My first career at IBM taught me how to be a good consultant. That’s where I worked hand-in-hand with customers to plan and install large mainframe systems in cavernous rooms to support their business. Lead times were often 6 months to a year, and downtime was not an option. The turnover had to go smoothly because their businesses depended on it.

At the time, I did not know how important these “soft skills” were, but now I look back on that time as creating the foundation for my success as a consultant (which by the way, is NOT about technology!)

  • Project management – and I am not talking about charts and checklists, although those are important tools. I mean real project management, in which you have to get all the stakeholders agreed on a plan and troubleshoot along the way.  Project management is much more about people than paper.  
  • Team building – the secret sauce of project management. I learned how to build and run a good team with the customer and my colleagues to get the job done.  Communication, respect and good humor were absolutely key to working well under pressure.
  • Influence versus control – I was an outsider in someone else’s organization. Although I had expertise and skill, they were the decision-makers.  I would offer my opinions, share pros and cons, and discuss tactics, but ultimately the choice was theirs and I had to support it.  This was key to being considered a partner in their success.
  • Meeting facilitation – I realized pretty quickly that getting everyone in the same room to create a plan together was a lot more efficient than dealing with silos. So, I just started facilitating meetings. I learned how to involve everyone and still come out with a plan or decision at the end of a meeting.  I’ve built on this over the years to make it one of my core services. 
  • Relationship sales – IBM focused heavily on understanding client needs and building relationships with clients to help them solve their problems. That ethic was ingrained in me as a young systems engineer, and then I spent time teaching that for IBM in Dallas, Texas.  Knowing how to sell (and not being intimidated by the process) has been the “difference that makes a difference” for my own business.  It’s the reason I have been able to put food on the table for nearly 30 years.  

I need to thank IBM, my first employer, for teaching me these skills in the service of their work. I doubt I would be as successful today in my role as a consultant.

If you are interested in becoming a consultant or improving your consulting success, look for my upcoming book, Fizz! How to Succeed as an Independent Consultant, which will be published January 1, 2019 by Wisdom Editions. In the meantime, feel free to connect via LinkedIn!

Cathy Perme is the co-owner of Perme & Peterson Associates, LLC.

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Catherine Perme

Fizz! How to Succeed as an Independent Consultant author Cathy Perme also wrote Confucius in My Cubicle: Practical Wisdom for the Leader in All of Us, released by Wisdom Editions.