Wrapping Up My Consulting Practice, Starting My Next Career Chapter
[For those of who got an early draft, please do read the final as I've updated it considerably based on your feedback and some late-breaking next chapter developments.]
One of my absolute favorite actresses of all time was Rosalind Russell. She died of breast cancer in 1976, so many of you may never have seen her during her career. She was amazing. Battling a number of health issues, including very painful arthritis, she achieved a body of work that makes the portfolio of most actresses, including the big names of today, pale by comparison. Drama or comedy, on stage or on screen, there was no one else like her — and no actress since has so captured my heart.
When she played the lead role in Patrick Dennis’ “Auntie Mame,” a movie I’ve watched at least a dozen times, she inspired me to be an Auntie Mame to now two generations of nieces and nephews rather than to emulate the more conventional women of the era, the women of my mother’s generation. And when her autobiography was published the year after she died, its title, one of the most memorable lines from “Auntie Mame,” became my words to live by: “life’s a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving.”
Those words, and what they really mean, have guided many of my life’s choices, including those of my professional life. Aim high, take a chance, be passionate about what you’re doing, work your butt off, savor the opportunities, and appreciate just how fortunate you are to have more options than most people will ever enjoy. All this and more are wrapped up for me not only in her autobiography’s title, but also in the story of her life. Here was a woman who stayed married to someone she really loved, managed a substantial career, lived with serious health issues, and knew when to adapt, when to let go, and when to move on. I’m no Rosalind Russell, but I’ve learned a lesson or two from her life. And I’m still learning.
I’ve been on the road pretty much since I began my professional career mid-1967. I’ve tried hard to stay current, to generate fresh ideas, to figure out where we’re going rather than just dwelling on where we’ve been, and to make sure that every hour committed to a client was the very best hour I could deliver. I’ve had an amazing run, accomplished much of what I set out to do when I founded my solo practice in 1987, and I’m pretty optimistic for at least some parts of our industry. But making every client hour your best hour requires staying on top of everything that’s happening globally across HRM and IT, and at their intersection. It means being on point from early AM to late PM. There’s simply no way to digest, analyze, develop a point of view and explain all of this as quickly as our always on/always commenting culture expects of anyone who holds themselves to my impossible standards. At least not without working and traveling at a truly killer pace. As for what we euphemistically call “thought leadership,” that takes large amounts of quiet time as well as lots of time spent learning. And “thought leadership” is central to the type of consulting that I have enjoyed most.
While all of this has been going on, I’ve been trying to have a life. Traveling for pleasure, sailing (now trawlering) with Ron, investing as much time as possible in relationships with family and friends, actively supporting the causes and philanthropies that are important to us, reading voraciously, loving live theater, and so much more — but with my work life always taking priority. Always! Like so many of you, my life’s journey is littered with missed family gatherings and important life events, as well as far too many “worcations” (my own invented term for vacations which were overtaken by work). And like you, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t feel torn among competing priorities or when I didn’t wish for longer days/weeks/months/years. But in the real world, we do not get longer years, or as many years of youthful invincibility as we would like.
And that brings me to “Naomi’s Next Career Chapter!” I always said that, when I no longer wanted to keep up that “killer” pace, to do what it takes to deliver every consulting hour to my own neurotically high standards, I would do something else — and so I am. With a huge thank you to all my clients and client teams, and to the many colleagues who have supported not only my consulting work but also my lifelong learning efforts, this consultant is ready to shift her priorities from flat-out, hands-on, workaholic consultant to industry observer, commentator, writer, speaker, mentor, moderator, facilitator, advocate, agent provocateur, strategic advisor and Board member.
Surely you didn’t expect me to walk away from the industry I’ve helped shape and the 24/7 career I’ve loved? Au contraire! But I do want to give myself the gift — and what a luxury that is – of entering 2014 (not to mention 2015) without having every minute booked a year in advance and a mile long todo list which will never get done. So while I’m keeping an open mind, here are some preliminary thoughts on the next chapter, on the types of opportunities that will fit:
- On the pro bono side, I’m honored to be a Fellow of the Human Resources Policy Institute at Boston University, and I have just agreed to take on a similar role for the Candidate Experience Awards. Closer to home, I’m working on an initiative to build a non-profit organization to deliver shared administrative services, and not just HR-related services, to our local non-profits so that more of their limited resources can be focused on their missions.
- I love writing and may well continue my blog, but if so it’s focus and mix of posts will likely broaden over time. Many would say that’s been happening almost from the beginning, and no one seems to mind, but I’d love to apply my growing interest in watercolors to illustrating some of those posts.
- Once I have time to breathe, and assuming I keep writing posts of interest, I’ll probably review the whole subject of blog sponsorships. While I was consulting across the industry, I didn’t feel comfortable taking sponsorships, but without those potential conflicts of interest, this deserves revisiting. If that’s something in which you’re interested, November would be a great time to contact me.
- As for compensated speaking/thought leadership engagements, I’ve done a fair number of keynote addresses in my time, along with a wide variety of panels/podcasts/Webinars/videocasts and whitepapers. I’m sure I’ll be just as selective in the future as I’ve been in the past, but I may well have the luxury of accepting more international opportunities. One type of compensated session that I won’t be doing, after this year’s HR Technology Conference and the European HR Technology Conference (please note that these are in no way related), has been a personal favorite: the open-ended, bring any question you want, “ask the expert” session, unless of course I’m allowed to bring some “expert” buddies along to help out the old broad.
- Perhaps most exciting are the opportunities to support directly vendors and products which I think are best-in-class. I’ve always been comfortable promoting ideas in which I believed and citing vendors and products which met or didn’t meet my take on these ideas. Now freed of the ecumenical responsibilities of a consulting practice, I’ll be looking more closely at strategic advisor and Board roles. Maybe it’s even time to introduce an InFullBloom HR technology badge.
I owe so much of what’s been accomplished these many years to the clients who believed in me and the client teams with whom I have worked. I’d love to thank every one of you again personally; I hope I did so properly at the time. Some of you, especially in the early years, took a great leap of faith when I came around with my strategic planning methodologies and software design models and architectural preferences. Since I got hooked on all of this at my very first job out of UPenn, I’ve done my best to advance the practice of HRM via the enablement of great technology. On balance, it’s been well worth the effort, and that effort will continue.