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why go it alone? the founding of policy performance

Large volumes of business textbooks prompt ambitious workers to "discover their why" before embarking on entrepreneurial journeys or significant changes in life course. They claim that it is easy to lose focus once new directions commence, with the original rationale fading into the background over time. It is important to remember why you are doing something, with this becoming a constant frame of reference against which you judge what you should be doing day-to-day.

But I think before 'why' comes history. For those who do not know my work background, it involved almost 9.5 years in three different consulting companies based in Victoria, Australia, but with projects of national and international reach. And prior to this, I served a policy apprenticeship as a 2004 graduate in the Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC), followed by approximately four years during the Bracks-Terry Moran era.

Having witnessed some excellent consulting projects during my time in DPC, I was very keen to try it for myself. But it was hard to get into consulting from government in those days.... really hard. There were fewer firms and less diversity of work, with a greater focus on economics and regulation advice, rather than my sweet spot - policy and evaluation.

 

During this time, I attended around 20 different coffees/interviews over a 6 month period, eventually convincing a small firm that a policy generalist like me could successfully make the switch into the consulting world. So, I thankfully landed in a small team, first learning how to support impactful proposals/bids and then largely providing back-of-house support to project managers and directors for jobs where our bids were successful. This period was a big change, teaching me the value of perseverence and introducing me to the field of evaluation. 

After two years of familiarisation with consulting, I was ready to manage projects myself, so took a big step up into the esteemed former Allen Consulting Group (now ACIL Allen Consulting). Here I worked with fantastic, diverse teams on a broad suite of national evaluation and Indigenous affairs projects over a five year period. I was also fortunate to play a big role on a 12-month nation-building renewable energy project in Saudi Arabia during this time. My time at the firm was incredibly eye-opening and culturally rewarding, consolidating my skills and abilities across a broad range of projects. It was hard work - I also completed a Master of Evaluation during this time, so my social life certainly took a hit for a while...! After 5 years, it was time for another perspective. 

My next step was into a Big-4 consulting firm, a huge world of projects, productivity and coffee which is often reflected upon from the outside, but best experienced from within. Here I had the opportunity to drive evaluation capacity building activities with teams across Australia, develop less experienced staff, lead the delivery of a diverse suite of interesting projects across government and become a key cog in the business case development process, in particular through accreditation as an Investment Logic Modelling (ILM) expert. This period demonstrated what could be achieved by dedicated, smart and passionate teams with complementary skillsets. Socially, it was fantastic to have a large group of peers to share stories and grow together.  

But again, after 2.5 years, it felt time for change. So now to my why.... why go it alone? why start a new firm when there are already plenty of others in the market? why not keep building within one organisation?

It was a combination of lots of reasons really... 

Firstly, a mentor of mine had been encouraging me for some time to consider the feasibility of starting my own firm. He had done it at about my age and always said that he wished he'd taken the plunge earlier. He encouraged me to think in terms of 'constraints' in my working life and the potential to lift some of these to achieve greater flexibility - it started to make sense to me, particularly during particularly hectic periods.

Second, the small consulting market that I had encountered in 2008 when trying to land my first consulting job had expanded. I observed a market where it was now more common for governments to purchase services, rather than staffing functions that could be easily delivered through short-term contracts. This sign of a mature market could allow me to play to my strengths. 

Third, when employed by a single entity, the ability to work regularly and flexibly with partners from other firms was somewhat diminished. I was hoping to reconnect with likeminded people from different organisations on projects where we could combine to deliver even better products, skills or offerings.

Fourth, the ability to work flexibly had been encouraged in prior roles, but felt like it would be more real in my own company. The ability to 'be my own boss' and to set (and vary) my working location, style, hours and expectations on a day-to-day basis was appealing.

Fifth, I backed my skills, having been tested for the best part of a decade. I would have had too many doubts to make this move even two years ago, but the time felt right. My years of experience in business case planning, implementation support and evaluation provided me with comfort that I could offer value to public sector organisations. 

So this is why I am here... !  So far, it has been fantastic... Don't let me forget!