Career Journey of a Consultant Rockstar Featuring Jonathan

 

In this Where are They Now? episode, Christie interviews Jonathan, now a Senior Vice President at a global marketing firm and a former consulting colleague with the brand of a rockstar. Jonathan shares stories of his career journey and how he transitioned from the media & entertainment industry into consulting and back into the music industry.

Jonathan also discusses a myriad of topics including:

  • Moving from Virginia to NYC to Los Angeles and living differences between the various cities.
  • Genesis of shareholder value as a strategic priority in corporations and its impact on organizational cultures.
  • Things to consider when deciding to pursue an MBA and how to get a free education.
  • Realities of firing a client that compromises integrity and values.
  • Becoming a trusted advisor for your client and Jonathan’s definition of a great consultant.
  • Hacks to get promoted quickly as a newbie in a consulting firm.

In career dilemma segment of the show, Christie and Jonathan gives advice on how to manage conflicts and build relationships with a difficult client.

Listen to the Episode Here:

We will be doing a segment that I call Where Are They Now. Where Are They Now are essentially opportunities where I connect with an individual that I used to work with, a former colleague, who had the brand of a rock star. We have fun re-connecting conversation on the show. If you want to hear about the journey of how I wrote my book, you can check out Episode 2 where I share a little bit of what I went through. If you’re every interested in publishing a book, let me tell you. Writing the book was actually the easiest part. The publishing aspect of it is pretty intense and lots of lessons learned, lots of twist and turns. It’s taking a lot longer than I anticipated. That’s the key idea from every other author that I have spoken to. It takes more time than you sometimes anticipate but it helps to round out and make a great product.

In our episode, I had a chance to connect with Jonathan. He is a former consultant. He is now a senior vice president at a global marketing firm. Jonathan has a great background in media and entertainment. In today’s career dilemma, I had a mentee reach out to me about a client that continues to throw her under the bus, and what she should do about that? In this episode, we are going to give my mentee some advice and things that she can consider to help manage that dynamic. I had other people asking me about a previous Where are They Now episode I did. Check out Episode 12. I did connect with Ron in that episode.

Interview with Jonathan

Jonathan, thank you so much for making time to connect with us today on the MECE Muse Unplugged.

Thank you for inviting me.

It’s been so many years. So much has changed in our lives and in the world, so thank you for your time today. Maybe you can share with the go getters of the MECE Muse Unplugged a little bit about who you are and your background.

My name is Jonathan Jordan. I am right now in LA, Los Angeles but originally I’m from the East Coast. I’ve been out here for about two years. I grew up in Virginia and DC area, and then migrated up to New York City, which is when we met when we were both working at a big four. I’m in New York for about seven years. After that I moved out here and there’s tons of great opportunity out here. My current role is focused around the same stuff that I’ve been doing most of my career in consulting. Most of the work I do is focused on people strategy. Whether that’s people in organizational change management or whether it’s more on the talent and human capital side.

What I do is I partner with large Fortune 500 companies to rollout the programs and interventions that will support their employees to be the best they can be, and support and deliver the strategy. I did take a detour for a few years and worked in the music business. That’s my passion, I’m always going to do something in the music business. I did work for a record label for a few years. That was a great experience, and that helped a lot when I came back into consulting, working in the media and entertainment space, which in LA we do a ton of that work.

I remember when you first joined our project, you could do no wrong and quickly rose to the top, you got promoted. In my mind, you were on fire. You mentioned you grew up in Virginia, you spent a good chunk of time in New York City, and now you’re on the west coast. Do you have any particular favorite city, because you’ve had different experiences? Any thoughts on anyone thinking about moving?

There is a massive difference between the west coast and east coast. I love LA, it is great. I’ll say New York is always going to be home to me, because the energy and the pace and the drive that people have there is so unique and different. When you talk to people in New York, they have a day job, but they also have a hustle, and they have things that they want to pursue. Many times they moved to the city to accomplish these things. That drive and energy is hard to match, and LA is much more laid back. The level of intelligence is great out here too.

I mean I’m impressed by some of the things that they do. What I say is the biggest difference I notice is the creativity that I find in LA. When you talk to people in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, it’s disruptive in thinking. Why are we doing this? There’s got to be a better way we can do it. There is a more creative way we can do it. That’s one differentiator that I see. Anyone who’s thinking about moving to LA, the one thing you got to know that traffic’s pretty massive, it’s crazy like people say, but it certainly has its own vibe and creativity out here.

How did you get into consulting? I know you shared that you started in consulting, then you veered off, went into another industry, and then you came back. Share a little bit about how you decided to even go in consulting in the first place.

I literally stumbled into consulting. I didn’t go into college thinking about being a consultant. I studied communications in my undergrad. I thought it was going to go work in media, whether that was radio or TV. It’s funny because it’s full circle because I am doing that today. I spent my undergrad focused on communication, mass marketing, and mass media communications. In between undergrad and going back to get my MBA, I spent six months at a direct marketing company. It was a small mom and pop shop, but it was interesting. I just graduated undergrad and the guy put me in charge of new business. I was going to meeting after meeting trying to drum up the pipeline of work and business for this company.

One of the most interesting things that I learned is we were starting to get a schedule for GSA so we can sell to the government. I was taking a bunch of trips up to DC and going into these meetings and presenting who the company was. I was always the youngest guy and usually the only person of color in there. I would hang around with these older guys that had been around the block and they kept telling me to go back and get your grad degree, get it out of the way. If you want to do it, just do it. I went to get the MBA, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do. When I was in that business role, it was the most eye opening thing, that this is where it’s at. Even though I might want my aspirations to get into media or to veer into marketing or maybe the music business. I had to have a good foundation of business.

After getting a degree, I was stuck. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I went on a couple of job interviews for low-level jobs, and I didn’t get a gig. I kept working side jobs to pay the bills, and then got into a job placement company. You work a job and they put you in staffing. It was for a project management role. It was a junior analyst project manager role, and they luckily put me in. That was my first gig. I went to do project management and worked at that firm for a little while. Then I found a liking to more people and HR side and strategy side, I started to work on a tiny team that was an internal consulting team called People’s Strategic Initiative. It was there that I was like, “This is it.” If I had to work in the professional services or in organizations that are focused on professional services, I knew that that was going to be the area where I would find the most interest. I think people are interesting, and I am very pro-organizations doing the right thing by their employees.

MECE 021 | Consultant Rockstar
Consultant Rockstar: Companies made employees take a backseat to show them the profit.

If you look back at history, organizations and companies, especially a lot of the GEs and those companies that are known that had been around a long time, one thing that they always did is they valued employees. As the 1970s came in and especially the 1980s, their shareholder value was the number one priority of large companies, you saw employees take a backseat and shareholders take a front seat. What that did is that changed the climate of the relationship and the trust factor between organizations and employees. Today, where people stay at a job for one or two years, there’s that distrust in an organization. I’m only going to get what I can get, and then you have no loyalty for the organization. People blame employees for that, but it’s the other way around. Companies made employees take a backseat to show them the profit. I fell into consulting. It wasn’t something that I always thought I wanted to do, but once I fell into it and I fell in love with it.

You talked about going back and getting your MBA. Any insights you can share for anyone that’s thinking about getting an MBA? Anything else you’d share?

The best way that you can learn is by doing things. I don’t think it’s a requirement at all unless you can get into an Ivy, which is what will propel your career and certainly help you build that network that you’ll probably use for your advantage after you graduate. Education is always great, but even more so getting some good experience in an actual company where you can put your hands to the plough and learn a trade. I was lucky enough to learn quite a bit in that degree. I also worked for the school, so most of it was paid for. That was my hack. I didn’t have much money at all, but I know if I could get a gig at the school, I can work at the school and also pursue that graduate degree on the side, which is I would encourage anybody to do.

If you can find a role and they have education benefits, do that by all means, because it’s a great way to not only working and get some experience, but you’re also getting a free education. The one thing I’ll say is that I benefited most from is SWOT analysis. Anybody that has been in business school or even undergrad, you know what a SWOT analysis is. Doing that over and over during that master’s degree, I came out knowing a lot about how to do that white bright. A lot of people try to do it, not a lot of people do it right. That is something we are very much using today, which is uncommon because a lot of times we can’t remember 95% percent of the stuff we learned in school.

Let’s talk about your favorite project moment when you were in consulting, either your last firm or previously. What for you was a favorite project that you can pick off?

One of my clients out here in LA was probably the best. I don’t think it was a particular moment. It is a series of moments that I reflect on from one of the last client that I had. What we do is we build trust and we advise. I remember a smart person who said, “We get paid to talk and to think,” and that’s absolutely right. The outcome of those things is that you build a trusted relationship with your clients. I’ve always been able to help and support and help our clients get to value, but this particular instance I was on a project and it was a fast growth company. In a matter of ten years, they went from zero to $1.5 million. It’s a company out here in LA where it’s a family owned thing.

It’s a small mom and pop, but they’re growing so fast in their head count and they’ve got to have processes and standards and they’re just out of their element. They know one thing and they know it really well, but the actual business side of it, they’re immature and didn’t know how to grow their company in a way that would maintain a positive culture and in a way that they could retain the best and brightest talent. They also didn’t have any processes set up. It was a nightmare. You’re going from paper or manual processes to efficient systems. What we were doing is helping the CIO and also the chief of staff to take this transformation idea about how do we grow fast and how we transform into a mature organization.

What we did is we built that into the fabric of the company. If you think about transformation as a platform for continuous change, where you’re inspiring and moving ahead and change in a way where you’re able to grow. Instead of letting change happen to you, you embed it into the organization. We tested it out, and we’ve never done it before, but we were successful in doing that. As a consultant, I got a seat at the table in a lot of conversations I’d never been at before, executive, senior conversations where you’re influencing the success of companies. It wasn’t a particular moment, but it was a series of things that happened that led to this moment where I became a trusted advisor for that client.

What would you say is your most challenging moment?

We were helping this company out on the East Coast. It was a large media and entertainment client, and it was awkward. There were multiple consulting helping them out at the same time with the same problem. It was political, we had to smile at each other in front of the client, but behind closed doors, we hated each other. It was a global project, but we were leading the US version of this part of the project, so it was a big project. There were some nice people, but there were some hard people to work with. My collaborations are always good, but when there’s such a false and negative energy in the room, it’s hard to work with that. You can’t necessarily go to your client and complain.

You’ve got to generate value, do what you can do for your client and do what’s right by your clients. The moment is where we got to such a level of scope creep, and it wasn’t our fault. It was several reasons why we got to that, but we got to wash our hands and get off of this thing. It was out of hand. It was so crazy we had to get out of there. It was like, “We’re done.” It was more of we have that respect for our people because it was becoming really toxic. In doing that, the client asked us to transition this other consulting company that was bringing in their people back from us. When I say toxic, it was unhealthy toxic. We need to get out of here. We had to tough it out and my transition this work. We made the best of it because we were leaving, but I don’t want to ever be in that predicament.

I give kudos to the leadership team that you were working with them. That’s probably a tough decision. I so respect when leaders see the writing on the wall. They know that if a client’s behavior is not in alignment with their firm’s values or their personal values, they will make adjustments. I’m glad that you saw that type of leadership, because sometimes it’s the other way around. I’ve seen projects with the same toxic behavior, but people are making different decisions based on revenue.

I commend those leaders for saying no because it’s so hard to do when you got money on the table. 

Given your experience in consulting, what would you say is your definition of a great consultant? 

It’s two parts. You need to be an expert in something. The consulting game is great because we have billable hours, we jump on different projects and do different things, but then ultimately, you are becoming an amazing consultant, that somebody that people call when you build an expertise in something. One thing I’d like to do with younger practitioners and analysts is I’ll say “What are you really good at?” If they can’t tell me, I’ll say let’s develop that. If you can’t tell me what you are the best at, either a sector or if it’s a competency where you are specialized in and you’re an expert in that area, I find it hard to be a generalist consultant and really be good. There are people that are great at project management but in what aspect? Why should I call you? Why should a client pay you per hour? You have to generally generate that as a consultant.

The second thing is being able to build relationships. What this is doing is mapping back to hard and soft skills. The hard skills, you can learn by experience and have expertise over time. You can learn that in the books, but you’ll never be great until you get in there and work with some clients. The soft skills part is probably the hardest, where a lot of people struggle. Are you able to build a relationship? Are you able to connect with a client? Are you able to work with difficult people? Are you able to adjust your work style with someone else’s so you can accomplish a goal for your client? I’m breaking it down to building the expertise or getting into the hard skills. The second thing that makes you invaluable on the consultant is being able to build relationships.

If you think back over your experience as a consultant, there are people that stick out in your mind. There are people that can make it partnered three times as much as other people. Most of the time it’s not because of who they know, it’s about the fact that that person probably can build relationships fast and sell. The folks that will rise and the folks that become great in their field as consultants is because they can work with everybody. They work well, they’re articulate. They know when to speak, and when they speak, they add value. It’s a lot of different things, but those are the two that stick out to me.

What are the things you wish someone told you when you first started?

MECE 021 | Consultant Rockstar
Consultant Rockstar: Find that one or two people in that organization that have the juice.

I’ll give you the secret hack. This is what I do. Find that one or two people in that organization that have the juice, and you know what I mean by the juice. Those are the people that people respect. These are usually higher ranking people that have a lot of influence at the organization and within your sphere of the people that you’re working with. This might be a hierarchy partner or a partner that runs your practice. You take that person; you identify who they are. The rule is you can’t do this too early when you’re in that company, so usually about six months to a year is a safe bet. Demonstrate something that you can do and have done something with a client. Get in there, do some work, and build experience. You’re widening your network, you know some people, you’ve worked with a couple of clients and maybe one client, and you’ve done some decent work.

Be bold and approach that one person. For me, this was a high ranking person at ran our strategy. I asked this partner, she was intimidating, she was probably one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. I took her to coffee, but the rule is you have to pay for the coffee. They’ll try to say no, this is important to me that I pay. I’m taking you to coffee because I’m borrowing your time. If they push and push, it’s fine let them pay, but just be assertive. They need to know and feel that you’re being assertive. The coffee is a safer because it’s shorter and you say what you got to say and then you get at it. There’s two things why you’re doing this meeting. This meeting is one, to tell them what your vision is for your career and as a consultant. What is my own vision for my career over the next two to five years? This is what I want to do, and this is why. Spend a little time doing that. Then the second half of the conversation is, “I’m talking to you because I admire you. What you do is great. How did you get to where you are?”

What happens is in this conversation, they will think intuitively, someone that’s high-ranking, as long as they like you or if they’re starting to like you, they will say, “They’re being assertive. They know where they want to go. I want to help them get there.” They might not say that to you then, but that’s what they’re thinking. Our favorite subject is ourselves, so you get them to talk about themselves. You listen and you take notes. The exercise is having a conversation and showing that you admire them. By the end of this conversation, you might not feel too different, but you’ll notice shortly thereafter that they know you, they know where you want to be, they’re going to help you get there, and you’ve also started to build a relationship. I’ve done this at every consultant company or any division of practice I have been at, and every time, it works and helps my career.

You just gave the mic drop of all advice that I have heard. You just dropped a real secret there. I’ve been a testament. Jonathan came in on fire within a year he got promoted. For those who know the consulting environment, coming in as an inexperienced hire, you’re already at a disadvantage. He came in guns blazing, so these are proven techniques. Thank you for sharing them with us.

It’s important that you saw a show assertiveness and boldness. This isn’t a chance for you to brag, but this is a chance for you to say, “I know what I want and I know how to get there, and this is what I’m doing with or without you.” Especially if you’re a person of color or minority, people will get behind that. It’s not right, but that is the truth. It’s important especially for people of color and different genders. Let’s be bold. Let’s not be rash with it, but let’s be bold and assertive. Sometimes speaking up is all you need to do.

I want to get back to the career dilemma. Her name is Cassandra. I’m going to read the email that I got from Cassandra a couple days ago. Cassandra writes, “Christie, I’ve been recently placed in a work stream lead role with a team of three analysts, with the goal of going up for promotion to manager next year. I was excited to be given this level of responsibility, but my client is pretty unpredictable. My client continues to make verbal commitments or agree with my approach when we talk in passing, but then when it comes time to be in meetings, she completely throws me or members of my team under the bus, sometimes acting surprised as if we’ve never had a conversation.

I’m getting nervous because there are pieces of data that her team has in their possession that we need in order to complete our analysis, but she will accept meeting invites then ghost, or cancel them at the last minute. This is causing me a lot of anxiety, because I have a lot riding on this role. What are some things that I can do to create more accountability with my client, but in a way that I can build a relationship with her? Thanks, Cassandra.” When you hear this, Jonathan, what are some things that come to mind of what Cassandra can do?

One, I sympathize because anybody who’s been a consultant long enough, this is a great war story. These are the types of stories that we talk about getting drinks. Just know you’re not alone. I’ve been in this predicament before. A couple of things to remember. We’re in the professional services industry. We get hired for many different reasons. Sometimes we get hired to help, sometimes we were hired to literally be the scapegoat. I don’t have enough data points to make a firm assessment as to what’s going on, but it sounds like this lack of accountability is not just you. This is probably something that’s been going on. If it’s not you, it’s probably somebody else. If she’s ghosting in meetings, if she’s not showing up, that’s probably a theme. It’s probably been happening for a long time. I don’t think it’s you, but the difference is that you’re in this predicament and you’re hoping to control your environment.

One, you’re probably been thrown under the bus and you’re there literally to be the scapegoat. That’s something you’ve got to accept. I would not take this personal at all. I would remind myself that this has probably been going on for a long time. It’s a work style and it is a behavior that has probably been long in the way. You’re not going to be able to control your client, which is nerve wracking because for anybody that’s in consulting, most of us are type A. We like to be in charge and demand. There’s a great executive coach. Basically he coaches consultants and senior consultants that, “When you start to get pushed back, the last thing we want to do is push against that pushback.” What we want to do is pull. If we can’t push a client to make a decision and move forward with the plan that we have, what we need to do is pull them in.

There’s three steps that he takes. One, ask questions. Ask smart questions. Playback what you heard, and then at some point I’ll ask you what you think we should do. The exercise of demonstrating over time that you’re not pushing an agenda is if anything, you’re pulling them in by asking questions and making them feel like they’re heard and they’re the most important person in the room. Many times, they might say the dumbest thing or they’re going to have a horrible idea or the client might be out of their mind, but if they feel heard and if they feel they’re the most important person, then many times a lot of those things that are causing havoc in the relationship will go away. Then you can get in a deeper level and gain their trust. Some of the symptoms of what you’re seeing is a deeper issue around gaining the trust of that person. Here’s what I would do though, and this is what I did in the past. I would get the client out from work.

You probably don’t know them that well, but if you can get them out of the workplace, go get coffee, go get a drink. I get to know them as a person, and build that relationship. You might not hit it off, but they’ll see that you want to get to know them and it’s not always about the work. Consultants always tend to be work-oriented and drive, drive, drive. Many times when you’re back in the workplace, you can get much more accomplished by building that relationship out. That’s what I would do. I’d get them out of the workplace, do something fun, make it not about the work, get to know who they are, their family, what they like to do, build that relationship, and then you’ll usually see that materialize on the business.

I’m going to add a couple more to round out a different perspective to what you shared. I like how you framed it in terms of the individual caring and feeding of that relationship, and that’s a great way to look at it. Some other things that Cassandra may consider as well is that there may be some organizational politics at play. You talked about being in the position of a scapegoat. I would try to do a little bit of recon. Figure out what’s going on. If chances are you’re not the first one, talk to your leadership. Have they seen this type of behavior? If you can, talk to some of her colleagues, talk to her employees or her peers and parallel business units. Try to figure out the root cause, because it sounds like there is a resistance, and that’s her tactics. Her tactic is to stall, it’s to create the element of surprise, but to me, that’s all noise for something deeper.

Looking at the organizational politics, talking to the people around her to see how you can connect the dots to get a good pulse of what’s happening. Don’t take it personal but keeping your leadership involved. I remember I was in a similar situation. I ended up setting up weekly calls with my management team because they knew this person had a similar type of volatile personality and she was a critical stakeholder. I had a meeting and I would share what I was doing and what was the outcome of that. They were giving me advice. To your point, having leadership work with me through that scenario, I ended up building good relationships with them, because we were able to be successful in a way that we’ve managed that dynamic and I learned a ton. The last thing I’m going to add, Cassandra, is document.

You mentioned she’s skipping verbal commitments and changing things in the fly. In addition to the relationship building, you have to get a little bit more formal and make sure you’re documenting, you’re sending emails, you have meeting agendas, you’ve got meeting notes. There’s a paper trail, because regardless of if you’re a scapegoat or not, your firm still has to deliver. There are contractual obligations I play here. You want to make sure you cover yourself and talk to your leadership to see what that could potentially mean. I had one of my first team leads share with me over 15 years ago and I still follow this concept to this day. I remember he told me, “If it’s not written, it does not exist.” That’s so true, so take that advice. I don’t know if you’ve got anything else you wanted to share? 

The name of the executive coach was Dr. JM Perry. He’s been around for quite a while and he works with top consulting companies, banks, technology companies. He has this audio series called The Pull Recipe, which is about letting your clients have their way, but it is probably the most valuable piece of coaching I got from anybody ever.

Thank you so much for your time with this. It was such a great pleasure to connect with you. This was great.

I love what you’re doing. Keep doing it because you’re helping a lot of people. There’s a lot of folks that are either stumbling into this industry or they’ve been around and they just haven’t had a chance to listen to others in this industry and their problems, and you’re giving a lot of great advice. Congrats to you for what you’re doing, keep doing it and I’m honored that you have me call in.

Thank you so much. If you have a particular question or feedback, feel free to drop us a line at MECEMuseUnplugged@Gmail.com. I want to thank Jonathan for being a guest on our show. Thank you, my go-getters. This is Christie Lindor signing out for The MECE Mtuse Unplugged pop-up podcast. Here’s to your journey to greatness.

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