Back Into The Frying Pan

John Whitaker Career Paths, Change, Communication, Culture, John Whitaker

For the last handful of years, I’ve been a free-range chicken, roaming from roost to roost spreading good cheer and occasional wisdom. The life of a consultant is one that doesn’t suit everyone, but for me it felt like a worn-in Birkenstock. Unfortunately, it’s a lifestyle that didn’t have the resiliency of a worn-in Birkenstock. Daddy needs new shoes.

Yes, for a lot of us, “living the dream” can’t last forever. So, hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s back to work I go. Corporate America, say hello to your old buddy. And, predictably, things are quite a bit different when you have an office to report to—and not just because you no longer take conference calls in cut-off sweat pants (that’s a thing, right?).

  1. First, you have this damn thing called a “clock.” Do you know that some people sit and watch this device as if it were a productivity meter? It’s true. Not that it’s a problem to come to the office, don’t get me wrong—but the impact on the the habits of the other worker bees is pretty amazing. How did I forget about this dynamic? You have the early birds, the 5:01 crowd, the chronic late arriver, and the “no-lifer”—that’s usually the nickname given to the boss that just can’t seem to find a reason to leave in the evening. As a consultant, hours are erratic in many cases, but I also didn’t know a single colleague who wasn’t still working long past Jimmy Kimmel. That stupid “clock” acts as a start-and-stop mechanism for the workday, a lot times when I’m just getting started.
  2. Titles matter. Chances are no one is a “Ninja,” Dreamweaver, or Fun Captain in your office. Back at the office, titles are matched with compensation, benefits, parking, status, and less obvious perks like “having your email answered.” Don’t be frustrated, that’s just part of the game.
  3. Meetings. This one explains itself, no?
  4. Colleagues. These people are no longer “clients.” The decisions and actions you take and make could impact them long after the length of your contract. I’ll be honest, I missed this part more than I expected, but found myself having to adjust to the pace, protocol, and unwritten rules that existed before I arrived.
  5. Blogging—yup. We can’t all be Matt Charney; there’s a certain decorum that is necessary no matter how many “opinions are my own” statements you’ve attached to your profile. More good news—if your arrival is announced, there’s a better-than-fair chance that your entire catalogue (which, like Michael Bolton, I celebrate) will have been combed over by a few of your new water cooler buddies. You may have a few hot opinions to explain, so you might want to have a few talking points ready to roll.

My buddy Jessica Merrell is another recent convert, and we chatted about a few of the re-entry dynamics, and not just the challenging ones. There is plenty of good news, too, “former” consultant. There’s a real affinity for bringing your consultant background in-house. You’ve seen the other side of the fence (or several fences, if you will) and can share the best and worst of your experiences.

So even while you navigate the new realities of things like “dress codes,” don’t lose the mindset of a consultant—speak up, that’s why they hired you.