What Consulting Taught Me

Posted on August 2, 2018


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This post is by ELGL member Haley Kadish. Haley received her MPA from the John Glenn School of Public Affairs at The Ohio State University. She started her career in local government as an ICMA Local Government Management Fellow in Catawba County, NC.

After her fellowship, she joined The Novak Consulting Group where she worked with nearly 50 local government organizations. In June 2018, Haley started a new role as the Performance and Innovation Officer for the City of Albuquerque, NM, the city in which she was born.


The more than four years I spent #strengtheningorgs with The Novak Consulting Group prepared me for my new role as the City of Albuquerque’s Performance and Innovation Officer in ways I could never have imagined. I have learned something from every project and every client, but there are several key things that I will carry with me.

 

  • Assume good intent.

 

I have found that local governments are stock full of dedicated people who are doing their best to serve their communities. While there will always be room for improvement, it is important to appreciate the history behind an organization’s current way of doing things and to recognize that the barriers staff face are real.

I am also a firm believer that the answers already exist within the organization and I have grown to see my role as more about filtering and elevating solutions rather than creating them from scratch.

So the next time a blue-haired purchasing coordinator insists on three bids for a screwdriver, remember the great screwdriver scandal of 1936 and be patient.

 

  • Process has a place.

 

Speaking of patience…the best way to describe my patience is “why isn’t this done yet?”. But consulting has taught me to respect the value of process. I remember early in my time as a consultant, we were guiding a community through an extensive community engagement effort that resulted in a list of priorities that I felt I could have developed on my own and much more efficiently.

However, an important outcome of that process was not the list, but the ownership felt by members of the community. This is an invaluable facet of effective implementation.

 

  • Focus on service levels.

 

No organization has unlimited resources and the struggle to prioritize is real. This is where true policymaking happens. However, I am always surprised that prioritization conversations tend to focus on costs rather than service levels. This may seem like a minor distinction, but it is an important one.

What good is efficient service that leaves the community feeling underserved? I learned that when evaluating staffing levels in an organization, service level options should be presented. (Of course, the costs associated with each option must also be presented, but they are not the primary decider.)

 

  • Ask the right questions in the right way.

 

Ultimately, consulting has taught me to ask questions (like “What happened with screwdrivers in 1936?”). I now feel comfortable asking questions even when I may not have a complete mastery of the subject matter.

That is because consulting has taught me an approach to identifying issues and solutions that can be applied across any issue.

I have also learned the importance of speaking in a way that can be heard. Focusing on everyone’s shared interest of improving the organization creates a constructive environment in which to collaboratively create a better future.

While I had no idea it was happening at the time, consulting prepared me for the next step of my career. I am enjoying applying my learnings in the City of Albuquerque.

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