As consultants, we often find ourselves moving across industries, navigating diverse organizations, and engaging in a wide range of project initiatives. Each client is unique with its own challenges, operational processes, and cultural environments. Our work is dynamic and constantly changing. For most of us, this is one of the main reasons why we chose this career path; we have a growth mindset where we are drawn to learning new things and seek new challenges and opportunities. Additionally, one of the reasons many of us chose SEI specifically is our focus on the collective value model, where constantly sharing successes and failures internally to benefit our clients is intrinsic to what we do.
One of the ways we can add value to our clients is to use these skills and our vast experiences to help them become better learning organizations. On paper, all organizations acknowledge the importance of institutionalizing past experiences to achieve better future performance. However, this is often an area that is much easier said than done and our roles as consultants provide a unique opportunity to help the cause. Below are some areas to keep in mind while trying to foster a mindset of constant learning:
Own your Mistakes and Lead by Example
While everyone desires success, failure is going to happen to you at some point in your career, and it’s going to happen to your client, too. Rather than devolve into collective finger pointing or succumb to a mad scramble to turn all project dashboards back to green, we can help the client leverage the experience. We do this as consultants every day – learn from our mistakes and make sure it doesn’t happen again. Very few organizations will celebrate failure, but pointing out the opportunity to learn from the experience is invaluable. As part of a project team, there is often an opportunity to lead by example, help create constructive dialog around an issue, own your shortcomings, and identify opportunities for future improvement.
Encourage Regular Reflection
Of course, being willing to own your mistakes requires taking the time to reflect on lessons learned. There is immense value in self-examination and being mindful of taking the time to stop and think. And if it’s not happening organically, schedule time for yourself to reflect on your week! From a project perspective, the lessons learned session is often shortchanged, and is either skipped entirely or half-heartedly completed as a project is disbanding. Make sure these sessions are prioritized and explain the importance. Maybe rather than waiting until the end of a project, conduct them more regularly. Or perhaps you are on an agile project and have regular sprint retrospectives but see an opportunity to take a broader view periodically of how a project is progressing. Making time for thoughtful consideration of status, priorities, and ideas for improvement is critical to learning.
Learn from Success as well as Failure
Maybe a project or assignment went perfectly. There is no need to get together and pat everyone on the back, right? Successful organizations spend as much time understanding what factors led to success as they do examining failure. Often times, lessons learned sessions can be heavily weighted towards the negative (i.e. the term “post-mortem”). These are actually opportunities to continue to create a culture of learning and celebrate success. On a personal level, consider why you are being successful when things are going well, instead of just focusing on areas for improvement or to find faults.
As consultants, we are often hired because of our experiences. By showing clients that we are lifelong learners and serious about internalizing and applying those experiences, we help them understand that it is not about just our titles, degrees, and tenure. With our clients, using those lessons to help them become organizations that appreciate a culture of learning is another way we can show our value.