Lessons From Accenture
When I was grinding through the second year of my grad programs I had no idea what I wanted to do. Strangely enough, graduate school had actually opened the possibilities for my career trajectory rather than closed doors or pushed me into a niche field. I felt empowered to pursue science, technology, business, and programming, but I didn’t know where to start. Accenture provided me with a phenomenal launchpad to figure this out. It gave me time to discover where my technical skills aligned most with business needs, and through the months that I worked there, I discovered many of the “rules of the road” for operating at Fortune 500 companies.
I’m a huge fan of simple rules so that’s how I’m going to break down my reflections from Accenture. The concept of simple rules from Dr. Kathleen Eisenhardt is that when business gets complicated, stick to some basic guiding rules that define your strategy. I love the principle of simple rules so much that now I try to glean simple rules from all the different chapters in my life.
In this case, my time at Accenture felt complicated. Everyday it seemed like I was served up new lessons, some more nuanced than others. Looking back, however, I found it hard to take away concrete operating lessons – but luckily some simple rules have proved to be clarifying.
Simple Rules from Accenture
1.) It’s all about the people. It doesn’t get much simpler than this. Like any mega organization of its kinda, Accenture has a wide variety of people. One thing that I took away from navigating this type of ecosystem is that you have to surround yourself with the people you hope to become. Those who left the biggest impression on me were the ones that were smart, open-minded, driven, focused, thoughtful and empathetic.
The best people were not just the smartest either, but they were the ones who had a deep fascination and love of learning and weren’t afraid to show it. More importantly, they left their egos at the door and were willing to recognize, cherish and nourish talent when they came across it. In the future, these are the types of people I hope to surround myself by. Life is too short to spend time with others who aren’t going to push you to develop and grow.
2.) Don’t pick something that feels comfortable. This idea hit me early on when I started. After training for two weeks in Chicago at ACN’s center in St. Charles, IL, I came home hungry to dive into my first project. I was taken back, however, to find that few of the projects open fit my background, interests, or technical skills. Eager to learn and to grow, I found one that fit and ran with it. In hindsight this may not have been the best move for me personally, but from one perspective, I learned so much from immersing myself in a field that was uncomfortable – where I didn’t have all the answers or skills yet and where I was challenged to learn more.
Instead of sitting on the bench hoping for the perfect opportunity to come along, I was swimming in a sea of analyst hurt, working my butt off, but growing from the experience. This isn’t to say this strategy is for everyone. It certainly caused some problems for me down the road when I craved a better outlet for math and analytics. But in the short run, I rapidly grew from the experience. In your career and in life, don’t be afraid to get uncomfortable.
3.) Become a strategist AND an operator, not just one or the other. This is another one of those “Duh” lessons, but it really gets underlooked. When I came out of school I had travelled the road of Management Consulting. The interviews with McKinsey, Bain, BCG, the case prep from Victor Cheng, the countless hours thinking about markets, their trends, and profitability problems. Everyone wanted to be in strategy and nobody wanted to be in operations because it wasn’t sexy or fun. In reality, operations proved to be more valuable and meaningful to my professional development.
Operators are those people who can take strategy and translation it into action. They are the ones with a bias for action, a hunger for process, and a mentality of “get shit done.” Strategy is fun and incredibly intellectually stimulating, but don’t let that convince you that there’s not a place in everyone’s toolbelt for operations. Be a strategist and an operator. Plan and perform. Think about tough problems and then, get your hands dirty and solve them.
4.) Challenge the status quo – understand the impact, but don’t be afraid of it. This is really summed up by one simple question in the words of my greatest mentor: do you care more about doing things right or doing the right thing? Not only will the answer to this question will tell you a lot about yourself, but it will paint a path to professional development. In my own life, I have always tried to be a straight-shooter and somebody who builds things for a reason. I like to know the purpose behind a process or decision and I am comfortable admitting when I’m wrong and changing things that are broken or inefficient.
At a large corporation there will be many opportunities to find broken things. Good companies, good leaders, good bosses, and good people will all encourage and embrace those who call out problems with the way things are done – whether its business decisions, operations, daily processes, or even the way events are planned. But not every organization will have these people and this type of culture. A true test of professional strength and willpower will be when you decide how to handle challenging the status quo when there’s realy pushback. I’m not telling you to start a fire, but I am telling you that if you want to learn to do the right thing, this is a good place to start.
At the end of the day Accenture was a great place to start my career and I am unbelievably thankful to the people and mentors that encouraged me and helped me succeed. The most important part of this whole process has been reflection. Taking the time to think about the things that went well and those that didn’t has given me insight into my day-to-day professional needs as well as the areas that I have room for personal improvement.
If I can recommend only one thing for those moving on to new careers it is that you take the time to digest the greatest lessons from your employer. Think about them, reflect, write them down and internalize them. When life gets complicated, keep things simple.