Learnings in Leading a Consulting Practice – Part II

Climbing wall over Climbing Ladder

I am a strong believer that any organization is only as successful as it’s people. A big part of how we’ve been able to build a successful practice here in Auckland, has been based on the fact that great talent attracts great talent. Whenever I ask people what’s the best thing they enjoy about working at Assurity, the resounding answer I get all the time is the people. Not only do talented people want to work with other talented people, they also demand an environment which enables their talents, not hinder it. As a leader managing the environment in which talent can thrive, I am always trying to challenge myself, our team, and the organization on how we can continue to innovate and create a space in which people grow so much that they’re head-hunted, yet want to stay because it’s awesome.

For most of my working career, I had always been taught that to excel you have to climb a vertical ladder. As I was borned and raised in Singapore, those of us familiar with the culture in Asian countries know it can be incredibly competitive and hierarchical.

It’s a race to the top! (Part of the reason why I left Singapore!).








With many of our clients currently going through culture transformations and adopting a growth mindset in the way they deliver work, we’ve seen the rise of multi-skilled individuals become extremely important. This has been described in many of different ways: T-Shaped, Cross-Functional and Pi-Shaped Individuals to name a few. These terms all describe people who bring one or two areas of deep expertise to an organization, but also a broad general understanding around other areas of working.

Image result for pi shaped individuals

The reason for this rise is that much more of work today requires high amounts of collaboration, soft-skills and EQ. Having individuals who are multi-skilled not only brings a different perspective to how individuals do their specialist role, but also allows them to help out others in team if they need to. Teams that have multi-skilled individuals are also more likely to have empathy for each other.

About a year ago, someone at Assurity had an idea that we should run experiments that supports staff growing their careers without having to climb a vertical ladder. I think it was Darren Mctigue (credit to you!) one of our Co-Founders, but I honestly can’t remember where it came from! The concept came about because we started to have people from different disciplines in our business, wanting to move and grow horizontally into other disciplines. Traditionally, if you had 10+ years as a Test Manager, and moved into a Scrum Master role, that would be considered a career change, and you would be paid accordingly – usually the same or less! After all, the organization was paying you for your skill-set as a Scrum Master, which you were fairly new in right?

We disagreed. Not in this changing world.

As a consulting practice, there are certain core skills that remain important regardless of the discipline an individual specialises in. Also, if we truly practice what we teach, that multi-skilled individuals are the future of our work-force, then shouldn’t the way we allow and reward people growing in their careers recognize this too? We decided to play around with this concept called a “Climbing Wall”, the idea that people could grow in their careers through a series of experiences, which was agnostic of whether the increase in skillset was vertical or horizontal. Once we had created a culture that openly encouraged this, the next step was to create a system that staff could be rewarded accordingly for it. We’re definitely not there yet, but I’d love to share what some of our work in progress have been to date.

An example of this within our Auckland team is Fraser Penning – He’s been a Tester and moved into the role of Scrum Master about a year ago, and he’s absolutely smashing it! He’s now currently working alongside a GM of a well-known NZ organization, helping to re-shape the way that organization does delivery. At the same time, he’s been rewarded for the entirety of his skillset, not simply looking at the move as a career change.

Another example is Thashnee Pillay – who has such a wide background (BA/Test Manager/Product Owner) and now recently she has moved into the Design Thinking team, to help support the team as they grow. She’s currently one of our Principal Consultants, not because she’s an expert at Design Thinking – She’d probably be a Junior Consultant if we measured her expertise in Design Thinking on a Climbing Ladder Scale, but she’s a Principal Consultant because of the combination of skillset she has acquired to date which makes her a better advisor and partner for our clients.

While we still have more to go on this to make this a success, we believe we’re on to something. The concept of rewarding individuals for the sum of their skillset, rather than demand them move up an artificial ladder is important to our success as a modern consultancy.

I’d love to hear your thoughts or feedback – Have you tried this or are looking to try this in your organization?


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