In management consulting, it’s safe to say that you’ll learn something new on every project. This ongoing challenge and the ability to continuously grow are things that attract people to this career. Part of being an effective consultant is being able to broaden your consulting toolkit with new knowledge and skills over time. Gaining exposure to new areas can add value to your current project and also open the door to new client opportunities in the future. At Sendero, we created Special Interest Groups as a platform for employees to explore new concepts and deepen their existing knowledge in a welcoming, supportive environment.
Sendero defines Special Interest Groups, known as “SIGs”, as informal, employee-driven groups focused on learning and information-sharing on a specific business topic. Consultants engage in these groups separate from their client work, so they provide great opportunities for continued learning and networking outside of their current project. But how does this benefit our employees, and how could it benefit another organization?
Key Benefits of Special Interest Groups
Learning by Leading
Despite limited experience in Analytics and no experience creating dashboards, Associate Austin Bowyer got involved with the Data & Analytics SIG by participating in a Tableau competition. He then took this one step further by volunteering to present during the next SIG meeting to share his experience of learning to create a dashboard. While preparing to present, Austin dove headfirst into Tableau to determine what he wanted to share about the tool:
“Presenting in the SIG made me even more passionate about Data & Analytics and taught me a lot about Tableau. Since then, the SIG has helped me continue to grow in my knowledge of visualization tools, which enabled me to co-lead a PowerBI competition and successfully implement a PowerBI Dashboard on a recent client project.” – Austin Bowyer, Associate
SIGs provide many opportunities to take charge of your own learning and gain leadership experience while doing it. Employees at all levels have the ability to get involved and take a pass at sitting in the driver’s seat.
Growing in Confidence
Other Senderoans have utilized a SIG to gain confidence in their own knowledge and experience. Manager Mattie Voss naturally got involved in the OCM SIG as she had led multiple OCM efforts across several different clients and was interested in the topic. While Mattie was happy to share her experiences and contribute to the group as a presenter, she too benefited from her experience in the group:
“After co-facilitating two OCM SIG meetings, I feel more confident in my knowledge and capabilities within the space.” – Mattie Voss, Manager
Confidence, gained from presenting during a SIG, often translates to increased confidence on the client side. For Mattie, this meant trusting her expertise and becoming more vocal on her client project, making more suggestions and challenging ideas, when appropriate.
To kick off the IT Infrastructure SIG, two Senior Managers, Nate Steiner and Bryant Robinson, led a fun and enlightening discussion answering the question, “What is the Internet?” Manager Reilee Berger noted that the thought-provoking presentation provided helpful context for his IT infrastructure client project as well as exposure to new topics. Later on, Reilee presented a case study on his client project to the SIG, incorporating elements he had initially been introduced to during the first SIG meeting:
“Exposure to new topics inspired me to do additional research and learn more about areas that were relevant to my project. This kept me relevant with my client and equipped me to successfully manage infrastructure projects.” – Reilee Berger, Manager
For many, simply attending a SIG meeting tends to cultivate curiosity, encourage questions, and provide exposure to new topics. For eager learners seeking to grow in areas outside of their immediate project, SIGs can provide additional opportunities to engage with new subject matter.
If this concept resonates with your organization, here are five steps to create and maintain employee interest groups within your company or organization:
1. Identify employee interests. As simple as it sounds, ensuring that SIGs are centered around topics that employees are curious about is critical to the group’s success. If leaders and members simply attend out of obligation, the SIG will struggle to captivate its audience and engagement will wane. Find out what topics people are passionate about and utilize this enthusiasm to drive the creation of the group.
2. Establish clear objectives. What do you want people to get out of being involved in the SIG? Is the goal to create a forum for learning and information sharing? Or do you want to provide networking opportunities to people with common interests? Whatever the goals may be, establish these from the beginning, document them, and maintain alignment with them to define the group’s purpose and provide structure.
3. Select a strong leader/coordinator. While passion for a specific topic may drive the creation of a group, someone will need to commit to planning and organizing meetings, communicating with members, and maintaining logistics for the group. Having a strong leader is essential and will help guide the group towards success.
4. Build a cohesive group. Be active in maintaining the group’s members. Members may be aligned on the given topic but need to remain engaged for the group to thrive. This can be done by consistently providing relevant content, encouraging members to select topics and lead meetings, and constantly looking for new opportunities to allow people to participate. Active and engaged members are critical to a successful group.
5. Involve employees at all levels. While younger employees are often the most eager learners, the group should be anchored by more experienced team members. These more senior members can also ensure content aligns with the company’s offerings and is relevant to the work the company does. Leadership opportunities, however, should be shared across employees at all levels.
You may be surprised at the willingness – even eagerness – of your employees to engage in continued learning, regardless of the topic. Both your employees and your organization as a whole will see a plethora of benefits. In addition to developing both breadth and depth of their knowledge, employees will have structured and organic leadership opportunities, will feel more confident in their knowledge and abilities, and can constantly be exposed to new topics.
Curious to learn more about Sendero’s areas of expertise? Explore our Practice Areas.