1. Rapid Learning and Assimilation
Management consultancy taught me to learn new things very fast! The typical timespan of a DHL Consulting project is somewhere between 3 to 6 months. Chances are high that you will be staffed on a topic that is completely new to you. As a result, every consultant is likely to see 3 or 4 different operations per year on average. This makes it essential to learn quickly and assimilate new information.
Last year I took on a role as the general manager of a complex warehousing operation for a high-profile technology player. I had never seen this type of operation before but of course, I needed to prove my value to the client and to our DHL teams quickly – a situation that is very similar to the start of any important consulting project.
2. Thirst for First-hand Experience
Working in management consultancy, I’ve always been eager to find out what other people’s work is really like. Instead of just taking someone’s word for it, I prefer going to see it, touch it, and do it myself. I learned that this often makes the difference between a good and a great plan. This thirst for firsthand experience has also proved very valuable in my other leadership roles.
Within my first month as VP Product Development in DHL Parcel, I didn’t spend much time in my new office. Instead, I was driving a DHL van, delivering up to 200 parcels a day to our customers. This allowed me to experience the realities our drivers face firsthand. Needless to say, it also gave me much more credibility when I started working with my peers in operations.
Similarly, in the first month as GM in a new warehouse operation, I made it my mission to work at least one shift with each warehouse team. After a month of receiving, grading, repairing, picking, packing and a good dose of cycle counting, I had gained three things: a deep understanding of current processes, a long list of improvement ideas and valuable fellowship among the team.
3. Active Listening Skills
An essential talent in consultancy is to really hear what people are saying, even when they are not fully articulating their ideas. In which case, you may need to read between the lines.
Active listening requires you to listen keenly, understand deeply, and translate this information into a way forward with the next process step or new business plan. Active listening means you become effective in each new environment in the shortest space of time. Most of the ideas are already there in one shape or another; it is the management consultant’s job to find and refine them.
As an example, one of the cornerstones of our business turnaround in the warehouse was the creation of something I called ‘Plan on a Page’. As this name suggests, it encapsulated a detailed, multi-faceted improvement plan on a single page. Most of this content was based on input from my teams – gained through shift working and active listening.
Just as in consulting projects, most ideas were already there, I just added a few of my own ideas and prioritized the required steps. With buy-in from my direct reports, I shared the plan with the entire team of 250 and with our top management. Not only did this serve as the compass for our work, but it also instilled trust with the team, top management, and our client that things would get better from here.
5. Learning from Others
Another great benefit of working at DHL Consulting is that you get to see how various divisions and companies are run and you learn to recognize and pinpoint what helps them to succeed.
I have had the privilege of working with all DHL business divisions. Subsequently, when I moved into my own operational and commercial leadership roles, I could look back and remember what I’d seen that worked well and try to adapt the best ideas and approaches into my own businesses. For example, to drive the business turnaround with the above-mentioned technology company, I drew a lot of inspiration from DHL Express. A clear and simple plan, strong focus on continuous improvement, and genuine staff appreciation were important ingredients to our success.
Advice for Consultants Making the Move
I guess you can tell I feel that DHL Consulting has been an excellent training ground for leadership roles. My bosses have provided great role models for best-practice leadership and this too – in addition to everything else – has made me a better business leader.
If you are wondering whether a consulting career is right for you, or if you are a consultant who is thinking of making the move from management consultancy to operational or commercial leadership and you would like to have a chat, please get in touch. Also, if you have similar or very different experiences in your career, I would be keen to read your thoughts in the comments below.