Our reflections on being finalists for the MCA Consulting Excellence Consultancy of the Year 2019 Award
Founding an organisation is the ultimate learning experience. You start with an idea of what you want to do and how you want to do it. You spend a couple of years doing ‘stuff’, keeping your fingers crossed and hoping that it might work – following the advice you have been given and the books you have read and trying to do it ‘right’.
After a bit of time (with a bit of luck!) it starts to work. You don’t always quite know how, but somehow you are suddenly running a real company, and have an actual team of people. The experience is a bit like the first time you ride a bike alone. Suddenly the bike is actually moving along and doing the thing that seemed impossible only a short time beforehand; and that is where the journey gets really interesting.
When you have built something, and it somehow works, it is easy to feel reluctant to really change anything. When you meet a challenge, it feels safer to go back to the rules, to ‘check’ what you need to do next and to keep applying the same principles over and over again. The problem comes when it doesn’t feel like these same principles are ‘working’, when the result you get doesn’t get you to where you expected to be. In many ways, that is where the process of becoming something real begins. Because, as the organisation (and experience itself) throws up questions, it then becomes the job of leaders not simply to follow the rules, but to work out the answers – answers that feel authentic and that reflect what the organisation is and what you want it to be. It is fascinating work.
Our particular organisation, PPL, is nearly 12 years old. We have done a lot of learning throughout that period. We have been part of the MCA for a decade, and served as a Vice President, Board Members and as part of the SME community throughout that time.
Consulting Excellence was developed through the period of our involvement with the MCA, and has always seemed to us like a really helpful frame through which to start to answer the questions about what kind of organisation we wanted to be – to define ‘what excellence really means to us’.
Responding to these questions has been the work of the past few years for us and our team. Our answers are ones that feel real and authentic to us as a team and are a really important way that we are able to provide outstanding and impactful support to our clients.
Consulting Excellence has three pillars – Client Service & Value, Ethical Behaviour and People & Development.
At PPL, we believe that an organisation’s starting point should be to provide a great service to clients; to do so in a way that is ethically sound; and to create a culture of continuous development and growth within the team. For us, Consulting Excellence is our business as usual.
We recognise that this is a high ambition, but it is the one we think best fits our organisation and our team.
Our clients are our partners, working with us to create practical solutions to problems that are often changing and shifting before their eyes. Ethical behaviour shapes the choices we make as an organisation; not just through our charity partnerships but in the way we price our work, the way we partner with other expert organisations, and the way we work with our clients to create sustainable solutions that they can take forward without support – consultancy at its best.
We have been proud recipients of Consulting Excellence Awards in both areas.
But the reason we are able to do this – to deliver in this way, to work in partnership so effectively and to understand and connect with our clients, is the approach we have designed and adopted to development, which we call ‘How We Learn’.
How We Learn is a culture of constant professional growth that sits at the heart of our team and organisation. It isn’t simply about training and development, but rather a way of understanding who we each are as professionals. It gives us the space to grow and develop continuously, the permission to ask for and to receive honest feedback form colleagues and clients, and the courage both to talk about what we don’t know ‘yet’ and to go out and to learn.
Our professional development goal as an organisation is that the time people spend working within our team should be the period of their career that they will look back on as being the most enriching part of their journey, not because of the quality of our training and environment (although both are obviously excellent!) but because it should be the period where they learn How To Learn and grow as a professional.
It’s a lesson it took us years to learn ourselves. We recognise that it is incredibly hard to look outside the areas where we excel and to ask honestly how we could be better, but we also know that it is a model for work and professional growth that is, by definition, infinitely rewarding and enriching.
We are immensely proud of who our team are today, but we are proudest of all that it is a team with the self-confidence and the courage to grow and to challenge itself to be even better every day.
It takes time to learn, and time to grow. What we know is that the journey is where the powerful work takes place.
Consulting Excellence is about continually challenging yourself to be better, to do more, to learn more. It is worthwhile and exciting work, and we are so proud to be, once again, Finalists in this important and powerful category.