." Partners tie their fortunes and fates to each other. They need to be able to trust the judgment of new partners in handling decisions that have a firm wide impact. (See an example of why here.) Demonstrating an ability to make smart decisions in tough situations can help build that trust.

HOW TO BUILD THIS SKILL -> Find good training on decision-making. Seek feedback from a mentor or coach on tough decisions you are making to improve your chances of making the right choices.

Making the leap to partner is often the most challenging, and most rewarding, career step for many professionals. If you are a manager who has been stuck just short, assess yourself against these skills to see which you still need to develop. Even better, ask others to help you identify where you can take a step up to get you to the next level.

5 Biggest Challenges for Chief Learning Officers (CLOs) in 2019

Posted on December 20, 2018 at 10:35 AM

The title of "Chief Learning Officer" reportedly entered the mainstream in the mid-1990s when Jack Welch, the legendary CEO of General Electric, created the role at GE. Since then, the CLO role has become widespread, particularly in the professional services, health care, government, and financial services sectors, according to a 2015 survey. The challenges for CLOs have evolved along with the role. I recently attended a conference with dozens of CLOs and here are the 5 biggest challenges I heard the CLOs say they will face in 2019, with some suggestions on how to tackle them.

1 - Demonstrating a Return on Investment (ROI) - This challenge never seems to go away in the learning and development space. Business leaders who have clear P&L (profit and loss) metrics and responsibility want to understand the returns they get from the cost, and time required, to train their employees. Smart CLOs seek ways to show bottom line results for their work.

Recommendation -> Identify techniques your business customers use to measure value in their business and see how they can apply to training. A/B Testing, for example, can be a way to prove concrete results in training where there are clear business metrics that can be tracked between those who have received training and those who have not. Different call centers, for example, can make useful A/B testing grounds.

2 - Incorporating Emerging Technology - Artificial intelligence. Virtual reality. Augmented reality. Tantalizing emerging technologies can turn into a swarm of potential, "shiny object" distractions if a CLO lets them. The key is to start with the problems that need to be solved and then think about how the technology can fix those. Problems can often be around cost, availability, and effectiveness of delivering training.


Recommendation -> Identify small, concrete ways to apply new technologies that will greatly improve some piece of training. For example, use artificial intelligence to help users get better access to existing content through enhanced searching and retrieval. Instead of just popping up a relevant video to a user query, use artificial intelligence to go to the exact moment in the video where the topic is discussed.

3 - On-boarding Generation Z - While incorporating Millennials into the workforce has been a major focus for the last several years, the nextgeneration is starting to enter the workforce now as well. The oldest members of this "Generation Z" were born in the mid-1990s, meaning the first iPhone came out before they were in high school. They have incorporated, and relied upon, technology like no generation before. While they are app savvy, they can struggle with communicating and interacting in person with older colleagues in the workplace who grew up without having their eyes glued to a smartphone.


Recommendations -> Identify the skill gaps Generation Z workers need to fill to succeed in your environment (e.g., getting training in critical thinking and business communications.) Identify how you can expand use of smartphones to deliver training.


4 - Making Content Compelling - Corporate training competes against many other stimuli to win mindshare of employees. Attention-challenged trainees are used to short videos and games, often on their smartphones, as a way to consume information. To get employees to consume the training they need, you need to do more than just push it at them - i.e., "Corporate makes me watch this." You should create a "pull" demand as well, where people want to consume the training because it is compelling in delivery and has a clear link to improving job performance.


Recommendations -> Continue incorporating 'gamification' and mobile delivery into training. Also start thinking about how you can incorporate storytelling as a vehicle to deliver training content. Consider going all out and incorporating "Hollywood-ification" - where a company creates a television-quality drama to deliver training.

5 - Developing Senior-Most Leaders - Much focus in corporate learning has been in how to apply new technology to meet the needs of rank and file employees. The senior-most executives at the VP and C-suite level, however, are often left behind because their learning needs aren't easily met by technology. Old-fashioned, person-to-person channels like mentoring and coaching are often key to developing senior executives but they aren't as scalable or glamorous as technology solutions.

Recommendations -> Dedicate a portion of CLO team resources to serving senior-most executives's needs. Pre-screen and build a catalog of approved executive coaches. Identify and apply best practices in mentoring.

The world continues to change rapidly for Chief Learning Officers. The best CLOs will anticipate and incorporate the changes thrown at them. By doing so, they can become examples of success for other leaders in their organization.

Millennials are Motivated - Maybe Just Not at YOUR Job

Posted on November 21, 2018 at 6:00 AM

"The twentysomething generation is balking at work... Why are today's young adults so skeptical? They have trouble making decisions. They would rather hike in the Himalayas than climb a corporate ladder... Companies are discovering that to win the best talent, they must cater to a young work force that is considered overly sensitive at best and lazy at worst... They want flexibility, access to decision making and a return to the sacredness of work-free weekends... Most of all, young people want constant feedback from supervisors."
- Time Magazine cover" target="_blank">story, "Twentysomethings"


Does this sound like criticism you have heard some Generation X manager say about their Millennial team members? Ironically, this quote actually came from a Time Magazine cover story in 1990 about Generation X workers as they entered the workforce. Today's twenty-and-thirty somethings in the workplace - a.k.a. the Millennials - are not that different than their bosses - a.k.a., Generation X - were at their age.


A big difference between the two generations is the emergence of the internet and the resulting changes in the workplace. Millennials have more options than previous generations on where to invest their talent and energy. If their full-time job doesn't excite them, a Millennial can dive into the "gig economy" on the side or as an alternative to a traditional job. They can drive an Uber or Lyft before or after work. They can do freelance work on the side through sites like Fiverr and Upwork. They can publish books, blogs, music, and other creative work through platforms like Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing. In short, where ambitious Gen X-ers may have poured their time and energy into extra hours at the office, today's Millennials have many other options.


The key for Gen X managers is to figure out how they can offer in their jobs the same things that are motivating Millennials in extra-curricular channels. Here are a few things Gen X managers should try to work into their job designs to motivate Millennials.


Extra Income - In addition to a diploma, new college graduates today are weighed down by $37,000 of student debt, on average. Where young Gen X-ers may have seen extra money as nice to help buy their first house, today's new workers need to make extra money just to keep their head above water with their student debt payments. Employers that can find ways to profitably offer additional income opportunities to their young workers (e.g., overtime pay, incentives) can tap more of that motivation.

Feedback - Side gigs often give immediate performance feedback. Uber rides get ratings. Books get reviews. Blogs get comments. Freelance work gets repeat business. Formal performance appraisal systems that rely on annual or semi-annual feedback cycles are not enough. Employers that can find ways to get managers to offer immediate performance feedback can appeal to the innate desire for approval within Millennial workers.

Autonomy - Side gigs let Millennials be their own boss. They get to set things like their hours, colleagues, attire, and their working environment. Employers that can find ways to let their Millennial workers control parts of their working environments will appeal to this desire for autonomy.

Purpose - Millennials are skeptical about the ethics and motivation of big business, according to studies. At the same time, Millennials care a great deal about climate change, wars, and inequality, according to the World Economic Forum. Side gigs can be where Millennials find a way to do work that serves a bigger purpose than just making money. Employers that can demonstrate a commitment to ethics and contributing to social good can appeal to Millennials' desire to serve a larger purpose with their work.

New Skills Development - Millennials are quite aware how emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence will change the workforce during their prime working years. They realize they need to build new skills, especially soft skills like confidence and interpersonal skills, but only 36 percent of Millennials believe their current employer is helping them prepare for the future workplace. Side gigs can give them the chance to build confidence and interpersonal skills in their own way. Employers that can help their Millennial staff build the skills they need for the future will be seen as having a competitive advantage.

Every generation is different, and generations are not monoliths. Individual members of the Millennial generation have individual needs. But smart employers can take some simple steps today to help tap into the energy and motivation that will appeal to many common needs of people in the Millennial generation. After all, Gen X-ers remember the good and bad bosses they had at that age. Why not make a few moves today that will make you the "good boss" your Millennial staff talks about to their Gen Z employees in the future?  

The 10 Most Important Job Skills for 2020

Posted on October 3, 2018 at 3:55 PM


What skills are the most important for employees and job seekers to develop?

In 2016, the World Economic Forum -- the group behind the annual conference of leaders in business, politics, and more in Davos, Switzerland -- posed this question to Chief Human Resource Officers and other senior talent and strategy executives from 371 leading global employers. The" target="_blank">report argued that wide adoption of technologies like artificial intelligence and robotics over the next years will change what employers expect of workers. Here are the 10 most important skills they said employees and job seekers should have by the year 2020, in order of importance. 

1 - Complex Problem Solving - "Developed capacities used to solve novel, ill-defined problems in complex, real-world settings." - Artificial intelligence technologies likely will increasingly take over simple problem solving activities at work - e.g., looking up account information or setting up appointments on a calendar. The most complex problems will be left for the people at work to solve.

How to Prepare -> Get" target="_blank">training in complex problem solving for yourself and your team.

2 - Critical Thinking - "Using logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems." - Fast moving changes in technology are making business processes and strategies more complex. People will need critical thinking skills to find opportunities for improvement in the face of this complexity.

How to Prepare -> Get" target="_blank">training in critical thinking skills for yourself and your team.  

3 - Creativity - "The ability to come up with unusual or clever ideas about a given topic or situation, or to develop creative ways to solve a problem." - Not everyone is born as a Picasso, but everyone can work to grow their own creative skills. One way to offer more creative ideas at work is to find creative ideas in other areas that may apply.


How to Prepare -> Stoke your curiosity by seeking lessons from things outside of your work that may give you inspiration at work. Read great books. Seek new experiences. Meet new people. Find other" target="_blank">ways to spark your creativity.


4 - People Management - "Motivating, developing and directing people as they work, identifying the best people for the job." - As long as there are people in the workplace, there will need to be other people there to recruit and manage them. You can't outsource people management to computers.


How to Prepare -> Seek opportunities to gain people management experience in your current role. Get" target="_blank">training in people management.


5 - Coordinating with Others - "Adjusting actions in relation to others' actions." - Rigid hierarchies and organizational "silos" are out in the workplace. Cross-functional, ad hoc teams are in. To succeed, people need to be able to work in a more ad hoc manner and coordinate with people across functions and departments. Communication and planning skills will be key.


How to Prepare -> Get training in project management skills. 

6 - Emotional Intelligence - "Being aware of others' reactions and understanding why they react as they do." - As artificial intelligence takes over more responsibilities for simple processes at work, relationship-centered work will be reserved for humans in the office. As products and services get more complex, the ability to explain and sell them to other people will be essential as well. Being able to read and react to customers' and colleagues' reactions will be an increasingly important skill in relationship-centered jobs.


How to Prepare -> Read up on Emotional Intelligence. Take an assessment of your Emotional Intelligence to identify areas for improvement. 

7 - Judgment and Decision-Making - "Considering the relative costs and benefits of potential actions to choose the most appropriate one." - Artificial intelligence will continue to take over responsibility for more decision-making in the workplace. Eventually, only the hardest, "gray-area" issues will be left to people to decide. Being able to weigh trade offs and risks of different options will be a key skill to develop.


How to Prepare -> Seek roles that allow you to gain experience in decision-making. Get training in decision-making.  

8 - Service Orientation - "Actively looking for ways to help people." - Have you ever called a service line and just wanted to escalate enough to talk to a person instead of a robot? You are not alone. Being able to give a human touch while working real-time with customers to help them solve their problems is a timeless skill.


How to Prepare -> Get out and talk to real customers to understand their needs. Seek roles that give you live interaction with customers.  

9 - Negotiation - "Bringing others together and trying to reconcile differences." - There will always be differences of opinions, trade-offs, and a competing priorities in the workplace. People who can find compromises that are acceptable to all parties will always be in demand.


How to Prepare -> Get training in negotiation skills.


10 - Cognitive Flexibility - "The ability to generate or use different sets of rules for combining or grouping things in different ways." - One constant we can expect in the future of the workplace is change. Another constant is the need to manage many different things at once. People who can find and apply new frameworks to quickly understand and shift between changes will be a step ahead.


How to Prepare -> Do" target="_blank">exercises to improve your cognitive flexibility.

3 Leadership Lessons from Hiking the Camino Trail Across Spain

Posted on September 20, 2018 at 10:40 PM

Last month, I hiked 200 miles (320 kilometers) over two weeks on the ancient Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail in Spain. It was my third Camino in five years. I go back because I have found the Camino to be more than just a fantastic trail. The Camino provides a unique social learning opportunity as I meet and share an intense experience with fellow hikers from around the world. It also provides me alone-time to reflect on my own life and career. After my first Camino, that combination inspired me to post a blog here on LinkedIn about the lessons I learned. That blog snowballed into a book deal with HarperCollins. This third Camino taught me three different, but equally powerful lessons.

1 - Find a Train to Jump On - During a stop on my book tour in June, I met a couple of readers who were interested in walking the Camino but had not yet made it happen. When they asked me if I was going again, I told them about my August trip, which was timed to celebrate the release of the Spanish-language version of my book. They were nice folks, and in the spirit of the Camino, I told them they would be welcome to join me. I didn't think anything would come of it, but three weeks later I got an email. They had decided to do it and had gotten the time off work. About six weeks later, we all met for the second time on a morning in St. Jean Pied de Port, France and climbed over the Pyrenees Mountains together into Spain (see picture). Many miles later, we parted at the end of the trail in Santiago de Compostela as fellow Camino pilgrims - and new friends.

Leadership Lesson - If you have a big, difficult goal and you find someone else with that same goal who has a plan to achieve it, jump on that train with them!

2 - Test Your Boundaries - Before Columbus discovered the Americas in 1492, many Europeans believed that Cape Finesterre in Spain (pictured) was the western-most point in Europe, and thus represented the end of the world. After reaching the end of the Camino trail, many of these medieval pilgrims continued on for a few more days of walking to see for themselves. These pilgrims must have felt a surge of confidence after walking across Spain - something that may have seemed impossible to them before they did it. They wanted to see for themselves if other supposed limits were really true as well.

Leadership Lesson - When you have some belief that is limiting your potential, test it. Sometimes you will realize a big wall in front of you is just a bubble waiting to be burst if you just poke it.

3 - Seize Safe Moments to Try Crazy Things - After I walked to Finesterre, I was tired and not looking forward to retracing my steps on the 40 minute walk back to my hostel. I didn't see many other options. Then I decided to try something I had never done before - hitch-hiking. While I never recommend getting into a car with complete strangers on the roadside, I knew this would be the safest place I would ever try it. Because the road went to the "end of the world," everyone driving back were tourists like me headed back to town. It was a busy road in broad daylight and I had my phone on me, so I stuck out my thumb. Just before the five minutes I had given myself to try it ended, a nice couple of French women pulled over. We chatted a bit in English before I took up their offer to jump in their back seat. Five minutes later I was back in town with a couple of new friends - and a new story.

Leadership Lesson - Take advantage of very low risk situations to try out constructive new things. For example, on one solo business trip early in my career, I popped into a karaoke bar I walked by to sing a song. I hadn't had many chances to do public speaking before, and that helped me fight stage fright in a low risk environment since I knew nobody in that town.

Sometimes a vacation can be a great way to do something that helps you in life after the vacation is over. If you are looking for an adventure that can help you long after the vacation is over, it is hard to beat the Camino - a trail people have been walking for over 1,000 years.

3 Ways to Get Repeat Sales in Consulting

Posted on July 5, 2018 at 3:55 PM

To reach the partnership level as a management consultant, you need to be more than just great at solving client's problems - you have to be able to sell new work. The hard way to do that is to prospect for new clients. The easier way to do that is to sell more work to clients they are already working with. The key is to find needs your client has that you can solve in a cost-effective way through consulting. Here are three ways you can do that:


Ask - The easiest way is to ask your client. The best time is to ask after you have proven your value by delivering great results from your existing work. If your client feels like the investment they made in your consulting engagement has provided great returns, ask where else they think there might be opportunities for similar results. Ask them if they would introduce you to other executives in the company that have been looking for help. At an office supplies client I worked with, for example, we ended up working all the way back the value chain to work with their paper and wood subsidiaries because they liked our consulting work and were willing to make internal referrals for us.

Offer Diagnostics - If you have built enough trust with your client, consider offering to do diagnostic work for them to find other untapped cost savings or revenue increases. This requires the client to invest some time and share some data with you. You have to invest some of your own team's time (not billed to the client) to do the assessment. Often, these diagnostics can be comparing their metrics in new areas to benchmarks you already have. Other times, you have to be more creative. At an automotive client I worked with, for example, we offered to analyze a random sample of their auto parts pricing data to see if there was an opportunity to boost profits by updating prices to meet demand. If we could prove the work would have a profit payoff, our client could justify keeping our team working with his. It turned out there was a big profitable payoff waiting, and I learned the power of pitching a "profit hunt" with clients where I have earned the trust to do so.

Identify Emerging Industry Trends - Consultants often don't specialize in an industry, at least before they get to the partnership level. While you are working on a project in an industry, make the extra effort to keep up with the industry trade websites and journals. Learning about customers, competitors, suppliers, and other industry stakeholders may spark ideas for potential needs your own client has. Even if your new industry knowledge doesn't help you get a repeat sale immediately, it could help you build an industry niche that you might need at the partner level.

You got a job in management consulting because you are good at gathering and analyzing information. Selling is a different skill, but these three steps help you get your first sale by starting from your strength in analysis.

7 Superpowers Consultants Learn that Recruiters Love

Posted on June 15, 2018 at 1:15 PM

There were over 637,000 people in the United States employed in the management consulting industry in 2016, according to With annual staff turnover rates of an estimated 15-20 percent, that suggests tens of thousands of former consultants leave consulting every year to take 'real' jobs at corporations. Corporate recruiters often see former consultants as hot prospects for jobs outside of consulting. Part of the reason is recruiters value the brands of top consulting companies because they know their hiring processes are highly selective. Another reason is recruiters realize consulting teaches people these seven skills that are highly-valued outside of consulting.

1 - Conceptual Thinking - Clients hire consultants to solve complex problems that don't have clear solutions. Consultants learn conceptual thinking skills that help them build structure and process around ambiguous problems to find solutions. This comfort with ambiguity can help former consultants be seen as creative thought-leaders in their new organizations.

2 - Critical Thinking - Consultants learn critical thinking skills to apply logic and analysis to find the answers to problems. They develop a bias to seek out facts and data instead of settling for anecdotes or opinions in making decisions. These critical thinking skills can help former consultants be seen as smart, disciplined decision-makers in executive roles. 

3 - Effective Communication - Consultants are trained to be concise and clear in their communications. They get many opportunities to present their work to others. They learn techniques like "answer-first communications," the "pyramid principle," and "elevator pitches" that help them effectively explain complex topics. These communications skills can help former consultants standout in new organizations where other people have not had the benefit of the same training in effective communication.

4 - Quantitative Analytics - Consultants learn to use advanced quantitative tools and methods to analyze data needed to find answers to client's questions. This reputation as "number crunchers" can give former consultants credibility when dealing with quantitatively-driven colleagues in a new organization in areas such as finance and engineering.

5 - Prioritization - Because they charge expensive rates, consultants are trained to prioritize their work to maximize the value they return to clients. They do that by using the Pareto Principle, often called simply the "80/20 rule." This rule states a common phenomena where the most important 20 percent of things you could work on will produce 80 percent of the value. By focusing on the important stuff, and avoiding "sweating the small stuff," former consultants can be seen as more efficient and results-driven in new organizations.

6 - Teamwork - Consultants learn to work well in teams because their consulting work is typically team-based. Since a new team forms for each new project, consultants get a chance to work in many different teams over time. This comfort working within teams can be a big asset for former consultants in new organizations that work in teams.

7 - Time-Management - Consultants work under tight deadlines in their projects. They also have to add in travel time to get to the client. Consultants learn to be efficient in managing their time to meet those deadlines. As they leave for organizations that have a slower pace, consultants can use their time management skills to be more efficient at work and, potentially strike a better work-life balance.

I started my business career as a management consultant and I have found these skills to be quite valuable in a wide variety of leadership jobs after consulting, ranging from startups to a big bank to city and federal government. Even if you haven't worked in consulting, you can still learn these skills by finding training programs that teach them.

How Executive Coaching Can Help Executive Recruiting

Posted on May 26, 2018 at 12:45 AM

Filling executive jobs is a crucial, and costly, recurring need for organizations. When an executive placement does not work out, it can be a painful experience for everyone involved - the hiring organization, the executive hired, and the executive recruiter. (See a recent, high-profile example" target="_blank">here.) To increase the chances of success, organizations can hire a coach to help in the critical transition period in a new executive's first year. Here are some ways a coach can help an executive avoid common pitfalls in the first year.

Pitfall #1 - Souring Relationship with Manager - A couple of hours of good chemistry between a hiring manager and a candidate in job interviews can lead to a job offer. Sometimes that chemistry can prove illusory after the candidate is hired and is operating in the role. An executive coach can help get a relationship back on track in a few ways. First, a coach can gather feedback from the boss and colleagues in an anonymized "360-degree" format. By using a technique called "active inquiry" in regular coaching sessions, an executive coach can help a client see the perspectives of their manager and colleagues. If required, a coach can facilitate a session with the everyone on the executive team to talk through problems and come up with potential solutions.


Pitfall #2 - Failure to Fit in the Organizational Culture - Executives often get hired because they have a record of success in other organizations. If executives run into trouble, it may be less about their skills and more about their ability to apply those skills in a new culture. What a new executive may complain about as "politics" might actually be a sign of a more collaborative, relationship-centered culture than they are used to. What a new executive may complain of as "bureaucracy" might actually be a sign of a more risk-averse culture than they are used to. An executive coach can be a sounding board to help a new executive understand how her actions will be seen in the broader organizational culture.

Pitfall #3 - Failure to Adjust Communication Style - Executives have different communication styles. So do their bosses and organizations. For example, organizations can differ in how open and honest feedback is viewed. Sometimes executives need to adjust their communication style to fit with their new environment. An executive coach can help in a few ways. A coach can help prepare for crucial one-on-one conversations through role-playing practice. A coach can help prepare for presentations by being a practice audience and giving feedback. Finally, a coach can act as a training curator to identify specific training in communication that best fits the executive's needs.

Pitfall #4 - Poor Task Management - As executives get hired into bigger roles, they are faced with broader scopes of responsibility. Sometimes that additional scope, combined with the need to learn how to operate in a new organization, can make a new executive feel overwhelmed. A coach can use a process called behavioral coaching to help an executive improve simple habits like time-management, timely-follow-up, and attention-to-detail. Once an executive identifies a simple habit they want to start or break, the coach will systematically hold them accountable for changing that behavior and help them track their progress.

Pitfall #5 - Failure to Communicate a Strategic Vision - The window for a new executive to explain their vision begins closing as soon as they start. Executives sometimes have a vision in their head but just don't know how to communicate it. A coach can help by finding tools, templates, training, and other examples a new executive can use as a starting point for their own plan. A coach can also be a useful sounding board and brainstorming partner in coming up with a strategic vision.

Organizations expend lots of time, effort and money to find people to fill their executive roles. When a new executive hire doesn't work out, it is a costly and painful problem, not just for the executive and their boss, but for the whole team led by the executive. Hiring a coach for a new executive hire can be a smart way to increase the chances for success.

5 Skills Executives Most Seek to Improve - And How Coaching Can Help

Posted on May 11, 2018 at 4:55 PM

According to a 2013 survey by Stanford Graduate School of Business professors, 51 percent of senior executives reported they "receive coaching or leadership advice from outside consultants or coaches." Over two-thirds (68 percent) of those senior executives reported that getting outside help was their own idea. These executives realized they needed continuous improvement to compete for the shrinking number of jobs up an organizational pyramid. They likely viewed outside consulting and coaching as a competitive advantage.



Senior executives: are you in the 51% of your peer group that is getting leadership advice from outside coaching and consulting, or are you in the 49% that is not?

According to the survey, these are the five skills that executives named as their biggest opportunities for improvement. While informal mentoring and consulting can help improve those skills, many executives invest in an executive coach to get more focused and structured help.


1 - Conflict Management - 34% of senior executives believed they needed to improve their conflict management skills. An executive coach can help by uncovering the underlying reasons for conflicts by conducting 360-degree interviews with an executive's team and colleagues. A coach can facilitate meetings to surface and address conflicts in a safe, controlled way. A coach can also practice role playing to help an executive prepare for crucial conversations with colleagues and others where conflicts could erupt.


2 - Decision-Making - 26% of senior executives believed they needed to improve their decision-making skills. The independent perspective of an executive coach can help here. A coach can be a sounding board without a bias or stake in the decision. A coach can also push an executive to test their assumptions in a way that subordinates may not. A coach can also bring in outside perspectives as a brainstorming partner to help find out of the box solutions to problems.

3 - Planning - 21% of senior executives believed they needed to improve their planning skills. Talking with a coach can be a great way for an executive to translate ideas and goals in their head into options on paper. Because they bring an independent, outsider perspective, coaches can ask the questions that people on an executive's team may not ask. An executive coach can also introduce tools, templates, training, and external best practices that can help with planning. A coach can also help executives hold themselves accountable to start and finish planning in the timeline required.

4 - Listening - 18% of senior executives believed they needed to improve their listening skills. Thankfully, listening is a easy skill to understand. It just takes discipline and change management to make it a good habit. Coaches can use behavioral coaching to help executives focus on improving their listening skills. Once identified as a goal, the coach can help their executive client measure and track progress on a regular basis in stopping bad behaviors (e.g., interrupting, not paying attention) and demonstrating desired behaviors (e.g., active listening). The coach can also get feedback from the client's colleagues on their improvement in listening.

5 - Empathy - 18% of senior executives believed they needed to improve their empathy skills. Senior executives can struggle to empathize with colleagues who do not share their executive focus and mindset. A coach can identify an assessment tool that can help an executive understand how and where they perceive things differently than others. A coach can also be a sounding board and use a technique called active inquiry to pose questions to help an executive consider the impact, and perceived intent, of their actions on colleagues.

Hiring an executive coach can be a worthwhile investment for executives of all types. For those seeking to continue climbing up the ladder to CEO, it can provide a valuable competitive edge over executives who insist on a "go it alone" approach. For executives content with where they are, coaching can be a great way to make work more enjoyable ... for themselves and everyone who works with them.

7 Challenges Ex-Consultants Face in Corporate Jobs - and How to Overcome Them

Posted on April 20, 2018 at 4:15 AM

There were over 637,000 people in the United States employed in the management consulting industry in 2016, according to With annual staff turnover rates of an estimated 15-20 percent, that suggests tens of thousands of former consultants leave consulting every year to take 'real' jobs at corporations. Since the consulting and corporate worlds are different in many ways, that transition can be a big adjustment for these 'recovering consultants.' I made that transition after I left Bain & Company and learned plenty of lessons. I recently interviewed 42 other former consultants -- 19 from Bain, 4 from McKinsey, 1 from BCG, and the rest from others -- to ask them for their insights and advice. According to that survey, here are the 7 biggest challenges consultants face in corporate jobs, and advice to overcome them.

Challenge #1 - "Too Much Corporate Bureaucracy"

(67% agreed, 19% disagreed) 


Consulting work can be cut and dry. Consultants often work on projects with clearly defined goals and timelines. Bureaucratic barriers at clients are often cleared by senior executives at the client looking to get important - and expensive - consulting projects completed as quickly as possible. Once a consultant moves into a job with a corporation, they have to face the bureaucracy on their own.


Ben described it this way: “Once you are inside, the Powerpoint deck is just the first step to 'sell' a project or initiative internally. Then comes the hard part - marshaling resources, motivating a team that may not report directly to you, and moving the project forward to achieve real results.”


Arshad described the challenge this way: “Understanding who does what and how to move an organization towards a goal - that is a challenge. Consultants tend to be a bit isolated from the complexities of how to move an organization behind a novel concept or a new business direction. The key is to get the attention at the right levels to move the right pieces of the puzzle in order to get your goals accomplished!”


Glen summarized it this way: “Consultants can fall into the trap of believing that the 'right' answer and the logic and associated PowerPoint deck will always win the day. The value of gathering support for your point of view in other ways is accentuated in corporate environments.”


Recommendation - Corporate executives have to invest as much energy and thought in planning a successful implementation as consultants spend defining the strategy and business case.

Challenge #2 - "Organizational Politics are a Bigger Pain"

(67% agreed, 21% disagreed)


Politics can mean many things in an organization, but I have found corporate politics often center around Relationships, Prioritization, and Culture. Like any organization, consulting firms have internal politics, but they are capped by several factors including: the outward focus on client Relationships, the clear line of sight to revenue as a Prioritization tool, and the ability to select people for fit with the Culture. Internal politics in larger, more complex corporations can be a bigger challenge.


Regarding Relationships, Glen advised: “Anticipate that a greater percentage of your time and effort will be spent on managing / negotiating / building relationships both inside and outside your organization.”


Rick said: “Build relationships - success is no longer about just being smart and being able to communicate well, you have to pay attention to your coworkers and understand how to get things done in the new environment. I remember coming out and getting very passionate about outsourcing our data center. I put together a data driven deck and started to socialize. I quickly found out that despite what I thought was a really sound strategy, the idea went nowhere because I could not get the attention of the right people.”


Patricia said: “Know your audience--your peers, your boss, your boss's boss--and manage communications accordingly. Open, honest and direct doesn't work as effectively within a non-consulting environment.”


James summed it up this way: “Great soft skills go far in this new world.”


Darryl echoed that: “Most jobs require more soft skills and political savvy than analysis. Sometimes former consultants may appear a bit arrogant or aloof.”


Regarding Prioritization, Mike summed it up this way: “Consulting gives you a view of where you can find the impact. The challenge is you now need to make that impact happen which requires you to understand politics and processes. Get to know the organizational politics quickly and figure out the processes for getting work done (project prioritization process, strategic planning process, etc.).”


Regarding Culture, Jen said: “Understand that there will be a culture change, and that depending on the type of organization you end up working with, the resources and amenities at your fingertips may vary.”


Patrick advised: “Make sure you understand the culture of the company you are joining.”


Darryl said: “Understand the organization's values and make sure they align with yours.”


Noelle recommended “Get involved within the organization to reduce the outsider label and to create in-roads and recognition in other parts of the organization (corporate initiatives, fundraisers, social activities, sports teams, etc.) Seek out team-based opportunities and initiatives that occur within the company. It's a great fit and provides a consulting-like feel and gives you an opportunity to shine.”


Recommendation - All the above. Also consider getting training and coaching. Training can help build the “soft / EQ skills” required more of corporate executives than consultants. Coaching can help you understand the political landscape in your organization and how to best navigate it.

Challenge #3 - "Colleagues Don't Communicate Efficiently and Effectively"

(62% agreed, 17% disagreed)


Efficient and effective communications are core skills for consultants and they get lots of training and on-the-job experience to hone those skills. People outside of consulting don’t get that same training and experience.


Mike summed it up this way: “People are terrible at writing decks. They're monolithic data dumps that don't have a clear story or recommendation. Not only will you find going through their work frustrating, you'll also be frustrated when they ask you to add tons of irrelevant data and information to your nice, clear, simple recommendations.”


Jason said: “You have to dumb down messages. It takes longer to communicate. Standards are not the same across a company. Vocabulary is not the same.”


Thomas shared this: “Communication is the biggest thing ... whether it’s email or PowerPoint or meeting notes, management consulting is an utterly spoiling experience with respect to effective and concise exchange of ideas. Having said that, getting stuff done and talking about it aren’t the same thing so underestimating someone’s skills simply because of their bullet point marksmanship or charting acumen is a grave mistake.”


Recommendation: Invest in training your team in the communication skills that consultants learn. It will boost their performance throughout their careers. It will improve your team results and reduce your frustration.

Challenge #4 - "Not Enough Intellectual/Academic Stimulation"

(60% agreed, 26% disagreed)


Consulting firms' outputs center on ideas and analysis. Corporations typically produce more tangible goods and services. Former consultants can miss the intellectual, analytical part of the work.


David mentioned the following things he missed: “No one to really brainstorm with, fewer people that challenge your assumptions (often leading to poor outcomes as they will assume you are right even when you are not). It can be challenging to push people to make evidence-based decisions (or even gather the information to do so).”


Rick echoed the lack of evidenced-based decisions: “The lack of analytic rigor has become very clear and frustrating. We convinced the organization that they needed to do some test and learn experiments on some new product solutions. We put the test into market, but after only a week, senior leaders decided they were so excited by the concept that they wanted to roll it out to the entire portfolio (10 million +). This was before any results were back to prove the business case. It was all anecdotal and by feel.”


Recommendation - Search for others in your company or network to be a sounding board and brainstorming partner. An executive coach can also be a helpful external resource.

Challenge #5 - "Work Feels Lonely / Miss the Camaraderie of Consulting"

(57% agreed, 21% disagreed)


Consultants can feel a lot of camaraderie with their consulting colleagues. The travel and long hours of the work, combined with the fact that many consultants are about at the same age and place in life, can create strong bonds between colleagues. The corporate world looks more like the real world. People come from a wide variety of ages and interests. They may not look to their colleagues for friendship and camaraderie as much.


Recommendation - Find other former consultants within your larger organization and create a network. Take advantage of the decrease in travel to find activities outside of work to find camaraderie.

Challenge #6 - "Not a Clear Promotion Path"

(52% agreed, 31% disagreed)


Consulting firms typically have a very clear promotion path - you strive to make partner. To get to partner, you have to prove you can bring in revenue, which means you are creating your own headroom for promotion. Career paths in the corporate world can be less clear or fast. You may need to have your boss leave to get their job. Or you may have to switch departments to find the headroom for a new, bigger role.


Glen suggested this: “I would think about the level at which you leave consulting as each successive consulting promotion (e.g. - Manager, VP) roughly slots you into a corporate structure at a higher level. Also think about whether you think you want to be a career 'strategist' or are more interested in an 'operating/GM' role or 'functional' role (e.g. - Finance, Marketing, Biz Dev/M&A). Sometimes strategy is an entry door into an operating or functional role, but this may or may not be the best avenue depending on the company and situation.”


David echoed that this way: “Parachute into the highest level possible as the climb up the ladder may be long.”


Amy suggested: “Look for an area in the company which is dynamic and growing, and where you can be a part of a strong team. Find a well-positioned, appreciative boss who will bring you up the ladder with him/her.”


Bill said: “Ensure the opportunity provides ability to impact bottom line. More impact = more support and greater financial & career upside.”


Noelle advised: “Recognize that your first move/position within a company may be temporary. As executives/business units get a better understanding of your breadth of capabilities and your relationships expand, movement within the organization can happen. You may find a position that is of more interest to which your skills are better suited. As a woman leaving consulting for a more stable and consistent lifestyle to perhaps start a family, think a few steps ahead when selecting the correct role. That high-paced strategy and acquisitions job might be a great fit right out of consulting but the demanding, round-the-clock schedule might not be conducive to being a working mother. It could however be a great role to gain exposure to an organization and find the best long term fit. Even a successful former consultant who always puts in 150% can still get overwhelmed when trying to manage a new family and a constantly demanding job.”


David gave this take on when to make the jump: “Consulting prepares a young person very well for an attractive but narrow slice of the real business world. I would caution a person from staying too long in consulting because after a while that may be the only thing they are qualified to do.”


Zeeshan pointed out one nice thing about career paths in corporations: “You can progress in senior levels without having to be solely sales focused. You can start to specialize in a vertical which matters more as one get to more senior levels.”


Recommendation: Realize you will probably only make the jump from consulting to corporate once. Make it count and do it right by doing your homework and getting lots of good advice.

Challenge #7 - "Pace is Too Slow"

(50% agreed, 26% disagreed)


Consulting is typically a project-based business with clear deadlines. The corporate world often isn’t. The pace can seem much slower to consultants making the jump.


Jeff advised: “Be prepared for a slower rate of decision-making and a slower moving environment. Rejoice in the fact that you get to own (or at least work on) projects from start to finish and really drive the ultimate result and beyond.”


Zeeshan summarized it this way: “Expect a different organizational clock speed.”


Jason added: “Provide extra time in your plans. Don't expect your team to work at your standards. Often you will be surprised that your standards are much higher than you need to get the job done. Don't forget that people don't have the same training that you have had.”


Surge summed it this way: “Projects and initiatives will get momentum in fits and starts, and slow down in halts and stops. So, best to keep a funnel of good initiatives to jump to the next initiative when one slows down.”


Joe added: “You need to adjust expectations from a variety of perspectives (career plan/ growth, pace of work, speed of change/ decision-making) to match those of your new employer. And after you understand the traditional pace at your new employer, then you can become an agent of change to drive your new company to perform at a higher level.”


Noelle added: “Adjust your time frame: The speed at which change and buy-in happens is monumentally slower than in a consulting environment. As a newcomer, you can be viewed as pushy or impatient if you challenge the natural rhythm. It is helpful to find well-established champions/mentors who share your perspective, who can help move your initiatives through the organization.”


Tarm added: “I came in with a mindset that I now have all the resources and knowledge to change the operations of the company. However, after pushing for change numerous times, my boss told me 'This is not a consulting firm and your stakeholders are not clients. They are your colleagues. Whilst there may be a case for change, if you push it too hard, you risk them not collaborating with you when you need them the most.'"


Kevin added: “Things move slower, but you are stuck dealing with whatever change you initiate - so it is key to realize that change, and effective change, are very different things.”


Dennis added this take: “Work moves a lot slower. You get a lot more time to pursue personal projects. Get a hobby that will provide you with intellectual challenge outside of work. Consider becoming an entrepreneur.”


Recommendation - Embrace the pace! At work, use the extra time to get depth of expertise and to build relationships. Outside work, harvest the extra time to invest in the other things in your life you have underinvested in while you were consulting.

If you have made the move from consulting to corporate, I'd love to hear from you. You can add your thoughts to my survey. You can see the training and coaching I specialize in offering to former consultants. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn and Facebook