Written by David Garrison, a Senior Associate at Katzenbach Partners. Prior to joining the New York City office of Katzenbach Partners, David earned his MBA degree from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College in 2003.
I'm a senior associate at Katzenbach Partners, a management-strategy consulting firm. In this role, I ensure that two things happen. First, that specific parts of a project ("work streams") that are my responsibility are carried out according to schedule, and second, that associates working on the project have support and guidance.
Most of the time, I work between engagement managers or principals, the people who generally run our projects and develop broad recommendations, and associates, the ones who do a lot of the basic analysis required to come up with the "A-Ha!" insights that clients pay us for.
To give you more of a sense of where I fit into all this, understand that a project (very generally) involves four steps. First, we define the scope of the work, which means figuring out both what the client thinks the issues are and setting expectations around what we'll do. Second, we gather and analyze data. This can involve any number of things, from interviews and surveys to market analyses and mining data from systems. Third, we develop recommendations based on those analyses, and fourth, we implement the recommendations.
Over the course of these four project stages, I work with associates to compile the analyses we've done and with managers to assess the implications and come up with recommendations for our clients.
WIDE-RANGING ROLE. My current role centers on external work stemming from two clients and internal project-oriented work. External client work tends to span a few categories. Nitty-gritty details, like planning a monthly teleconference for a worldwide network of product-development leaders at a pharmaceutical firm; big-picture brainstorming, like working with a leadership team at a software company to define different ways of implementing a strategy; editing presentations; and developing and managing relationships.
Internal project work, on the other hand, focuses primarily on the development of new ideas and the promotion of KPL culture. Idea development involves things like exploring the key components of successful innovation practices and writing a business-development case to describe that new understanding. Promoting KPL culture can mean involvement in big projects, like integrating 20 new hires into the firm, or a bunch of smaller activities, like doing recruiting for interviews.
What intrigues me most about KPL is the way it merges strategy and organizational issues, which means that we focus on both the high-level discussions you'd have with an executive, and also on the ground-level issues of how teams work, how to motivate people, and how to make an organization more effective.
I came to KPL with an entrepreneurial background. Prior to B-school, I worked with a startup consulting firm and founded a strategic consulting partnership that worked with arts groups in transition. To some extent, I took for granted that there would be a natural and constant interplay between strategy and organization. In practice, however, companies often struggle to foster this relationship, and KPL puts a great deal of effort into articulating, analyzing, and fomenting the connection between them.
6:15 a.m. -- Roll out of bed and go for a jog in Riverside park, a long stretch of green along the Hudson River in New York City.
7:30 a.m. -- Eat breakfast, hop on the subway, and head to the office.
8:30 a.m. -- Check e-mail and confirm travel plans for a weekend away with friends. Compile a list of action items for a pharmaceutical client from yesterday's two-hour monthly teleconference with product-development managers from around the world. Send list to attendees as an initial step in following up on the teleconference.
9:00 a.m. -- Review PowerPoint slides for a meeting later today with another client in the same pharmaceutical company (I'm currently staffed on two distinct projects there). During that meeting, I'll be involved in discussing alternative means of developing sales initiatives for key customers at an upcoming conference.
9:30 a.m. -- Track down and read an article about the difference between leadership and management that a client suggested was interesting. Get copies of this article for my project manager and another team, who may find it useful.
10:30 a.m. -- First meeting of the day. We review a case I wrote for business-development purposes on innovation at a manufacturing company. The case, based on a turnaround that was orchestrated by Nat Mass, one of KPL's senior fellows, is something I've plugged away at in my spare time over the past three weeks. Both Mass and one of KPL's principals agree that I'll do some additional edits and send it to them and two of the partners within the next week.
12:00 p.m. -- Most days, I eat either with the gang in the Hub, KPL's communal kitchen and social center, or at my desk. Today, however, I'm having lunch at a nearby Indian restaurant with a friend and a co-worker to discuss entrepreneurial ideas they're developing. We talk about the marketing component of a business plan my friend is writing as well as an idea my co-worker is thinking of proposing to KPL. These lunches, which happen perhaps once a month, tend to be a good chance to bounce ideas around and to get a different perspective on problems we're facing.
1:00 p.m. -- Heavily edit a piece I've been drafting on potential frameworks that my first client can use to structure a performance feedback initiative. In our last meeting, the client requested something that would really push their thinking on how to give feedback to ad hoc teams working on product development projects.
2:30 p.m. -- Client meeting (the one I prepped for this morning). My project manager, one of KPL's partners, the clients, and I brainstorm on frameworks for developing creative but targeted initiatives at an upcoming conference. After a lot of back and forth, we come up with an idea based on entrepreneurial spirit that will force the group to articulate clear business value behind the initiatives they're proposing. The client gives us the go-ahead to begin creating materials for the presentation.
4:00 p.m. -- Meeting to begin organizing KPL's summer intern program. I'm heading up the graduate portion of the summer activities. One of the associates and I will be coordinating the first week of training and social events for the five summer associates (three undergrads and two grads) who'll be joining us for three months. We brainstorm on activities to include, draft a schedule, and agree to meet again after he reserves time on people's calendars and I review cases we can assign them.
5:30 p.m. -- Head out for a coffee with my "buddy," a recently arrived senior associate. KPL's buddy program links new hires with people who have been around a little longer, and who are either at their level or just senior to them. The idea is to give them an informal adviser and foster non-project interactions (read: friendships). My buddy and I find a quiet spot and discuss some questions he has about a new project to which he has been staffed.
6:00 p.m. -- Write up minutes from yesterday's two-hour monthly teleconference with pharmaceutical product development leaders. The minutes-writing, though not the most exciting part of the project, is a great review of what's coming down the client's product development pipeline, since the group is a worldwide network of country and regional managers.
7:30 p.m. -- Check e-mail again and answer some questions from another associate who is staffed to a Houston-based project I recently left.
8:00 p.m. -- Hop in a cab and return a call from a friend from business school. He's looking for a second opinion on a marketing situation he's facing at a Canadian software firm.
8:30 p.m. -- Make a quick dinner. Go for a stroll through the neighborhood.
10:30 p.m. -- Review a presentation for an early morning meeting tomorrow, noting questions I want to have answered by the client in the session.
11:00 p.m. -- Head off to bed and catch up on some pleasure reading, Edwin Burrow and Mike Wallace's Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898.
WATCHING THE DETAILS At KPL, I've been surprised by the challenge of combining analytical rigor with broad articulation of concepts, and I've watched my tolerance for both detail and synthesis grow. This has happened for a couple reasons. First, while I learned at B-school that details should inform your decisions rather than make them, I hadn't fully anticipated how integral they are to understanding client perceptions and situations.
One of the wonderful things I've taken from consulting is that the ability to discuss the ideas that people throw around is greatly enhanced by a corresponding capacity to dive into components of a client's problem or a potential solution. As a result, our daily routines as consultants are, in many ways, driven by the need to have copious amounts of information ready to back up discussion points.
Second, the manner in which we generate, articulate, debate, and value ideas is not only based on our experiences but affected by how we work in teams. I joined KPL to work with smart, interesting, and different people, but I've been amazed by how much of a difference diversity of thought actually makes.
My work with team members exemplifies how divergent perspectives improve the cohesiveness of the end product -- a classic example of the value of teams. Some focus on the details, others on broader communication elements. Stuck in a room together, the two perspectives have the potential to complement one another immensely. I find it rewarding to work with people who not only do one or the other well but look for both in the discussions they have.
"RANGE OF PERSPECTIVES." I found my job through the career center at Tuck, but the people here at KPL are as disparate in experience as I could have hoped for -- Rhodes Scholars, MBAs, PhDs, avid sailors, lifelong consultants, former school teachers. The range of perspectives is inspiring and only augmented by the clients we serve and discuss. The breadth of subjects and scope of ideas that flow through the office on a daily basis is, for me, one of the coolest and least anticipated aspects of consulting. And the types of decisions, analyses, and recommendations we make are clearly influenced by our differences.
While my MBA has proved useful in guiding discussions around the specific areas I focus on (marketing, strategy, and operations), it's certainly not something I'd say is required at KPL. Indeed, many people here have wonderfully different educational backgrounds, and KPL makes a point not to fill positions by slots (i.e., types of people needed). In practice, there's significant interaction across what amounts to an informal hierarchy -- a very nice thing for those of us with less experience. There's room for different people to grow in different ways here, both in terms of the client work and the internal activities in which they're involved.
In short, training and critical thinking are valued here, but what's decidedly more important to clients and colleagues alike is one's interest in being creative and one's willingness -- even desire -- to be challenged in that creativity.
A GOOD FIT FOR KPL? If you're interested in applying to KPL, my advice is to get to know our culture and work. Follow a few straightforward steps. First, check out the Web site and recruiting brochures. This will give you a stronger sense of what we're about. We tend to favor applicants who know what we do, have good stories to tie together the things they've done, and who are looking to bring new ideas into the consulting world.
Second, talk to a couple people who know something about KPL and can help you figure out whether the work and culture are a good fit. We tend to appreciate people who are intelligent team players, are creative leaders, and have interesting backgrounds.
: Bloomberg BusinessWeek
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