What are the biggest challenges facing your sector right now?
There are always challenges facing consulting but we should be good at adapting to these given that managing change is what we are all about.
At the present time all the chat (no pun intended) is about AI and all the ways that new AI products can deliver efficiencies in terms of research, data analysis, report design & production etc.
My personal view is that – as a sector – we are still discovering the potential and, as individual firms, discovering what can help differentiate us from our competitors.
Clients don’t buy products or services from consulting firms (it may look like that in their procurement documents) but they are actually seeking capability, creativity and delivery confidence. Our biggest challenge is therefore designing and delivering solutions that address these needs and, going forward, that will include the use of AI.
How do you keep your team motivated despite conflicts and obstacles?
I am very fortunate and work with a great team; both permanent team members and associates who we regard as extended AAB Consulting family members.
I think COVID was a big obstacle for most businesses in terms of motivation and we were no exception. Our response was to tune up our care and wellbeing activities (note – tune up not turn on).
I believe we are good at looking after our team members. Our first company value is ‘Not letting each other down’ and that means being there to support each other when client work or sales activities are tough. Consulting tends to attract motivated and self-starting individuals but we can’t be ‘on’ all the time so the key for us in terms of motivation is to be alert to those times when team members need support and to wrap the warmth of the business around them.
Who do you look up to for inspiration or mentorship?
That’s a great question. I try and avoid ‘looking up’ to be honest as that suggests you can only be inspired by more senior people and, to be honest, that isn’t always the case. I am inspired by people who have a service ethos; particularly when it is accompanied by passion, energy and generosity of spirit.
I am also inspired by creative people – I have huge admiration for all aspects of the Arts because I am hopeless at any form of creative expression. I have been very fortunate over my career to be inspired and mentored by many people so try to pay that forward as much as I can.
Oh, and if I don’t mention Mark Bell (my work partner-in-crime) he will be annoyed. In all seriousness, Mark is an amazing colleague and close friend and I cannot imagine doing this job without him.
How do you generate great ideas in your organisation?
We are never short of ideas – it comes with the job I guess.
Sometimes ideas come from client work when we realise we could deliver differently or there are new insights that need to be developed and shared. Sometimes they come from team sessions where we take time out just to think about the challenges our clients are facing and how we could respond. Equally, they may come from a random encounter – something we have read or watched or a chat – completely unrelated to work.
Watch this space as we will be launching a new podcast series soon which was stimulated by reading about The Human Library in Denmark.
What makes you most proud?
My answer to this is probably everything and nothing. I guess I should explain that. I think personal pride in achievements or accomplishments can be misplaced as people rarely achieve anything on their own.
I think I have my Gran’s wise words constantly ringing in my ears as she would often say ‘Pride comes before a fall’ so maybe my stance is partly upbringing? So, I am ‘proud’ when I have been a small part of others’ success but would probably more naturally describe it as being delighted or excited for them.
What are the most important traits to look for when you're hiring?
I don’t think these will be any different from most employers – hard-working, adaptable, curious, love of problem-solving and fun.
We have changed our recruitment approach to attract a wider talent pool; potential team members who do not have degrees or who are neurodivergent. Consulting firms need diverse teams so we are working hard to embrace that.
Finally, work is hard so we need team members who will be flexible, relish a challenge and opportunity, as well as support each other in good and bad times. I would be the first to admit we haven’t always got it right but that doesn’t mean our criteria are wrong; it means we are not applying them critically enough.
What’s the most important risk you took and why?
I have two that stand out. At a personal level, having a child. It’s a long story so I’ll just say it was the best risk my husband and I took. We have an amazing daughter who is now a fab adult making her own way in the world and we are learning from her every day.
At work, it was definitely choosing to leave the Civil Service back in 2002. I loved being a civil servant and was energised by the intellect, care and passion of the people I was privileged to work with.
Leaving that to join a consulting firm was a bit scary. Was I good enough? Would I like it? What impact would it have on our family? Twenty-one years on and I may have moved company but I am still in consulting, so I guess it was a risk worth taking.
Talk to Denholm
If you’d like to speak to us about your journey to leadership, growing your team, or even switching careers, please get in touch on 03303 359 818 today. Thank you.