While approaching my two-year mark at West Monroe, I’ve experienced different levels of comfortability with my assigned project roles. I feel especially fortunate to have been assigned opportunities considered “stretch roles” where I have worn hats I never expected to wear, be it a “technical” hat or a “project manager” hat. And as much as “wearing different hats” can be a cliché in consulting or any industry, I do find it fitting here. Thanks to the support of great leaders, the willingness of my peers to support me, (and maybe some hard work), I’ve learned to enjoy the new look. But when you put on a fresh hat, it’s easy to be distracted looking in the mirror or trying not to stick out. So as a guide, I’ve collected tips to help prepare for stretch roles for any industry (not just consulting) and I hope these reminders will help you not just wear the hat but rock it.
- Don’t put pressure on yourself to know everything- For any new assignment, I am eager to study up on all available materials and become an expert. Although I think this is something to strive for, it isn’t always possible to do so immediately. For stretch roles, I’ve had to take a step back and ask myself: how much of this do I need to know? Understanding the level of detail necessary for the role, rather than trying to be an expert in the “in the weeds” work, has been key for my stretch role success.
- Review material, then ask for clarification– Although there are no stupid questions, I do believe there is a good way to go about asking them. Instead of asking teammates definitions after every unfamiliar term, I suggest first reviewing and researching material and making a list on your own. That way, if you are still unsure, you can ask for clarification all at once. Regardless of the assignment, I also keep a running list of terms in my shared project OneNote “dictionary”. Every time I hear an unfamiliar word, I log it in my dictionary and look up a definition later. I’ve had countless meetings where I would have been lost had I not been repeatedly searching via control f in my dictionary during the meeting!
- Walk through the expectations with a manager– In a stretch role, I immediately set aside time with a manager to define all activities and deliverables expected of me to deliver. Although walking through everything may be tedious, it’s well worth the level setting and assumption clarification that occurs. Walking through expectations in detail also gives me the opportunity to ask for deliverable examples and templates when I am unfamiliar with an item I’ll be handing over.
- Set daily stand ups with your manager– I lead these “stand ups” with a manager by relaying major updates or concerns and by communicating what I did yesterday and what I plan to do that day. These touchpoints are especially important during the first few weeks in a stretch role because it ensures there is dedicated time to address questions before completing the actual work. I’d much rather ask those questions during a stand up than risk handing over lower quality work that was the result of assumptions and confusion.
- Discuss what you’re doing with someone else-I have been fortunate enough to have an intern assigned to one of my stretch role projects. At first, I was nervous about ramping her up and thought “If I’m confused on some things, she’ll be even more confused!” But as we met to discuss the activities and deliverables, the coaching element increased my confidence and I realized I wasn’t giving myself as much credit as I could be. Explaining material to someone helps you absorb and organize information. Even if you are not paired with someone to coach or manage, explaining your work to a peer or to a family member/friend is a great way to get more comfortable with difficult aspects of your role.
At West Monroe Partners, we are encouraged to accept and embrace the challenges that these stretch roles bring and they can foster some of the best opportunities to grow as a consultant (and a person!). But no matter what industry you’re in, how prepared you feel, or how much you have mastered the above tips, don’t forget: wear your new hat stylishly and confidently!