I’m on my way back from London where I’ve just spent 50 minutes chatting with a medium sized charity about what I might be able to offer them if they took me on as a ‘critical friend’ to their senior management team. And I know that for most of the conversation, the charity was principally trying to figure out what a ‘critical friend’ might look like and do, rather than hearing how great I might be for them in that role… (they’ve been asked to recruit one by a one of their funders, but not had any guidance and not had any prior experience of what one is!).
I get the strong impression from some passing references made by the charity’s executive team during the chat that I’ve a relatively low chance of success in getting this work; the contract value means that I won’t really make any money on the work if I’m awarded it; and it’s quite a travel distance from my usual patch around the North West, Pennines, and Yorkshire - so why did I even consider spending time on drafting the initial proposal and then committing to the cost and time of such apparently excessive travel?
- They approached me direct. This wasn’t an open or advertised call for consultants to bid, but rather they did some pre-selection and research against the sorts of backgrounds that they knew they wanted their new ‘critical friend’ to have. It only seemed polite to reciprocate (and it was very flattering…)
- The role of ‘critical friend’ to charities and other organisations is one that’s only just starting to be explored and introduced here in the UK, so it was a clear opportunity to be in the inside of this emergent trend and model to keep myself best informed, and also share some of my own experiences and insights (including likening the ‘critical friend’ to that of the historic ‘court jester’) that I’d otherwise struggle to do in not being a published academic or writer of books…
- It was an opportunity to reflect on my experiences and skills within a different context and framework to that I usually find myself in – a valuable CPD opportunity in keeping myself ‘fresh’ and trying to avoid becoming ‘professionally complacent’
- I had the time and resource to follow up their invitation: one of the things I think has meant that I’ve been able to develop and keep a successful and profitable freelance consultancy practice going for 13 years is having an inquisitive nature – if someone shows me a door that’s ajar and says they think it might be interesting for me to have a peek inside, I’ll always try to…
So – a mixture of good manners, the opportunity for business and professional development, and personal values, meant that I’ve just done something that I suspect most of my counterparts would have passed on without a second thought. Perhaps another reason why I’m labelled as being ‘not your typical consultant’ in the worlds of facebook and Instagram?