If you're trying to launch a consulting career, Martin Hazell, director for U.K. consulting firm Simplexity
, recommends narrowing down the type of consulting you want to try, then identifying the firms that are successful in those areas - and finally, trying to join one of them.
"The larger firms can offer the security of a predictable income while you are learning the ropes," he says. "If you are set on joining a smaller firm, make sure you understand how your income will vary based on success, or otherwise."
If you're set on giving it a go as an independent consultant, Martin advises you to make sure you have the resources to live for a year with no income.
"Your first few contracts will be very tough," he adds.
Martin recently answered a few questions for us about Simplexity and their unique approach to consulting, as we also got his insight on the hiring process for new consultants. Here's what he had to say:
Can you tell us about Simplexity? What services do you offer? Who should be using them?
We focus on clients dealing with complex challenges where there is considerable flux and uncertainty, with many competing ideas but no right answers - only emergent instructive patterns to explore.
We encourage our clients to explore creative and innovative approaches to learn from patterns and attune leadership accordingly.
We are committed to supporting people to take control of their own futures, and we do this by working with them in highly appreciative ways. In dealing with external, political and emotional change, we seek to balance issues of competence with the diversity of innate preferences of human beings in thinking, feeling and behaving.
We provide the frameworks and support to our clients which enable them to develop their own unique experiments and successful solutions.
Broadly, this has focused around:
Fixing broken projects that have failed to take account of the surrounding complexity both in the governance and execution of the project
Framing strategic choices for business investment, innovation and sustainability
Long-term strategic planning at the societal level, with projects ranging from a National Integrated Plan for the Sustainable Development of a Caribbean Island to supporting small local charities in addressing significant changes in their environment.
Business process change driven by a need to address complex external forces, regulation, etc.
Addressing culture and staff commitment through highly participatory dialogue and engagement with the purposes behind their roles and their value to their customers
Our client base ranges from major international corporations through government to small institutions. The overriding factor is that they all recognise that their issue is one of complexity and are not looking for standard solutions, however complicated, that rely on expert advice.
Tell us about your position at Simplexity.
I have been a Director of Simplexity since 2002, when I acquired the company, because I liked the name. Initially, we ran it on an associate-only basis, picking up some major international clients on the way. Then in 2006 with our first seven-figure contract, we took on additional partners to continue to grow the business.
Today, I focus on building strategic alliances across Europe, which gives us access to a broader range of clients - and more excitingly, a much broader range of very talented young consultants who are hungry to learn and develop in their chosen fields.
I continue to work at this because I enjoy the challenges presented by complex issues by breaking them down into simpler systems which can be managed in helping people move forward positively.
What does Simplexity look for in potential hires?
We look for people who are patient and allow time for reflection, both in their own lives and in dealing with clients. People who will probe, challenge, and seek to make sense of what is going on before they respond. People with the imagination to create environments and experiments that allow patterns to emerge, while increasing levels of interaction and communication.
We are looking for individuals with the robustness and integrity to use methods that can help generate ideas: open up discussion (as through large group methods); set barriers; stimulate attractors; encourage dissent and diversity; manage starting conditions and monitor for emergence.
What are some red flags that a potential hire might not be a good fit for Simplexity?
At a more prosaic level, red flags would include: a temptation to fall into habitual, command-and-control mode; a temptation to look for facts rather than allowing patterns to emerge; a desire for accelerated resolution of problems or exploitation of opportunities; a tendency to "know" the answers; quoting from academic theories rather than practical experience.
Are there particular universities that you favour when hiring?
No. Neither do we favour any particular subject studied. Ideally, we are looking for somebody who has used their studies to stretch their thinking and imagination; whether it is in the arts, science, technology or social sciences is almost irrelevant. We do not, however, look favourably on students with first degrees in business, nor MBAs from any but the top schools in the world.
How do consultants know if there is a cultural fit with Simplexity?
Our consultants need to be very comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty. They also need to recognise that they are not employed to provide standard solutions or expert advice, but to help our clients deal with complexity in all its unique forms. They must be comfortable as part of a team and have a highly integrative approach to getting the very best out of people for them to develop solutions to their own challenges. Above all, they must be attuned to generativity and a highly appreciative approach to dealing with clients at all levels.
Simplexity is a supporter of The Cranfield Trust, which provides free consulting services to charities through a network of volunteers; and UpRising, a charity which provides mentoring and support to young social entrepreneurs and leaders. We would expect that our consultants be prepared to act as volunteers for one of these if a suitable opportunity arises, or in some other way provide a return to the society in which they live.
For those looking to get into management consulting, why should they consider Simplexity?
Right now, we are only considering consultants with a track record in business development or delivery, so I would have to say we are not really a suitable firm for someone looking to get into management consulting.
So saying, we recently took on a short-term intern: a lady with an impressive track record in industry and business who is considering a move into consulting as a lifestyle choice. She found the experience of shadowing an experienced consultant and co-facilitating workshops very useful in helping her decide on her next move.
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