Three Stage Survival Guide for the Independent Professional Executive, Consultant or Specialist

The SWOT-landscape systematically deploys the ...

Image via Wikipedia

Some found my blog last week entitled “Interim Management:  Ten Emerging Trends and Outlook for the Future” a bit scary and I agreed to reflect on offering a few tips for survival.

To quickly recap on my conclusion from last week:

My worst case scenario would see a circa 50% contraction from 2007, expressed in numbers of professional interims, ISP consultants and SME ISPs.

Regrettably, I would classify all interims and ISP consultants who are not economically viable as casualties.

For sure, these are truly scary times for many but there is a rational or logical way forward for the independent professional and I am including interim executives, consultants and other subject matter experts.

Firstly, let me introduce my proposed three stage survival guide. It’s designed to try to eliminate fear by focusing on one of the three survival stages at a time. The three stages are quite simple and include:

  1. Preparation
  2. Knowledge
  3. Discipline

A. PREPARATION

For simplicity, let’s adopt the Merriam Webster definition of “preparation“, with the primary attribute being:

the action or process of making something ready for use or service or of getting ready for some occasion, test, or duty

Key step in preparation might include:

  1. A personal SWOT analysis (Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities Threats)
  2. Physical and psychological conditioning 
  3. Market research and intelligence
  4. Skills assessment
  5. Resourcing assessment, including one’s financial resources and other non financial assets, like one’s business or associate network, specialist expertise etc.
  6. Consider deploying marketing tools, like for example, web site, viral marketing, blog, webinars etc.
  7. Develop a personal survival strategy, including defensive or fallback strategies
  8. Deploy the personal survival strategy
  9. Refine the personal survival strategy
  10. Be ready to action a fall back strategy, if necessary. This might include a sabbatical or period out for personal development or extended travelling

B. KNOWLEDGE

Knowledge” is used in the widest sense, including full breadth of awareness, skill, intelligence, expertise and readiness.

Key steps in building a “personal knowledge” strategy might include:

  1. Brainstorming with a professional buddy or friend
  2. Develop a body of knowledge for your area of expertise
  3. Research best and emerging practice in your area of expertise
  4. Conduct a gap analysis between where you are and where you want to be
  5. Develop a strategy for enhancing your “personal knowledge”. For example this might include learning or developing language skills – see for example, the BBC online Mandarin course. Alternatively, your strategy might be to develop a specialized network. Perhaps you may wish to consider writing specialized articles or public speaking at specialized events?
  6. Become an acknowledged expert
  7. Be careful to focus your knowledge on themes that have been validated by your own market assessments and stick with your plan. For example, if you have determined that there will growth in  interim management in BRICS countries, you need to develop a viable strategy and marshal specialist “personal knowledge” to target this market
  8. Be disciplined and focus your knowledge enhancement in areas that directly support your own survival strategy
  9. Social media, like Twitter or LinkedIn, will provide some useful stepping-stones but be discerning and validate all information with multiple sources
  10. Do not waste time debating with professionals on LinkedIn subject sites, unless it directly supports your survival strategy

C. DISCIPLINE

Discipline” is the third element of the three stage plan. Try to focus on your three elements and not jump from one to the other.

Discipline is critical to driving out fear but be prepared adopt a fall back strategy, if required.

Discipline steps might include:

  1. Preparing a daily and weekly plan
  2. Tracking actual achievements compared to plan, understanding variations, identifying opportunities for corrective action, or in last or worst case, revising the personal plan
  3. Focusing on physical and psychological conditioning, so that you are strong enough to deal with variations to your personal plan
  4. Plan time for fun and relaxation
  5. Work with your personal buddy, mentor or trainer (this should preferably not a partner or spouse)
  6. Consider developing survival groups for more complex development
  7. Practice role-playing
  8. Develop “drills” for key activities, so that they can be handled expeditiously
  9. Try to stick to the planned activity focusing on one stage at the time
  10. Be ready to retreat, actioning a well-defined and planned fall-back

D. CONCLUSION

In my worst case scenario, fifty-percent of professional interims who were economically active in 2007 will probably not be fully economically active (as professional interims) in 2012. This applies to independent consultants and subject matter experts too.

The above structured three-phase survival guide is not a panacea but it is designed to optimise effort, reducing fear and anxiety. Obviously, it can be tailored to individual circumstances, with variation in the activities. It is simply designed to help the professional interim stay the course, or beat a planned and well-rehearsed, orderly fall-back or retreat.

As always, please feel free to share your views and provide suggestions for improvement. I would particularly like to hear about casualities and what they are doing to bring order following fall-back and retreat.