Episode 160: Becoming a Next-Generation Digital Transformation Consultant—with Charlotte Fuller
Deb Zahn: Hi. I want to welcome you to this week's episode of the Craft of Consulting Podcast. So in this episode, we're going to talk about what it takes to be a next-generation consultant able to help companies and organizations with digital transformation. And I brought on someone who both does this and helps consultants learn how to do this, Charlotte Fuller. And she is going to walk us through the details of what it means to be a next-generation consultant, how to do this work, and how to do it well so that you can build a successful business around it. So let's get started.
Hi. I want to welcome my guest today, Charlotte Fuller. Charlotte, welcome to the show.
Charlotte Fuller: Thanks, Deb. Great to be here.
Deb Zahn: So let's start off. Tell my listeners what you do.
Charlotte Fuller: Sure. I'm a digital transformation consultant. I specialize specifically in helping my clients adopt data and AI and IoT-based technology, so the internet of things. I do that and I also train consultants to do the same thing. So I'm a trainer of trainers. I've done that for myself independently for about a year and a half now. And prior to that, I worked in corporate for an Accenture Microsoft-based company, where I sat within their digital transformation business transformation team.
Deb Zahn: Wonderful. So digital transformation is obviously really hot, as it should be.
Charlotte Fuller: Yeah.
Deb Zahn: So hopefully no one's home still trying to program their VHS machines and they understand. But just in case, so when you say digital transformation, what do you mean? What does that actually look like?
Charlotte Fuller: Sure, absolutely. So for me, digital transformation is about helping organizations really take a look at what they can do with technology to improve their business. So as we know, the world is moving more and more technology-focused every single day. It's the way it's going. And so organizations, sometimes whether they like it or not, have to get on board and have to adopt new technologies. And so what I do is, we help them build a vision for what the future can look like. And then, how do they get there through the use of digital technologies, advanced technologies predominantly? And then also as well, digital transformation around once they implement these technologies, how do they make sure that they are driving a return on investment for it? How do they know that they are implementing the right solutions and not just doing technology for technology's sake? If that makes sense.
Deb Zahn: It sadly makes sense because I've seen it. I actually would like to dig into that in a little bit because I would imagine there's companies that are, "Technology, tech-schmology. Why do we have to do that?" And then there's others that squirrel, squirrel, and every type of technology they see, they want that. So when you're talking with a client for the first time or prospective client, how do you help them figure out what the right sweet spot they want to think about technology for?
Charlotte Fuller: Yeah. Great question. This is a point that I'm really, really passionate about. Because what I do and what I believe should be done is that we actually first need to go in with what we call a problem first approach, as opposed to a solutions-based approach around digital transformation technology, so...
Deb Zahn: Nice.
Charlotte Fuller: What I will generally do is sit down, first and foremost, and have a cup of tea with someone and understand what their problems are. Sit and actually listen to what is going on in the organization and hear them. Understand where their needs are, what they are struggling with. And these problems, first and foremost, might not necessarily be technology answers. But what we want to do is make sure that we are solving the right problems.
So the first thing that I will do is go in and understand the problems in the organization, and then look to understand how we can answer that with technology. There are two prongs to it really. There's understanding the problems, understanding how we solve them and then determining where they need to be, and then putting a plan in place for them to get there.
Deb Zahn: I love that. And the problems first approach, it applies to so much in consulting, but I love that approach to technology because I just see a lot of organizations, I work in healthcare, who are like, "Oh, we need that, we need that, we need that," and I don't know that they're always clear what problem they're even trying to solve, And then you've spent millions of dollars, and oh look, those problems are still there.
Charlotte Fuller: Oh, yeah. We've seen that.
Deb Zahn: We've both seen it way too many times. I love that you help other consultants go down this path and I really love the term you use, next-generation consultant. So, what does that? What does that mean?
Charlotte Fuller: Yeah, great question. So next-generation consultant is... I mean it's based around digital transformation specifically, but from my perspective, it is based on three different things. It is capability. So whatever consulting capability that you're in, you have to have some sort of aptitude and technical ability.
It's also your ability to deliver in organizations effectively. So do you have the delivery project management skills to actually implement the solution that you're suggesting for your client?
But thirdly, it's also about mindset. And so it's about the three different prongs to that approach, and having a holistic person, a holistic consultant that is capable of handling diverse situations in whatever organization that they're in. In terms of digital transformation that is, are you aware of the next-generation technologies that are available? Are you capable of helping your clients deliver them? And do you have the right consulting mindset elements to be able to do that as well?
So, it's someone that's very much well-rounded and together and capable of helping their clients in the next generation of digital transformation.
Deb Zahn: And I know one of the things I've seen you talk about is, it's always looking ahead and not even just what's available in the immediate past and today so that what's possible, what's coming. I know one of the other things you talk about is doing this during times of uncertainty as a big part of the transformation. So if you were schooling someone who wants to be that next-gen consultant, how do you get them to think about that thing that so many people are uncomfortable with called uncertainty?
Charlotte Fuller: Yeah. So uncertainty is interesting because in a consultant situation, there are two sides to it, really. There's the uncertainty that our clients feel, in terms of investments that they're making in consulting and also technology in their organization. And then there's the uncertainty that we feel as consultants going into new situations as well because that's something that we face all the time, right? We're going into different organizations with different people, different personalities, and they're all things that we have to manage.
And so how would I help someone, a next-generation consultant, in terms of helping the needs of their clients with uncertainty? So, the first thing that I would do is always suggest an incremental approach to whatever it is that you are suggesting, and I'm always going to be talking from a digital transformation technology perspective.
Deb Zahn: Yeah, yeah.
Charlotte Fuller: But whatever area of consulting that you're in is, we feel... We build certainty with trust. So, for a client to become certain that you are able to help them, you need to build and cultivate trust with them. And one of the best ways to do that is to, like I said, take a little bit more of an incremental approach to delivery. We use often in technology, an MVP-type approach, so a minimum viable product approach, and this involves proving... Taking a use case, a client's problem and a solution for solving that through technology and delivering something on a smaller scale. And then once the client realizes that you have added value, that they have seen a return on their investment, that they trust you as a consultant; then what you can do is build out that client account. It's much easier to do that if you've already got that base and level of trust with the client.
So that's one of the ways that you can help a client firstly overcome uncertainty, but also reduce their risk. Because they're uncertain because they don't know how big of a risk this is for their organization, this investment, how big of a risk it is for them personally. If they are responsible for a budget in a large organization or any organization, they need to be able to justify their investments. So on the client-side, I would suggest that. That works very well.
Personally, there are a few things that we can do as a consultant in uncertain situations. And I certainly remember a few years ago that I used to feel uncertain quite a lot. I was working as a consultant in a large organization, and sometimes you get put into client accounts that are... You're there to help support and you might not have all the answers. And firstly, understand that's OK, and that's very normal.
Deb Zahn: That's right.
Charlotte Fuller: We all feel like that sometimes, but there are things that you can do to help yourself. And the first thing that I would suggest is... This is the obvious one, right, and it's prepare. So there are two things. Preparation...
Deb Zahn: Thank you. Say it again.
Charlotte Fuller: Do your homework. Know what you are getting involved in, what the organization is like, what the problem is that you're trying to solve. Go back to what we were talking about before and really, if you have the ability to sit with your client and listen, just do that. Aim to understand without saying a single thing. You don't always have to provide an answer. So firstly, prepare.
The second thing that we can do is have a mental list or a physical list, even, of all the times that you have dealt with uncertain or difficult situations before in the past and been successful with it. Because I don't care who you are, you have been in that situation. You've done uncomfortable things before.
Deb Zahn: That's right.
Charlotte Fuller: So, have a list of things that you can pull on that will give you confidence in the moment.
The third one that I'll give you, the third thing is, and I often... I use this a few times, one, myself, and it's something you might want to keep quiet, right, keep to yourself. But also when I was training graduate talent often because again, the same situation, it tends to be a little bit more uncomfortable when you just beginning to come into consulting. The thing is that sometimes as consultants or as people, we can't handle situations like ourselves. We are dealing with our past beliefs, our current beliefs about ourselves. And so what we can do is to develop a persona of someone who is capable.
Deb Zahn: Oh, nice.
Charlotte Fuller: Yeah. Capable of handling that situation. And so the way that you go about doing that is to write a list or prepare a mental list, again, of all... What would someone who was very, very capable, in this situation, someone that had done it a million times; what would they do and how would they act?
Deb Zahn: I love it.
Charlotte Fuller: What would they say? And if you don't have all the answers, go online and look for someone because there are lots of people out there that you can pull from, and just imagine it. Take a few seconds to yourself before going into an uncertain situation and put on this cloak. No one needs to know about it, it can just be yours, and you can just do it. And then the thing is, the more times you do this, the more it happens, you just automatically become that person. Because that's all confidence, is that you've done something again. So the too much. And those are some ways that we've used in the past to really overcome some of these uncertain situations.
Deb Zahn: I haven't heard that answer in this context before, but it's different than fake it till you make it because you're not lying about your capabilities.
Charlotte Fuller: No.
Deb Zahn: You're taking on the persona of someone with more confidence, and therefore it's easier to have more confidence, which I've definitely done before. I've walked into rooms where I projected as if I had more authority than I... And then it was easier to move forward because they're like, "Oh, Deb's going to lead us on that one."
Charlotte Fuller: Sure.
Deb Zahn: One other one I would add to it, which just spring to mind as you were talking about it is, there's this wonderful book called Comfortable with Uncertaintyby Pema Chödrön, a Buddhist nun. And she says often when people approach uncertainty, there's so much fear attached to it because you don't know what's going to happen, as opposed to reframing it and thinking of uncertainty is wide open space.
Charlotte Fuller: Nice.
Deb Zahn: Which I think goes really well with your listen and be quiet and try and understand because then you have wide open space to try and figure out what the best solutions are.
Charlotte Fuller: Yeah, absolutely. And being dynamic in that as well. I love that.
Deb Zahn: Yeah.
Charlotte Fuller: Yeah. And just going to your point about going into a room and really portraying a different level of confidence, we set the tone in the room often. So if we walk into a situation as confident, people will believe you are confident before anything else. So yeah, sometimes act that way even if you don't feel it.
Deb Zahn: Oh, yeah. And it increased trust with the client because they want someone who's confident in what they actually know. It soothes them to know good hands. So one of the other things I know that you talk about, which again I was delighted to see because it doesn't always get mentioned when you're talking about technology, is emotional intelligence and as you called it, being a relationship cultivator, which I think is fabulous to put together with technology because that's often how things truly end up in a good spot. How would you help a next-gen consultant understand why those matter and how you actually put them together?
Charlotte Fuller: Yeah, and I love this question because I very much sit between the two, right? So I sit between technology organizations, companies, and also business leaders in industry. And very often, they are having two very different conversations, right? So why is it important? First of all, that we bring the two together, that we cultivate our ability to basically have... Cultivate relationships generally, but also in terms of relationships with business leaders.
Well, firstly because if we are having two different conversations, often it's like we're speaking two different languages. There's no way that anyone will understand each other. And so if we don't have a common level of understanding, we will never move forward, and there are wider issues there in terms of driving digital transformation.
However, if we think about why relationship cultivating is so important generally, it's because it drives every single thing that we do. From a consulting perspective, our ability to cultivate strong relationships, and going back to it again, a strong relationship is simply a relationship that's built on trust, then is, therefore, our largest power. If we can cultivate strong relationships driven on trust that are influential, we are able to help people. We are able to connect with people. And when we are able to connect with people, they will open up to us. They will tell us what their problems are. Going back to what we were talking about before. If we know someone's problem, we can help them solve it. We can help them solve it through technology.
One of the biggest issues that I see in this space specifically around digital transformation and technology is we will have very often very technical people who are brilliantly minded, but they will forget this relationship cultivating business. It's not important, right? It's just technology.
Deb Zahn: Yeah. That's right, that's that people crap.
Charlotte Fuller: And they will lead with a technology-based solution, right? And this solution will probably be incredibly beneficial to the client long-term, but the problem is that we've missed that conversation in the middle that needs to happen. So moving forward, no one's getting to where they want to be.
So to answer your question, why is it important? It's important because it drives everything that we do, but how do we go about building those relationships fundamentally? So we need to think, first of all about like we said, strong relationships are built on trust. So how do we build trust? And that comes in a few different ways. The first thing that we can do is obviously it all goes back to listening and being aware and present and having someone feel as though they are being good.
And they want to know that if they open up to you... Often some of these things that we're talking about in business are personal to ourselves, they are things that we're very worried about, and they want to know that someone is there to hold that and to be able to deal with that quite well. So that's the first thing that we can do.
Another thing that we can do is be ourselves and bring our full self to the situation. So we build trust between any relationship in the sense that when we are a little bit vulnerable, we show up as ourselves and we react in the best interest of the other person. So forget about your interest, what you want out of the consulting situation and think about how you best help your clients, first and foremost. If you do that, the benefits will come to you, and there's no doubt about it. 100%.
Some of the other things that we can do in that relationship, we can make sure that we are always delivering on our promises. So trust comes in saying that you're going to do something and then doing it time and time again.
Deb Zahn: It seems obvious. Sadly, it's not.
Charlotte Fuller: Exactly. Exactly. And if you think about building trust in a relationship; with every action that you take, you are adding something to the pot. And for every time that you break a promise or don't quite follow through, you're taking something out, and it's always that balance, and you always want to be putting more in than you're taking it out.
Deb Zahn: Yeah.
Charlotte Fuller: So it's really about the mindset shift and just remembering that actually, every single thing that I do, every action that I take is about, how do I build more trust? How do I make this person trust me and like me? And actually on that, someone asked me once, I said that to them and they said, "Well, how do you make someone like you?" And the actual obvious answer to that is... I mean, it's a good question. How do you?
Deb Zahn: Yeah.
Charlotte Fuller: Well, like them first. Put yourself out there. Show them that you like them, that you care about them as a person, and you will become likable. I promise.
Deb Zahn: Yeah. I love that example. I've given that advice in jobs when I've been mentoring someone who had to get past the, "Implementation's not working because all the people aren't doing things," and I'm like, "Well, the people are the work. We're not switching to hamsters, so that's what you have to work with." But I said, "You got to find something. For the folks on the other side, you got to find something that you like about them. I don't care if it's their earrings. Find something, and then nurture that from there because they can tell if you don't like them. And if you don't like them, they're not going to like you."
Charlotte Fuller: Oh, yeah.
Deb Zahn: And then you're going to be butting heads the whole time.
Charlotte Fuller: Yeah, exactly.
Deb Zahn: Yeah. And talk about a way to drive up costs.
Charlotte Fuller: Yeah. Exactly, right? Exactly. Yeah. No, absolutely agree with you.
Deb Zahn: So if somebody was hearing this, and hopefully there are folks out there hearing this going, "I want to be a next-gen consultant," other than the ones we've talked about, what kind of skills would you say, "You got to go get these," or, "You have to have these if you really want to be successful at this"?
Charlotte Fuller: Yeah. So if it's an external consultant, which I consider someone to be in digital transformation technology, generally; you need to have your technical capabilities, right? It actually does not mean at all that you need to be highly technical or an engineer or anything like that because I'm not, for sure. But what you do need to know is to have a fundamental understanding of new technology, and advanced technologies in this area. So things such as data and artificial intelligence, have a grounding in that. Have an understanding of Cloud-based technologies, and the Internet of Things, and understand where organizations are going. So really get a good grounding in some of those areas.
The other thing that you need to do as well though, is going back to that people part of it; technology without a strategy, without having a clear vision and also understanding the people and how they fit into that, and everything that we do with technology is for people or should be anyway is also very important.
Deb Zahn: Right.
Charlotte Fuller: And that's why we're doing it. It's pointless. So there are a few things that you want to understand how to help someone set a clear vision for technology, how to have a common understanding of the basic advanced technologies and how an organization can adopt them moving forward and what the future might look like for them. And then also as well, how to have an organization, the people in an organization adopt new technologies, and what that organizational structure looks like.
So that's more on the capability side of things. On the mindset side of things... So that's what I call skillset, right?
Deb Zahn: Yeah, yeah.
Charlotte Fuller: But anyone can learn those. What makes someone different is what we've been talking about, Deb. So it's the mindset side of things. Are you helping an organization think strategically? Are you helping them drive value through what you're doing in technology, or are you thinking about it from a project-by-project approach because it suits you? And that's what makes the real difference. And then going back to things, how do we handle uncertainty? How do we present ourselves well in front of clients, and all of that stuff, and it all matters because it all adds up to create something and someone who is very capable of handling any client situations.
Deb Zahn: Yeah, and that's that well-rounded piece that I know you also talk about that I really like is, don't think you can just put all your eggs in one skill basket and be able to succeed.
Charlotte Fuller: Yeah.
Deb Zahn: So what are some of the common mistakes that you see? So we've talked about all the good stuff, which I think is great, but if a consultant is working with a company or organization and it's just common things that just go awry or off the rail that you want to say to them, "Avoid this at all costs."
Charlotte Fuller: Sure. So for me actually, that is generally on the sales side that I see the problem, the biggest mistake. So, I'll give you an example. So as a consultant, one of the things that you want to be thinking about all the time is what's next. What's next for your client, but also what's next for you, for the organizations that you serve, sales-led approach to consulting. And we've discussed it a little bit, an incremental approach really works well to that. One of the biggest mistakes that I see is when you have a very heavy, sleazy sales-type approach. So, you know what it's like when someone tries to sell to you like that.
Deb Zahn: Ew.
Charlotte Fuller: People can feel it. Your clients will feel it. If you try and sell, for example, the next phase of a project to a client, and this just happened recently in a conversation that I was in which is why I'm bringing it up, it's quite funny. If there's a very heavy sales approach and it's aggressive, then it can be very off-putting, and clients will feel it and you'll feel the energy in the room actually shift a little bit. So that's one of the big mistakes that I see, for sure.
Deb Zahn: Oh, yeah.
Charlotte Fuller: The second mistake I see is that people just don't listen, right? They'll answer questions based on what they think the answer is.
Deb Zahn: Yeah.
Charlotte Fuller: Going back to your earlier point, Deb, where you were talking about having space in a situation to handle uncertainty. Well, also having space to listen and process and then base solutions based on that is also really important. So very often you'll see people and they'll be like, "Right. I really want to sell this thing. I know what I want the client to do. I'm going to win this situation. I'm going to win this proposal, and this is how I'm going to do it." And they don't take the time to then actually, like you said, listen to what's really going on in the organization and be dynamic in that situation, be able to be responsive to what's in the room.
Deb Zahn: Yeah. I love that because one of the complaints, and I've had consulting clients on the show before and I've asked them, "What do you hate?" And that's one of the top things is if somebody has a framework or the thing that they do and they don't care what your problems are, and what they want to do is show up and sell you that thing, and oh, by the way, they know exactly what the next three upsells are from that they're also going to try and shove down your throat. As opposed to the incremental, deep listening and the understanding you're talking about where you might look at that thing you have on the shelf and say, "Well, that's useless," or maybe only this piece of it is. Because the clients are buying the results, they're not buying your thing.
Charlotte Fuller: Absolutely. Yeah. Isn't that the point that always gets missed?
Deb Zahn: That really is the... Yeah, it's a rookie move for consultants to make. And maybe it'll work a few times, but generally, you're not going to get repeat business from that.
Charlotte Fuller: Yeah, exactly.
Deb Zahn: So where can folks find you if they are just aching and itching to become a next-generation consultant?
Charlotte Fuller: Yeah, absolutely. So you can find me at CharlotteFuller.com, which is my website where I have consulting offers as well. But what we also have is information about our next-gen consulting training programs as well, which are certified and also give you accreditations as well over there. You can also find me on LinkedIn. I'm Charlotte Fuller, I think digital strategist. You'll see a picture of my face, so you'll know it's me. And yeah, just come on over, say hi, and I'd love to hear from anyone.
Deb Zahn: Wonderful. And I'm going to have all of this in the show notes so folks can easily find you. So I get to ask my favorite last question of you, which is, so in between doing all of this stuff or in addition to doing all this stuff, how do you create balance in your life? However you define that.
Charlotte Fuller: Yeah. So I actually nowadays, now I work for myself, I work nomadically. So I spend time around different countries experiencing different things, and I work predominantly online, which works perfectly.
Deb Zahn: Nice.
Charlotte Fuller: Yeah. I spend my time, I get my balance through a couple of different things. One, I think it's really important to do things that you love to do that set yourself on fire, that really make you come alive. For me, that's travel, it's seeing different places, it's meeting new people. And so I make sure I do that all the time, or as much as I possibly can.
The second thing as well is, also the one thing that I do is that the faster things get, the more overwhelmed that I feel; instead of trying to speed up, I just slow down. I've just realized that sometimes stopping is a much quicker approach to succeeding at something than just trying to keep pushing. and I think just being able to give myself that space is something that I do. So there are a couple of things there.
Deb Zahn: Since you do the nomadic lifestyle, where are you calling in from now? I'm just curious.
Charlotte Fuller: So I'm actually in the UK now. I flew back yesterday from Capetown. So I was in Capetown for a little while.
Deb Zahn: Oh.
Charlotte Fuller: Yeah. In South Africa. Prior to that, I was in Gran Canaria and in Lisbon over the last few months. So it's been a fun time.
Deb Zahn: Very nice. You've gotten some beach time, it sounds like which...
Charlotte Fuller: I have.
Deb Zahn: ...Makes me very jealous. I have to wait for my beach time until June, and then I get to see the Atlantic Ocean, which will make me very happy, but that's wonderful.
Charlotte Fuller: Nice, nice.
Deb Zahn: Well, Charlotte, this is so much helpful information in here. One thing I would say is, there's consultants who are going to do this digital transformation work, but this is also important for any consultant to hear. Because if your clients aren't doing digital transformation in some regard, I don't care who they are, you need to encourage them to bring in that expertise and really think about what their future is.
Charlotte Fuller: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. There's only one way forward.
Deb Zahn: Yeah, and it's not behind us where the stone tablets were. Well, Charlotte, thanks again so much for being on the show.
Charlotte Fuller: Yeah, no. It's been brilliant. I've absolutely loved chatting with you, so thank you.
Deb Zahn: You bet.
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