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Our team is growing. A lot. Which means I’ve been involved in the onboarding process multiple times over the past year.

At each interview and meeting, I spend a good chunk of the conversation explaining how Cloud City’s values influence the way we work with clients. For a new team member to be successful here, they need to understand that their consultant skills are just as important (if not more so) as their subject-matter expertise.

Since we’re continuing to grow — and hire! — at Cloud City, I thought it would be helpful to get my notes for these conversations out of my head and onto paper.

But first, I have to admit. I’m a little uncomfortable.

At Cloud City, we’re a team. Kenzi, our CEO, works closely with our engineering and product design leadership (myself included) to make important decisions, solve problems and come up with new paths for helping clients achieve their goals.

In this post, I’ll attempt to articulate what Cloud City’s values mean to me. I hope others on the leadership team will do the same in subsequent posts.

Cloud City’s Approach to Consulting (I Think)

At the highest level, consulting is simply solving clients’ problems.

The client has recognized that there’s an issue. They don’t know how to address it on their own. So they hire an expert (or a team of experts) to help them find an ideal solution.

But in many cases, the problem the client wants us to solve is different from the actual issues their team is facing.

When I join a new engagement, the first thing I do is sit down with the client and their team to determine what’s really holding them back from achieving their goals.

Uncovering the true problem

For example, let’s say a client is frustrated because their website is slow.

They think they just need a few more engineers on their team to “speed things up.”

But after a few conversations with their team, I might discover that the actual problem isn’t a technical issue.

Maybe the internal engineering manager doesn’t have the tools, time or authority to lead the team and project correctly. Or maybe people feel confused and disenfranchised because there’s no internal process for assessing and fixing website issues.

I think I can speak for everyone at Cloud City when I say “all problems are people problems.”

Simply put, the better you treat your team, the better they’ll perform.

Now, when I say “treat better,” I don’t mean to imply that our clients disrespect or take advantage of their staff.

Instead, treating someone “better” can mean ensuring they understand their responsibilities and giving them the tools and time they need to do their job correctly. Treating people better can also mean giving the engineering team an easier and more efficient ticketing system. Or having regular standups so no one feels disenfranchised or siloed.

When you reframe technical issues and look at them through the lens of people and processes, a lot of the puzzle will fall into place.

Creating a safe and open environment

One thing I think is important to make clear is that just because an issue is a “people problem,” it doesn’t mean there’s a person causing the problem.

I believe that most people are good and want to do good work. When helping clients and their teams understand what’s really holding them back from achieving their goals, we do so in a way that’s open-minded and non-accusatory.

We are not here to cast blame or encourage criticism. That’s only going to hold the team back.

Instead, we want to create a space where everyone who is somehow connected to the issue can talk openly and honestly. Where they feel they can contribute and be heard. We want to facilitate conversations, not finger-pointing.

Problem-solving our way out of a job

Once we’ve uncovered the real problem, then we can start developing a solution that will address the issue at hand, as well as the systemic problems that are causing it in the first place.

To illustrate what I mean, I’m going to throw a plumber analogy at you.

Let’s say your sink is repeatedly backing up. You call a plumber and ask them to fix it.

A bad plumber will fix your sink. (Yes, you read that correctly.) A good plumber will stop the sink from clogging in the first place.

That plumber may work themselves out of a job. But they’re also the first person you’ll recommend when your neighbor’s sink backs up.

At Cloud City, we approach our engagements in a similar way.

We want to empower our clients to solve the problems they’re currently facing. We also want to help them implement processes that help prevent issues from popping up in the first place — even if that means we miss out on repeat business.

We measure our success by the quality of our reputation and relationships, not by the number of hours we bill.

Leading with integrity

When I talk about “reputation” and “relationships,” I’m not just talking about our clients.

We’ve seen a lot of our consultants come and go over the years. And to me, that’s a very good thing.

Consultants may leave Cloud City to start their own business. Or work with another team. Or just hang out in the woods for a while.

We genuinely care about the people who work with and for us. If you want to go and start your own business after a client’s project ends, that’s awesome! We want to celebrate and advocate for you, whether you’re currently working with us or not.

That’s why it’s so important to me that we lead with integrity. And that means recognizing that our consultants are more than just team members. They’re people with their own needs and goals.

Interestingly, many of the people who do leave end up coming back to Cloud City in a few months or even a few years. Some may hire us at their new companies. Others simply stay in touch over Slack and social media.

Either way, we are grateful to have met and worked with them.

How’d I do, team?

Now that I’ve hit “publish,” I’m excited to hear what other members of the Cloud City leadership team think about my attempt to define our approach to consulting. While I’m confident they’ll agree with much of what I said, I’m sure they’ll have their own unique perspectives to bring to the table.

I also invite other consultants to chime in and share how they approach projects and engagements. Feel free to get in touch here or on Twitter or Linkedin.

Finally, like I said at the beginning of this post, Cloud City is growing. And we’re always looking for more amazing folks to join our team. You can see all of our current openings here.

If this post resonates with you, please reach out. We’d love to have you on our team.

Gabriel Williams, Director of Engineering at Cloud City, fosters supportive teams.

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