Transitioning from Public Services into Consulting

Transitioning from Public Services into Consulting
Nov 30th 2017


We recently sat down with three of our Senior Consultants to discuss their experiences of moving from the front line of public services into consulting. Prior to joining 2020 Delivery, both Stef and Rowan had trained and practised as doctors within the NHS, and Martin had spent several years with the police.


What were some of key takeaways from your time in public services, that you find yourself using regularly today?

Stef: My major takeaway was just how important it is to treat everyone within a team or organisation with respect, and to listen to what they have to say. Often it’s the most junior person who might have the best ideas…

Martin: For me, communication skills like talking to people respectfully, managing conflict, being tactful, and using humour to diffuse situations were critically important on the front line and can be applied in a consulting context.

It can be so important to understand the pressures that front-line junior public service workers are facing, and to empathise with their situation.

Rowan: I agree with Stef and Martin: it is the people working on the front line who usually know most about how the service they’re working in could be improved or transformed. I think a large part of consulting is helping to bring those great ideas to the surface and turn them into reality.


How did a public services background help the transition into consulting life at 2020 Delivery?

Stef: Experiencing some of the daily challenges that people face in the public sector has allowed me to empathise with others and better understand their issues and problems. This helps bring people along with you. You aren’t seen as another person in a suit – you understand the realities of delivering a service.

As well as this, 2020 Delivery works regularly within the healthcare sector, so my clinical background gave me a bit of a head start in terms of understanding how hospitals work, and a familiarity with some of the processes and language used.

Martin: There are many common themes and challenges across public services, such as dealing with ongoing cost pressures. My time in the police left me with a good intuition for these, which helped with the transition into other services that I had no prior experience of.

Rowan: Like Stef, I have a clinical background. As a doctor, I used to see problems on a daily basis that I really wanted to fix, but I rarely had the time because I often felt like I was ‘firefighting’. As a consultant, it is my role to understand and fix the problems. It is extremely satisfying!


What were the challenges/surprises in making the move?

Stef: The style of work switches from a very immediate task-focused way of working (e.g. the following 20 patients need to be seen by 12pm, and you need to take blood on four of them), to a much longer-term focus. This involves managing your time and workload in an effective way, and taking responsibility for it.

Martin: Agreed, there’s a difference when you’re no longer on the front line. For example, not having the direct feedback on the value of the work that you’re doing; I can no longer point directly to a threat to life I’ve averted, a weapon I’ve seized, or an offender I’ve brought to justice.

Stef: I’d also say that you don’t quite feel like you are ‘part of the tribe’ any more, and yet work closely with people who are. I still feel like a doctor, but people don’t see you in that way…

Martin: And of course, I’ve realised that I wasn’t quite as advanced in my use of Excel and PowerPoint as I had imagined previously!

Rowan:The main challenge for me was getting used to no longer ‘being a doctor’. Although I still have some direct patient contact, this is much less and my role is different. However, I’ve noticed that I get a similar level of satisfaction from building close working relationships with our clients as I did from treating patients. I need to earn clients’ trust so that I can support them with the problems they are facing – this is very similar to the doctor-patient relationship. At first, I also missed performing procedures, which surprised me because I didn’t realise I enjoyed them so much!


What was your favourite aspect of working in public services?

Stef: I think knowing that, for the most part, every action you take is benefitting your patients. Having that direct feedback is very positive. The teamwork and camaraderie, particularly when things are tough, are fantastic.

Martin: Knowing that ultimately the purpose of your work is to help people, often in their time of greatest need. You are empowered to do something about problems that really matter.

Rowan: I got a huge buzz from treating patients and working in large multi-disciplinary teams. As a clinical oncology registrar, I particularly enjoyed reviewing patients in clinic: getting to know them and their families, helping them understand the diagnosis, and then working out a mutually agreeable treatment plan.


What does your current work setting provide that you might not have had before?

Stef: The freedom and responsibility to manage my own time. You have the space needed to think about a problem properly, rather than reacting and firefighting on an hour-by-hour basis.

Martin: I have found that I have more access to, and credibility with, senior decision makers. I’ve also learnt about some very powerful management and problem solving tools. I wish I’d known about PDSs and Issues Trees when I was in the police!

Rowan: I enjoy fixing large public service problems that impact hundreds or thousands of people. For example, my current project covers a patient population of 1.6m. I am motivated by making things better for patients and staff at an organisational, regional or national level.


What advice would you give someone thinking about making similar move?

Stef: Talk to as many people as you can about the transition. You need a range of stories (both positive and negative) from people working for different organisations.

Martin: Ask yourself if you can do without the aspects of your work that you will be losing when you move to consulting, e.g. treating patients, arresting suspects, or teaching children.

Rowan: Think about your personal values, what motivates you and what gives you satisfaction. Then test these out with people working in the career that you are considering. I think it’s really important to choose a career that will be personally fulfilling, and an organisation where your colleagues share your values.


What’s your favourite aspect of consulting?

Stef: Being a ‘trusted advisor’: having senior people asking your opinion on things which, when working in the public sector, were often beyond the concern of your grade. You’re in a position to help clients do things they don’t have the time, energy or expertise to do themselves.

Martin: Variety. Consulting allows you to work with high-achieving colleagues from lots of different professional backgrounds. You work on a range of projects and, within projects, you face many different types of challenge, from data analysis to delivering a staff workshop.

Rowan: The satisfaction I get from working through problems (some of which are extremely knotty!) and reaching and delivering effective and sustainable solutions.


What’s your favourite element of the work we do at 2020 Delivery?

Stef: Being close to service delivery, and focused exclusively on the public sector, I think it is easy to see the benefit that we are delivering for service users and tax payers.

Martin: Learning about new public services while, at the same time, being able to make a contribution based on your experiences elsewhere.

Rowan: Working in a values-driven way. At 2020 Delivery, we have four core values that guide our work: humility, optimism, rigor and respect. I strongly believe in what we do and how we do it.


Interested in hearing more about recruitment at 2020 Delivery? Visit our Careers page.