Staying ahead of the game

I work with my clients on complex challenges that have a significant impact on their ability to achieve their goals. And so it’s vital – to me and to my clients – that I stay ahead of the game in every aspect of what I do. Here’s how I do it.

When it comes to delivering high-quality work for my consulting clients, there are six things that make a difference: skills, insight, techniques, tools, time and headspace. And I need to invest in each of these if I’m to be able to do my job well.

I live or die by my skills as a consultant. The skills I need range from asking the right questions and listening carefully to the answers, to writing insightful reports and presenting my findings to Finance Directors, CEOs and Boards. I need to invest continuously in honing my skills and in developing new ones that will allow me to better serve my clients.

I’ve developed a fair amount of insight over the years (by which I mean, essentially, the ability to apply knowledge effectively to shed light on a particular scenario) and it’s often access to this insight that my clients are paying for. So I’m constantly learning new things from academic research, books, conferences and conversations with those working in diverse organisations.

I need to use state-of-the-art techniques in my work, whether these are for holding difficult conversations, facilitating productive workshops, analysing complex data or presenting challenging findings. This notion of how I go about my work is a big part of the way in which I differentiate myself from other consultants, so I focus a lot of my attention on the techniques that I use in different aspects of my consulting assignments.

I likewise need to be able to deploy suitable theoretical, analytical and practical tools in my work. These range from the diagrams that I use to generate insight into complex issues, to the software that I use to analyse and visualise large datasets, to the calendar scheduling app that people always find so impressive (it’s Calendly, by the way, and I’d be lost without it), to the gadget I use to take notes (I love my reMarkable).

An underrated aspect of what it takes to be an effective consultant is time. This includes not just time to meet with people, to collect data, to analyse results and to write reports. I also need time to think. Which is, after all, what knowledge work is all about. And so I need to make sure I allocate sufficient time for the sort of focused thinking (what Cal Newport calls ‘deep work’) that allows me to do my best work.

And finally, I need to be in the right headspace. I need to be healthy, well-rested and in the right frame of mind. I need to be able to focus on the task at hand. And so I take care to eat sensibly, to exercise regularly and to get enough sleep. I also pay attention to my mental, emotional and spiritual health and wellbeing. Because I can only look after my clients if I look after myself, too.

Each of these things plays an important role in my ability to do what I do. And to do it well.

Simon Perks is the founder and director of Sockmonkey Consulting. He helps organisations with a social purpose to make better decisions, to improve their performance and to drive positive change. Sign up for his free monthly newsletter here.

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