Empathy is key to being successful in Consulting

empathyLet’s start with a little bit of history. I have been in Technology consulting for a majority of my career, working for companies, big and small. And over the course of my career, I have been extremely fortunate to have worked for some truly great people. And some of them have taught me more than they know, because they didn’t know that they were mentoring me by just being themselves.

As, I worked alongside them, I learnt to learn from them. And from that learning over the years, came the learning to empathize with the situation of my customers. 

Technology consulting is an integral part of big enterprises these days and we all know there three big reasons when organizations engage consultants, whether it is for technology, or for process

a) They don’t know how to do it themselves

b) They know how to do it but don’t have the resources

c) They know how to do it, have the resources but would like to do it the “right way” from the start

And, they look to consultants to provide them the “expertise”.

My opinion is that it isn’t just the “expertise” but also the “experience” of having done that before. I have always believed that a good consultant has to a good mix of “expertise” and the “experience”. And, that’s why I strongly believed the fresh grads would make terrible consultants.

And then, things changed.

Bear with me for a bit and then I will tie it all together.

I am reminded of working with a customer. At one point, another consultant was to take over my responsibilities and we broke the news to this customer that I will be transitioning out. The news didn’t go well down with them initially because they didn’t want any disruption in the work I was doing for them.

Now, the consultant who came to replace me carried great credentials in terms of “expertise” in this field and even “experience” in consulting for a decade.

But, things didn’t start off great on Day 1 of transition. Having talked to the new consultant, I realized that even though, his credentials should make this project a cake-walk for him, he didn’t seem very excited about the whole process. Infact, he told me that he felt like walking out on the customer in introductory meeting when a joke was made “about him needing to step up”.

I realize that the joke in the first introductory meeting didn’t sit well with him but I was really taken aback by what he told me later that day.

He feels like the project isn’t the best fit for him.

He feels like he is being compared to the predecessor (me) and hence doesn’t feel like he doesn’t feel like the customer respects him.

He feels like he should voice his opinions now so he isn’t blamed for it later.

Notice a pattern there? All I heard was me, me me. This reminded me for what I had heard when I was working for a big 5 consulting firm. The CYA” (Cover-Your-Ass) principle. It is one of the most important principles to go by in consulting (or so I was told). 

But, if there is one thing my time in consulting has taught me is to not worry about your ass. If you really think you belong in a service oriented industry that consulting is, learn to empathize and learn to see things from your customers perspective. If you truly can do that, you wouldn’t need to ever “CYA”. 

Now, I do think differently about what makes a good consultant. I don’t think that just “expertise” and “experience” are important, I know why “empathy” is the key.

I saw it play it out as another “junior” consultant was also working on the same project. From her situation, this isn’t the best use of her professional career years either. But, while she was on the project, she was making the best of it. She was stepping up, she was learning from others, and she wasn’t making it all about herself.

Even without the great winning combo of “expertise” and “experience”, she was winning the customer with her “empathy”

Thanks for teaching me a thing or two, so called “Junior Consultant”.

I know I wasn’t that mature in my earlier professional years and I hope others around you can learn this from you.

“Learn something new every day”

Published by

Lovekesh Babbar

Speaker on topics related to data, analytics and digital transformation