Why I Became A Consultant
I have a couple of reasons why I wrote this article. Firstly, I left an employer of a lifetime in February 1999 to work on my own and in association with Revolution Consulting through its founder, Jim Spivey. I wanted to capture my reasons as part of recording the ongoing history of Revolution Consulting. Secondly, and more importantly in my mind (otherwise I would just have written some notes for Revolution Consulting and myself), the process I went through to get to this point was very helpful in focusing myself on what I wanted to do. If you are struggling with this, then perhaps you will get some pointers on how to help yourself in your own journey.
This last phrase "in your own journey", is the key for me. What I realized most of all is that understanding what you want to do, and how you want to do it, is a journey, takes time, and doesnít end. Thatís the best advice I received from Jim, when I was trying to think this through in the winter of 1997/98. To quote from one of my other articles, "It (change) can take many months, or even years; it requires that you are able to Ďsee the obviousí." It took me years to see the obvious.
My dilemma was choosing between managing a business with an army of people working for me, and advising a business with no-one or a very small number of people working for me. This had been gnawing at me for ten years, from the day I accepted a line role and turned it down the following day since it did not feel right. I can now even trace it back earlier than that. An extract from my self-appraisal in 1983 reads "I have been slightly concerned over the last few months about my inability to decide what I personally want".
The traditional corporate success ladder was that, to get ahead, I needed the army. I kept wondering what was wrong with me and how could I change, as I kept finding I did not get much satisfaction from this. Each time I took on a line role my aim was to work towards determining how to enjoy it more. Others enjoyed it, so why couldnít I? After each experience I felt I was getting closer. I never had a problem taking on the responsibilities, I learnt how to be perceived as the leader, I realized the importance of looking after the staff, and I recognized where my shortcomings were. However, advising & teaching, with occasional diving in to turnaround specific problem areas, was always fun!
So in the winter of 1997, while working with Jim at a client site, as he was thinking about his future, I finally decided to try and resolve my dilemma. It took many discussions, and much thinking. Being the process person I am, I developed a list of likes, dislikes, my observations about my company, and my strengths and weaknesses. This was good, but not enough. I went on, with more prodding from Jim. I asked myself what could I do at Logica that I had not already done, how can I leverage what I do best, do I feel I am a doer, leader, or teacher, and what does this mean in terms of what the next career step is.
Eventually this got me to finally realize that itís OK not to want to be a CEO, and I came up with what I do best and enjoy most as "observe, analyze, identify and define improvements, rework, teach - in a project, across a company, or in an industry." It didnít resolve how and where I should do this. However, having figured out what I do best, that this is actually what I want to do, and that this is where I have the most to contribute, it made the rest somewhat easier.
It gave me a proposition that I could test in various situations. With my employer, Logica, who was very understanding and supportive of my objectives; with Jim Spivey, as we recognized that this meshed with his evolving views about Revolution Consulting, and in various other situations with other prospective employers. It took a year for this testing to come together in terms of the right opportunity with Jim and realizing that this was the right vehicle for my work. During this time I created, with Logicaís help, my dream job within the company. However, although the work fit my proposition very well, it was ultimately not satisfying enough. I wanted to have the single-minded focus on improving other businesses, to make them great places to work, where I felt I would be supported in a business entity which is dedicated to exactly that Ė which is why I left my employer of over 18 years and became an independent consultant, working in association with Revolution Consulting.
Mike Cooper, March 1999