Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Offering a unique value proposition as an employee 1: taking a consultant’s approach and offering a consultant’s value

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on May 26, 2013

I have written at least in passing, many times in this blog and particularly in its Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development and continuation page, about

• The value of taking an entrepreneurial approach and a consultants approach to work and to your job performance, and even if you report to someone else as a full time in-house employee.

My goal in this posting and in the series that I begin here, is to more systematically examine what that means as a source of value, and both when working on the specific job and for when developing and pursuing a more meaningful career path.

As a starting point for that, I would cite some specific earlier postings as references:

Taking an Entrepreneur’s Approach to Building and Managing a Career,
Taking a Consultant’s Approach in the Job Search, and
Working In-House, Working as a Consultant and Your Constraints Box.

And my goal in this series is to offer a more systematic and best practices approach to providing a source of value to an employer that they see as being uniquely valuable – making you the employee they see as someone they need, and making you the best candidate to advance, and in ways that meet your career goal needs and objectives.

But I want to start here with consulting and entrepreneurship and how those approaches can inform and enrich job and career development best practices in general. And I begin that with the issues of consulting and of thinking and working like a consultant:

• A consultant, in general, is an outside expert who is brought in to solve some specific problem or set of them that cannot be resolved, at least cost-effectively and within an acceptable timeframe, by in-house staff on-hand.
• A hiring manager looks for and seeks to bring in-house, an outside expert as a new employee when they are confronted with specific ongoing tasks and responsibilities that have to be managed and resolved, but that they cannot get done at least cost-effectively and within an acceptable timeframe by in-house staff already on-hand.
• If there appears to be a significant level of congruence between those two points, that is because there is. The primary salient distinction between them is in fact that the hired employee works in-house and as a direct employee of the business with their salary and any benefits coming from it as such, while a consultant comes in primarily shorter-term and for task-limited purposes and then they move on. And their compensation, of course, tends to come out of different lines in the company’s budget than payroll would, and they do not directly receive benefits organized and managed by that company and its Personnel office the way its employees do. Consultants (or consulting firms) have to set up and manage any benefits packages themselves.
• Even there, in practice the lines can blur. First, large businesses sometimes have in-house teams of consultants who only service the needs of their own organization. So they work for one part of the overall organization and perhaps within one silo of it and as direct employees there, but they are sent out to offer consulting services to other parts of the organization and to other silos. And to further blur the distinction, there are businesses where the same outside consultant can stay on with the same client company for years, and even for much of a work life. Microsoft comes immediately to mind as an example of a business that brings in long-term “outside” consultants in this way.
• But my primary focus of attention here is specifically in where “consultant” and “in-house employee” overlap and are potentially all but identical – and certainly for best practices. So I in effect restart this discussion at the beginning.
• A consultant makes a living and survives professionally by being a problem solver who can cost-effectively provide that best solution to the prioritized task at hand; a good consultant never simply takes what they work on or how they do that for granted and they never simply slip into a rote pattern of performing some same set of tasks to keep busy. Being more actively engaged than that is how they land their assignments, it is how they developing their reputations, and it is how they get and stay on preferred consultants lists for clients that they have worked with so they can get repeat business opportunities with them as new needs arise.
• This reflects a fundamental mindset and a fundamental approach to performing at a job and in a workplace. Employees can get typecast as only being able to do the things they do now, no matter what they do. But employees who simply slip into task flow ruts and who act like they can only do those same things again and again are more likely to get professionally hemmed in and limited in that way. Employees who approach their work as consultants and who always take an active, best practices and best results approach are more likely to be seen as solutions to problems and as flexible and capable resources who can do more.

But simply doing more and doing better are not enough. Communications enter in here, and as a two way flow of shared information and from the manager to the consultant/employee and from that employee back to their supervising manager. And the additional lines of communication that connect in stakeholders and others into this conversation are important here too. I am going to turn to those issues in my next series installment, where I will explore the role and value of the entrepreneurial approach in jobs and careers, and for employees as they consider their work and work lives. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2 and at my first Guide directory page on Job Search and Career Development.

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