I have now worked as an IT consultant for the majority of my career, and seen many different types of engagements first-hand. The ones based on mutual trust are undoubtedly the most rewarding. So what does it take to become a trusted advisor? My colleague, Joe Combs, recently wrote about the traits and habits that help to build trust in the client-consulting relationship. I think every consultant agrees with the importance of having this trust, which is why it continues to baffle me that so many consulting firms choose to unbalance the trust equation when it comes to their employees.
What I Sought in a Firm to Balance My Trust Equation
When my wife and I were making a move to a new city, I decided to wade into the consulting job market to see what I could find. Specifically, I was looking for a firm with several key qualities that would enable me to move beyond being seen only as a technical resource and becoming a trusted advisor. My list looked something like this:
- Freedom to work directly with the clients in all respects: No layers of account reps “managing” the relationship or volunteering me for assignments that were either uninteresting to me or unreasonably scoped from the start.
- An entrepreneurial, low-overhead organization: So I could focus on anticipating my client’s needs and delivering results instead of endless status reports, change request escalations, or runarounds with HR.
- Support from a team of knowledgeable experts: For those times when I didn’t know the answer to a question, I could admit that while stating with confidence that I can “phone a friend” who does.
- Commitment to do what is right for the client: This would allow me to have my client’s interests at heart and to make decisions with the long term in view.
How SEI Exceeded My Expectations – and Gained My Trust
SEI was the only firm I found that met these criteria on paper, and I am happy to report after nearly three years here that they stand by these ideals in practice as well. In fact, I discovered several additional qualities that I had not anticipated would be valuable for gaining my client’s trust:
- SEI does not sell (or resell) frameworks or products: I am free to adapt to my client’s ecosystem to deliver them solutions in a language that they understand, no strings attached.
- Hiring is based on a profile, not the skills needed for a specific project: SEI hires veteran problem solvers first and foremost. This means that talented colleagues never need to leave due to a drought of billable work in their particular area of expertise, because everyone enjoys the challenge of growing and flexing with their clients’ needs and have the freedom to do so.
- Seniority is nonexistent and contributions are acknowledged and rewarded: There are no barriers to collaboration across our offices to help our clients succeed, and no politics when sharing hard-won lessons to bolster our collective experience.
In short, SEI’s model is built on trusting its consultant-owners to take responsibility for the company’s success, the success of their clients, and their own careers. Finally, a firm that empowers its own trusted advisors to be just that!