With over 30 years’ consulting and industry experience under his belt, there’s much to learn from Nick Smith, Business Change Director at Afiniti, so we sat down for a chat and I asked Nick some questions about his career to date.
How did you get into consulting?
“I got into consulting in 1985 – a very long time ago! Before consulting I worked for a major IT supplier in a pretty focused role. I felt I wanted a role which would stretch me in areas that I really enjoyed, such as problem solving and solution building, and consultancy gave me the opportunity to do just that.
“I’ve worked in a range of different consulting settings over the years, from the ‘Big Four’ to smaller niche firms, and I’ve been a Business Change Director with Afiniti for five years now. I’ve also had breaks from consulting where I’ve gone back to industry, as I believe that part of being a good consultant comes from experience of working on the other side – spending time experiencing first-hand the operational and strategic challenges and opportunities that our clients face.”
Which project most stands out to you and why?
“My first major consulting project, around 30 years ago was with an IT vendor looking to transform their sales and marketing approach from being product-based to a more consultative way of working.
“The Marketing lead chose not to target his spend on promotion, but recognised the importance of investing in the people aspect of change. As such, we planned and delivered three-day change workshops to over 300 marketing and sales professionals. Now this was a really innovative way of thinking back then, and it taught me a really important lesson: to truly embed change and make it stick, you need to take people on the change journey – to merely change the systems and processes really isn’t enough.
“Another important lesson I learned from this project was around collaboration and client centricity. The client engaged not just my organisation, but another two consultancies also. I found that the ability to collaborate and keep the client at the heart varied widely among the firms. What stood out for me as we collaborated was that being generous-spirited and open to working in different and / or new ways always yielded the best outcome not only for the client, but the consultancies too.”
What other important lessons have you learned over the years?
“I’m also persuaded that a client who stretches you in terms of your capability and who wants to learn with you, rather than looking to be dependent on you or constantly finding fault, is going to get a better outcome. And, on the flip side, any consultant who feels they need their client to be less smart than they are, or to completely depend on them is going to find themselves in trouble – you’re not going to innovate, grow together and form a true partnership that way.”
What do you see as the main challenges and opportunities for business in the coming years, and why is change management so important to these?
“For those of us working in business change and change management, culture becomes very important and equipping people to be ‘able’ to change and adapt becomes vital too.”
“I’d highlight a couple of factors in play at the moment which could impact across industries and sectors. First we’ve got Brexit creating great uncertainty, and second we’ve got a lot of people retiring and exiting the workforce with millennials coming in to take their place. Millennials have different expectations of the workplace, and the implicit contract between them and their employers will be much more fluid.
“If you put these together, then it’s really important to understand that what matters for organisations isn’t necessarily ‘what’ people are doing but ‘how’ they are able to do it. So a workforce that is able to reskill rapidly, displaying versatility and flexibility in order to respond to new situations seems to me to be more important than being good at any one thing. So, equipping people for change is absolutely fundamental. For those of us working in business change and change management, culture becomes very important and equipping people to be ‘able’ to change and adapt becomes vital too.”
What do you most enjoy about what you do?
“It’s certainly the client work that I enjoy most – seeing the client execute and deliver, and realise their business outcomes, knowing that we made a significant contribution to doing that – that’s what I find most exciting.”
I hope you’ve enjoyed this quick delve into Nick’s career, if you’d like to learn more about Nick’s, and indeed Afiniti’s approach and experience of business change, then do get in touch!
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