An Interview with Jill Maidment
Jill, why did you start Natural Talent back in 2003?
The reason I started Natural Talent was to offer an alternative to the main global Consultancies, who didn’t seem to be listening too much to their key accounts, sometimes appeared to be too inward thinking, and too difficult to access, as well as charging high daily rates. I wanted to offer an accessible superior service to clients, which provided value for money and high ROI, by assisting them in resolving their key issues and making a real difference to the performance of individuals, teams and their organizations.
How did you decide what service offering to provide to your clients?
When I started out I asked my prospective and previous clients what they wanted and needed from Natural Talent. They replied: flexibility of offering – bespoke interventions, not tired off the shelf Training Programmes; training dates and times to suit them, not standard courses starting at 9 and finishing at 5, nor modules spread over 3 – 6 or even 12 months and on specific days, which they couldn’t make; no outdated outward bound-type days; everyone wanted flexibility and reliability, as well as access to advice out of office hours and real value for money.
Why do you think Natural Talent has endured when so many of your competitors have disappeared, especially during the economic downturn?
Part of the reason for our endurance has to be that we offer a fresh, holistic approach to our clients’ key issues, as well as questioning the status quo, added to our professionalism and attention to detail. Personally, I am commended on my empathy, professionalism, understanding and pragmatism. There are no gimmicks, just up to date knowledge, using innovative as well as proven tools and techniques to make a significant and sustainable difference in performance. Post the Lehmann brothers collapse we constantly hear the word ‘authentic’. Being real and honest about who you are and what you can do – and more importantly cannot do – rings true with clients.
There must be something else?
Well, we innovate constantly: The world is changing rapidly and in order to be able to survive and compete in the business world today you need to become known as an industry expert, so my Consultants and I attend as many courses or seminars as we can, and read as many books and blogs on our subject in order to become known as one of the industry experts in our field. Additionally, we ‘act global and think local’: in other words, we identify the key global challenges in our client’s market sector then align our services to provide solutions to the key issues that are relevant in our immediate geographical area. And we always work in partnership with our clients: we really get to know their people, key issues and their culture in order to be able to add real value by highlighting key areas and solutions for change.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start a Coaching Practice nowadays, or a Consultancy specializing in Leadership and Management Talent Assessment and Development?
Make sure you have the relevant qualifications; sadly there is still no regulation around the Coaching profession. If you wish to work as an Executive Coach then get trained and qualified by the top schools or Consultancies. Also, practice what you preach: in order to build and maintain credibility you need to demonstrate that you live and breathe what you teach, for example, if you deliver Time Management Training Programmes don’t arrive late at your clients’ office. If you advise people on how to manage their stress levels ensure that you are calm in meetings with them.
What else would you recommend?
Always guarantee confidentiality and ensure that you respect your client’s information in order to build and maintain their trust. It sounds obvious, but don’t start criticizing what’s wrong with your clients’ systems, people or culture. Once you’ve identified issues, ask the challenging questions and offer solutions to resolve the issues.
Frequently you work with senior executives from global million dollar organizations; what have you in turn learnt from them?
What a great question! Frequently it becomes obvious that no matter how large or small the company the issues tend to be similar and sometimes I pick up some very useful tips; occasionally clients will recommend a book, talk or model that I haven’t seen so that can provide additional useful insights in to Leadership Development. Also, I am very fortunate to have attended a world-class Leadership for Growth Program at Stanford Graduate School of Business and with CEOs we often discuss key elements and outcomes from that Program.
What other Issues keep coming up?
Obviously the majority of our work is confidential, however there are recurring themes and issues such as discussions on what can or will you do differently from your competitors to really add value and stand out from the crowd? And, importantly, deciding on their strategy and focusing on alignment to ensure all their daily actions are aligned with the vision and strategy, revising it regularly along the way to ensure ongoing success. In addition, sourcing and retaining top talent is always high on the agenda, as well as increasing Emotional Intelligence, prioritizing workload and delegation of responsibility.
Do you have any final advice for someone looking to start a Consultancy?
Always act like a CEO! Run your own Consultancy practice as if it is a global enterprise and outsource your weaknesses. Chances are that you’re skilled, experienced and good at what you do. So, if you’re a web designer you may not be adept at finance so ensure you find a reliable accountancy firm. If you know you can’t deliver a service then say ‘No!’ Don’t ever try to produce work that isn’t your specialism because it will only derail both you personally and your company reputation; find a reliable proven business partner whom you can recommend to provide services outside your capability. Also manage your online reputation: as I always emphasize in my lectures on ‘How to get your dream job’ to final year students at the University of the West of England: we can’t escape social media and it can be a useful Marketing tool, but make sure your friends don’t post any wild weekend or holiday photos of you all over Facebook if you’re trying to break in to the corporate world!
Sounds like good advice – thank you!