10 Big things every consultant (and you) should do

consultant

A consultant (should be) someone who offers good advice. Many times this is advice based on subject matter expertise, experience, or other unique qualifications. However having a particular subject matter expertise or experience is only one facet of being a good consultant.

Great consultants have a lot more than just expertise – they understand how to solve problems and work with people. These skills aren’t just valuable to those who want to make a living providing advice professionally, they can help anyone who is trying to make a difference in any organization.

Great consultants help:

  1. Define problems – the key to solving the problem is often finding it.
  2. Establish scope – successfully solving some problems planning to break it into manageable chunks
  3. Find solutions – sometimes the solution is right under your nose, sometimes it takes being able to think outside the box or how it has always been done.
  4. Work to deliver – great consultants don’t just give advice, they help get you to the solution. Whether you are trying to bring you consulting skills to bear on an internal project or have been brought in to find a solution…roll up your sleeves!

The four items above form a pretty straight forward problem solving but getting them right is hard. You can and I have talked about different specific approaches to these things. At a more basic level I think there are some things I think everyone who works in teams or problem solving should think about.

These 10 Big things every consultant (and you) should do are things I like to remind myself of every so often because doing these basics well establishes a foundation for success over time.

  1. Listen more – Even if you have deep subject matter expertise most consultants would be better served to spend more time listening. I like to spend 60-80% of my time listening.
  2. Keep your personal opinions/life out of it – Especially for paid consultants but even with internal staff, the job is problem solving not discussing random life events. The less time we spend discussing the slopes, gym, love life or pets the more likely we are to solve something.
  3. Keep it positive – Even when things are bad, they could typically be worse and for most of us literal life and death do not hang in the balance. Focusing on the positive keeps even the most daunting tasks from becoming overwhelming.
  4. Take notes – I’m amazed at how rare note taking is…I don’t care where you take them (paper, iPad, computer) but take them. Not sure what to write? Anything that someone is supposed to do that doesn’t occur in the meeting, key on the following phrases (We should be…, the problem is…, someone needs to…, I’ve asked for…, the next step is..) Also…share your notes. You would be amazed at how few other people took them.
  5. Focus on results not effort – Nobody wants to hear about how you are working around the clock on something. Trust me people know hard workers when they see them and your results should speak for themselves. At the end of the day, I don’t care if you worked 4 hours or 10. I want the results.
  6. Do or Do Not – I hear all the time about how to multi-task “better” and shake my head. I hate multitasking. Do one thing. Get it done. Go on to the next thing. Running back and forth lowers overall quality and lengthens time to market. I can’t prove it but I can sense it. Oh and turn off that loud music!
  7. Take breaks – Sometimes I will literally go for a walk to clear my head. Problem solving requires a lot of focus and energy. If you find your attention drifting change tasks, take a break or otherwise give your head a chance to recover from recent effort.
  8. Tackle the tough stuff in the AM -Trying to solve complex problems is hard.  Trying to do it at 1AM after a 17 hour day isn’t going to happen. I like to split my work day so that most of the thinking is done in the morning and the more mundane and social tasks are in the afternoon. Most people are simply better prepared to problem solve in the morning.
  9. Do the research and include the research – Even when you know the answer off the top of your head go find the backing information. I’ve been amazed over the years at how often the right answer last year has been overtaken by advances in technology, business process changes, etc. I also always try to write up solutions to include references. I do this so it is easier for others to understand how I arrived at the solution. Also, I often need to go back to at least one of the 30 websites I looked at when developing the solution.
  10. Plan your problem solving efforts – Too often the plan for solving a problem is simply getting everyone in the room and talking about it. The end result too often is an agreement to meet again next week. Create a plan for your planning. Include agendas for meetings with clearly stated outcomes and objectives. Close meetings by checking against those items and ensuring action items are clearly defined and attributed.

Most of my 10 Big things every consultant (and you) should do are common sense. What is on your list? Do you have a repeatable approach to problem solving? Let me know @jmillsapps.

 

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Don’t wait for opportunity to knock

Unknown

I think one of the most important things you can do for yourself is take an active interest in your career and search out the best opportunities for you to succeed. It’s critical that you keep your eyes and ears open as you progress through your career. While it’s great to be comfortable it’s also important to keep in mind that the next best job or the next best opportunity isn’t necessarily going to be there when you need it to be there; it’s going to be there on it’s own time.  So maintaining a bit of a monitoring stance is something that can pay dividends.

I’m not saying that this approach is for everybody. There’s a lot ot be said for continuity, being able to grow within an organization, building up trust with other people, and getting the type of satisfaction that comes with achieving complex goals over many years with a tight knit group of people. That’s something that you dont see that often anymore for various reasons.

If you’re even remotely thinking that you might do something a little bit differfent from your current job, you want to do yourself the favor of being proactive about it rather than waiting for something to happen that forces you to. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to look outside your current organization. It could be that you’re not aware of what’s going on within your organization. Make sure that your peers, boss, or upper management are aware of the capabilities that you have to step into some role that you dont have now but you feel that you could succeed in. This is preferable to standing by passively and watching them fill that role and position with somebody from the outside.

It’s important in managing your career that you periodically step back and take a look at the big picture. Ask yourself where do you want to end up in twenty years in order to make sure that you aren’t falling into a comfortable rut. This way you’re able to progress yourself and I think that’s the part that a lot of people don’t get right.  People work to develop their skills and sometimes they forget to look for that great opportunity unitl something forces them to. At that point your stuck with the opportunities that are available at the time and great opportunities don’t always happen on your time; they hapen on their own time.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Lessons learned from the shutdown

lessons learned

I have to say it’s really nice to be back at work in Washington, DC. That’s not to say that we weren’t working while the government was shut down but it is nice to have everybody back and know that things are going to be a little bit closer to normal for at least the next few months.  When I was in DC the other day, it was just good to see the streets full again. While I can’t say that I missed the traffic as much as I missed the people, you can’t exactly have one without the other so I guess I’ll take the traffic back as well.

Something I’ve noticed that seems to be unique to DC as opposed to some of the other big and busy  cities where people seem to be go out of their way to avoid eye contact is that DC is a seemingly more friendly place. I think part of this is because there are so many people that aren’t from here, they have a tendency to give you a smile and a hello which gives this big city a smaller town feel and I really appreciate that. For instance, the other day when I was walking down the street in DC and I saw a lady walking into her office and she gave me a big smile and said, “It sure is nice to be back at work.” It just felt really good and brings me to my point.

I really hope that one of the things that comes out of the shutdown, at least in the lower levels of government, is a renewed sense of partnership and renewed sense of ‘we’re all in this together’ sort of feeling. We need to sort things out both from the standpoint of public and private partnerships. We need to figure out how do we work together to achieve the mission of the agency, department, or even the country as a whole.

One of the things that came out of the shutdown was a very distinct sense that everybody is unhappy, no matter your party affiliation, with the way things have played out. There’s a sense that we can’t continue to go down this road. We’ve got to find a way to make intelligent decisions as a country and work together to carry ourselves through or we’ll just cease to be the great country that we’ve been for so many years, and I don’t think anyone wants that. So as you go to work this week or as you sit at home over the weekend, it’s worth taking a few minutes to think a bit about the big picture, learn from what has transpired on the national stage, carry it into our work lives, and focus in on driving value for the organization that you’re working for.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

The dos and don’ts of delegating distasteful tasks

distasteful tasks

I like people to get things done. One of the most frustrating things that I’ve run across in the course of doing work with lots of different people on lots of different teams is the idea that a particular job or a particular part of a project is beneath somebody, even if that person could get it done with just a little bit of elbow grease and some proactive leanings. So whenever I see something like that I think about my mom. She has a college degree and spent a lot of time as a teacher but also spent a lot of time when we were growing up working at a health club cleaning toilets and folding towels. This job allowed us to have access to a health club that we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to go to where we got to go swimming all the time, play basketball, and do a lot of other things. It was important to her that we had access to those things and so she did something that a lot of folks would have felt was beneath them.

I’m sure that as she was working her way through college her thought wasn’t, “Can’t wait to get done with this so I can be able to spend 15 years cleaning toilets.”  I’m pretty sure that wasn’t high on the list of things that she thought she was going to spend her career doing but it was stuff that had to get done in order to get something else that was important to her accomplished. I think about that every time that I sit down to something that I’m like, “Ugh, I wish I didn’t have to do that” or I get the urge to delegate something just because it’s unpleasant.

Things like making calls to folks that don’t necessarily want to hear what you have to say are easy to delegate but you have to think about why you are doing those things and the example it sets.  If you are constantly looking to delegate things down, that’s going to be something that catches on with other folks. Eventually you run out of people you can delegate to and the things that have to get done don’t get done.  Now I’m not saying there’s a line here where there are certain things that you probably shouldn’t spend your time doing because they’re a poor use of your time. I think it’s very appropriate to delegate in those circumstances but as a team leader or even just a member of a team you have to be careful about what you ask other people to do. Be honest with yourself about the reason that you’re asking them to do this task.  Are you asking them because:

  1. This is something you don’t want or do?
  2. Are they better suited to do this particular job?
  3. Is this something that you really shouldn’t be spending your time on?

If you have the right answers to those question great, delegate it. If you don’t or even if you have some extra time and it’s something that is distasteful but it sets a good example that you’re doing it, you should consider going ahead and doing it.  A lot of times if there’s something I’m about to ask somebody to do something that I know is going to be pretty terrible, I’ll try to sit down and at least do the beginning part of it with them. Hopefully this will:

  1. Share the misery
  2. Show that it can be done, it should be done and nobody’s above doing it

So with that said, enjoy your weekend and do something distasteful on Monday.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Long hours at a desk: A quest for the cure for “Office Back”

Office Back

I’ve found the cure for lower back pain, or “office back.”  Well maybe I didn’t find it, but I did hear about it from a chiropractor, use it in life, then made it my own. As somebody who has a spent an awful lot of time sitting at desks I’ve had lots of problems with lower back pain. I’ve tried just about everything under the sun from massages, to chiropractors, to all different types of stretches, and while a lot of things worked a little bit, nothing worked all the time. Luckily, I’ve finally found something that works.

I’ve started using a lacrosse ball to deep tissue massage the muscles in my lower back and it’s been incredibly effective for me. First you take the lacrosse ball and pin it between yourself and the wall. From there you almost do a sort of wall squat up and down the wall and use the lax ball to dig into the muscles that are getting knotted up from sitting at a desk for 8 to 10 hours a day. It’s the type of thing that you should probably do alone because I speak from experience when I say you will be made fun of if somebody sees you doing it. Squatting up and down the wall while trying to dig the lax ball into your lower back does not leave you looking very dignified but I have found that it makes you feel a lot better.

So in the face of some funny comments from friends and family who have seen me do it, I will continue.  I’ve even caught a few of them trying it out. It’s definitely one of those things that it doesn’t matter how you look its how you feel and it has certainly made me feel a lot better.  It’s very similar to a lot of what people are doing with foam rollers on their hips to release some of the tension from their muscles. I keep a lax ball with me at work, I’ve got one at home, one in my home office, and I keep one in my car. Whenever I start to feel a little bit tight I take it out, spend 3 to 5 minutes using it on my lower back where the muscles feel knotted, and the next thing you know I feel much better.

So it’s worth a try for all of you that spend a lot of time at a desk. There are a lot of other things that I’ve tried that are helpful including making sure that you get up at regular intervals. This is another one that if you just get up a couple times an hour and get a quick stretch you’ll find that at the end of the day you’re not nearly as miserable as you could be; but if you do end up with that horrible set of knotted muscles the lax ball is a really good way to cure “office back.”

Photo credit: Eugenio “The Wedding Traveler” WILMAN

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

A Jiu Jitsu champion’s views on what it takes to excel

I was listening to an interview with one of the most accomplished Jiu Jitsu players of all time, Marcelo Garcia, and he was talking about how he prepared for the championships and what drove him. I want bring up something really interesting that he said and I think it can be applied across anything that you do. If you want to check it out the point I want to bring up happens at the 5:30 mark in the above video.  He was asked, “What’s the most important characteristic that you can have to excel in this world?” He at first started out with a really kind of patented answer and I almost turned my brain off.  He said you have to give 100%.  That answer or give 110% I think is used so often that it’s become meaningless.  It’s what he said afterwards though that I found really interesting.  He said that if you give something just 80% and you don’t get there, you have wasted that 80%. I thought that really was something a little bit different from anything I had heard before and kind of changed the way I think about giving 100%.

When you think about the amount of time that you spend at anything that you’re trying to accomplish, whether its personal advancement, professional advancement, or a hobby, and you think about the amount of time that you put into it, you understand that you have a finite amount of time available to you. It really does put in perspective what giving 100% means when you’re doing something. Essentially, if you’re not giving it your all, you’re wasting your time. You’re not going to get where you want to go and you might as well not be doing it at all; you might as well be doing whatever else it is that you might want to do whether it is sitting on the couch watching TV or reading a book. With that logic he was saying that if you’re not going to give it 100% than what are you really accomplishing? So I thought it was a really interesting point; I’d never quite heard it phrased that way and I thought I’d pass it along.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

The importance of being likeable

likeable

I was reading a blog post by the founder of Hub Spot the other day. One of the things that jumped out at me from the article was when he was talking about startups and how everything you need to get your startups going isn’t necessarily everything that you learned in business school. He was sort of making fun of all the complex models that you learn about in business school and how they aren’t necessarily as applicable as being able to read your bank account successfully, trying new things, and figuring out what works and what doesn’t.  All of it was really good and worth reading but what really jumped out at me was he when he talks about the importance of being likable. It really hit home with me because to some degree, as a leader, you’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to have tough times, especially in a startup environment. So I think it really is important that you be likable.

You’re going to need to suffer through some times that aren’t ideal and you’re going to need people to believe in you. More importantly, you need people who want to succeed with you and want to play a part of helping you and the rest of the team get over the hump. I think that the importance of likability is undersold to a large degree within today’s marketplace. You read so many articles about the next big way for marketing your company, the next big way of inspiring innovation within your team, and things like that but I think he had it right saying without the likability factor those next big things are much harder to achieve. It was so simple which is maybe why we don’t think about it but I don’t think you can understate how important it is in terms of inspiring real results. Being likeable is a lot of the grease that gets things done. It is the stuff that helps people get through the hard times and I think that’s really important.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.