The external perspective – transitioning from consulting to operations

Before my recent switch from an internal consulting role to an operational role in production recently, I didn’t really anticipate that the way I approach my work would have to change much (sweet summer child and all that). If I even thought about it at all, I figured the new job would feel like a really long project. I like projects, I’m good at picking things up quickly. I enjoy building a network around the project work, finding and working with the right people. All those skills have been invaluable in my recent transition, but this would be a very boring blog if everything worked out like I imagined it would, wouldn’t it?

Let me give you a little bit of a background: my current organization is facing a lot of change at the moment – if you follow the news, you probably have a rough idea what we’re going through. Before I switched, I was adamant that I wanted to be part of that transformation, but not as a consultant. I was (and am) invested in making the necessary change more sustainable, and I believe you need local leadership carrying the change to achieve long-term results. Due to the sheer amount of work that needs to be done in a pretty short amount of time, the place is buzzing with consultants though, both internal and external. We are definitely, without a doubt living in interesting times (no boredom for me right now).

The challenging part of this transition for me is to let go of the privilege of being able to provide an external perspective, which is a major part of the work consultants do. It’s fun and rewarding to swoop in and be the one that gets to sort out the sometimes long-standing problems. It’s also safer in a way, because you are not part of the organization that’s changing, you are merely driving the change. You can go home to your own organization, internal or external, and have that anchor point from which to drive others towards their goal. It’s easier to use a really large lever if you’re not standing on the object to be moved.

Now, I am in this interesting and exhausting middle ground – on the one hand, I’m new enough and trained well enough in being a consultant that I jive most easily with the way they work and the way they think about the existing organization. I see many of the things that they see in a similar light. On the other hand, I am already involved and integrated enough to have a growing sense of ownership and protectiveness around “my people” that doesn’t always go well with letting externals do their job in the way they want to do it. I am also part of the “object” to be moved now, and change is always hard, no matter how necessary it is. 

At first I was a little apprehensive that I’d lose the ability to look at this – or any – organization with that particular external perspective, but I am slowly getting to the conclusion that I am gaining a new kind of privilege: the ability to be part of the local organization and to look at it from the outside to see where that lever might get the best results. I might no longer be the one who gets to hold the lever (facilitates the workshop, makes the bomb presentation, and so on), and it’s a little bit sad to let that part go for now. But I am able to help steer where and when the lever is applied, and isn’t it cool to be a part of that side of the equation as well?