The Reality – Consulting to Industry

 

“Consulting sets you up for a lot, but it does not prepare you for everything.’’

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We often hear candidates talk about the differences between consulting and industry. Last year we undertook a paper that delved into the trials and tribulations of the transition, as a follow up to this paper we wanted to find out what being in industry was really like, from those in the know. To access this information, we interviewed over 20 consultants who have subsequently made the transition into industry. Our sample included the recently transitioned (up to 3 months in industry) and not so recent and covered a broad range of industries, such as banking, media, property, retail, and consumer. These conversations covered a multitude of topics however we have selected only the main themes below.

I wish I had known...

Below are the top ten pieces of advice from our candidates on what they wish they had

  1. Understand your true reasons for leaving consulting and be open with your firm ­they may be able to offer insights, assistance and guidance

  2. Choose your industry wisely ­this could become your home for life

  3. Listen, Listen, Listen – listen more than you talk; apply the two ears and one mouth mantra

  4. Build a network around you both internally and externally ­for support and guidance now and throughout your subsequent career

  5. Embrace change – it is a constant in every industry and in every role

  6. Focus on your passions – moving to industry takes you much deeper into something so you need to like it

  7. Take your time to adjust ­ it won’t happen overnight and you will have moments of doubt

  8. Earn your stripes ­ be humble, you don’t have to have all the answers

  9. Stay healthy – it’s a marathon not a sprint

  10. Never stop learning – in every aspect; your role, your industry, your skills, etc.

Success in Industry

Success in Industry is somewhat different to success in consulting ­ it is not as linear, there are many different paths, and there are many peaks and troughs. In consulting there is a predefined path to success; after X number of years you become X and so on and so forth. There is a success formula, that if you follow correctly, you will get the same results as those before you. This is not so in industry; success looks different to everyone, there are many different paths to success and no one winning formula.

When speaking with our candidates, the success metrics in industry that came up time and time again were those of influence and empowerment ­ being successful in influencing change, projects, peers and the overall company landscape, and feeling empowered to make those changes.

Another success metric of course is promotion. However, this was cited as not being as straightforward and predictable when compared to consulting and something that had to be worked at more diligently and strategically than before.

The Importance of EQ vs IQ

The most common challenge/change that candidates experienced was that of EQ vs IQ. As a consultant you are expected and trained to enter into a project and use the resources (people, systems, etc.) at hand to get what you need, when you need it and complete the project on time. In some instances, there is no room for niceties and bridges may get burnt with particular teams/individuals but it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things as you are only there for the project and have blanket authority and executive sponsorship to do so. This is potentially acceptable in the short term when long standing relationships are not a priority.

However, when you move into industry, this is no longer the case. You now have to work with these individuals and departments full time, there is no exit date and of course nowhere to hide. You will need these internal stakeholders for a greater period of time and cannot afford to burn bridges. Often the people you need information from will help you grow and learn in the industry and company you have chosen so it is essential to keep stakeholders close and on­side. This is where our candidates emphasised the need to focus more on EQ than anything else ­ being personable, understanding, and flexible to your new colleagues, all of whom have day jobs, different (and sometimes conflicting) priorities and may fundamentally work in a different way to consultants.

Listen, listen, listen; was the overwhelming advice for enhancing your EQ and influencing skills. If you do not listen to your colleagues, bosses, and clients, then you will never truly understand them and their priorities.

The Long Game

As a management consultant, there is often a fly in fly out mentality; you have X amount of weeks to take a project from the ground up and then you fly out before it enters the execution phase. Once you enter industry, you generally see projects all the way through and there was a mixed reaction to this new scenario; some enjoyed this new way of working, of being able to execute change which they had previously not been able to do and felt they had missed out on. On the other hand, some noted that the monotony of the same topics, business as usual and lack of time pressure can be a negative to moving away from consulting. Individuals must get used to working in the same space, with the same people, often on the same subject, for a long period of time. One way to overcome this negativity is by reaching out to other departments within your company, learning from them, expanding your network, ensuring your exposure, and therefore creating more opportunities to change up your daily routine.

Boundaries

Following on from The Long Game there was also the issue of establishing boundaries both for projects and your time.

As a consultant in the majority of cases you physically leave a project and therefore expectations and boundaries are established straight away. However, when you are part of a company and team, your physical presence remains after a project has finished, meaning internal stakeholders can still pop­in or try to lean on you for expertise, which can be an uncomfortable and difficult new scenario to find yourself in. Many consultants noted that it is essential to establish clear boundaries after handing over a project for both the sake of the project itself and for your own workload. This can prove challenging and must be handled strategically of course.

Establishing boundaries for your time is also challenging. In consulting your time if often defined by clear project deliverables and timeframes meaning every minute is allocated and accounted for. However, in industry time is not as clearly defined and some may find it challenging that your diary is punctuated with, for example, team and company meetings, briefings and training sessions.

The Consultant Tag

Not another ‘F%#king consultant! I hate consultants’.

This was a particularly interesting reaction and one that was, thankfully, not widely repeated but the sentiment definitely was. There are some industries that have what can be referred to as ‘consulting fatigue’ ­ they are used to consultants coming and going and having a perceived disruptive effect. Showing your peers the positive aspects of being an ex­consultant can be difficult and can often take time but turning the negatives that they may have previously experienced into positives that they can utilise will help to shrug off the tag.

The consultant tag was also felt by some on a personal level; as a consultant you are often very similar to your peers, everyone is smart, driven, well­travelled, etc., some say it is a mould. However, it was felt that when you move out of consulting and into an environment made up of widely different individuals, you are actually able to be more yourself. Maybe this is through showing off a more sensitive side or more of an ‘out there’ personality, or even just wearing brighter socks, but the bottom line seemed to be that there is more scope to express yourself in industry.

100% is enough

‘Consultants give 120%, when 100% is enough’.

One candidate gave us that brilliant line and it is so true. Over and over we hear that in consulting you are conditioned to go way beyond the call of duty and everything needs to be more than perfect. It was said by some consultants, in relation to preparing a deck, that you are required to ‘polish perfect’. Real life (read industry) is not like that, 100% really is good enough and often the same results are achieved in a shorter timeframe because they simply have to be.

Some candidates expressed that this was difficult to understand at first, the fact that not everything has to be perfect and honed to nth degree before a big presentation or before going to market, but once the realisation that actually 99% ­ 100% is acceptable, the pressure eases off and work (and you as a result) becomes more agile.

Work ­Life Balance

The final, and most touched on topic, is the perception of the work­life balance to be found in industry and what this actually means.

We often see that the move to industry takes place at certain life stages hence, as a generalisation, consulting is often referred to as a young person's game; for that time in life when you have more energy than a Duracell bunny and can jet all over the globe at a moment's notice. Furthermore, it seems is that those who leave ‘’on time’’ in consulting are the exception and not the rule, whereas those who ‘’work late’’ in industry are the exception and not the rule.

However, of those we spoke to it is clear that work ­life balance is more a relative perception rather than an absolute fact meaning it is often a misconception that moving on from consulting will guarantee changing this. Yes, the travel may be less and you may be able to plan in advance more when working in industry but your work ethic rarely changes so if you find yourself working in a high profile corporate role the hours are often long too.

Conclusion

In conclusion, everyone’s experience when moving into industry is different of course but the essential and overwhelming message was that if you are prepared to listen, take your time and build meaningful and honest relationships, everything else will fall in to place.

 
OriginalMiriam Murphy