I recently had coffee with someone I connected with via LinkedIn. We met to explore potential synergies between what he was doing and what I’m doing, and during the course of the conversation realized that we had both taught at tertiary level at different stages of our lives. My lecturing experience was 25 years ago, while his is ongoing and our experiences were obviously quite different. He has to deal with zoom attendees who may or may not have their cameras on (or even be physically present if their cameras are off!), while I had to stand in front of a lecture hall of hundreds of students managing a barrage of questions.

Regardless of time or medium, both of us agreed that the key to success as a lecturer was to always be at least one chapter ahead of your students.

This discussion made me think back on a time early in my career when this was a literal reality.

As a junior (and token) HR consultant, I was working as part of a cross functional team developing an executive incentive scheme for a client using Economic Value Add (EVA) as the key metric. This was a new area for the business, and since I had no prior compensation and benefits experience was definitely not my sweet spot!

As the only HR representative on a team of financial consultants, frankly I felt quite overwhelmed. In contrast, the Director in charge seemed totally on top of everything. He presented as very knowledgeable. and the client was very happy with how things were progressing.

One day at lunchtime I spotted the Director attentively reading a book. Engrossed in this reading he didn’t notice me and upon reading the title of the book I realized that he was (quite literally) leading this project by reading a ‘How To’ book on developing an EVA linked executive compensation scheme.

All he was doing was following and implementing the process steps for the client one chapter at a time!

Suddenly there was hope that I could add value!

I obtained a copy of the book and unbeknown to the Director and the rest of the team started to read. I quickly caught up to where we were in the project and then started to read ahead.

At the next team meeting the Director was more than a little surprised when he asked a technical question to the financial consultants and I was able to provide the correct answer. After a couple such meetings I was suddenly being viewed as a valued member of the team both by my team as well as by the client. The client started to actively seek my inputs and to ask me questions on HR areas that I had a lot more familiarity with. As a result I was able to add some genuine value and build a good relationship with the HR team. The project went well, the incentive scheme was introduced and the Director was none the wiser about the source of my new found wisdom.

Resulting from this project I was able to develop a trusted advisor relationship with the head of HR which ultimately resulted in a 20 year long consulting relationship. The client followed me over this period as I changed companies, roles and even countries.

As for the Director of the project, he went on to lead a practice focused strongly on EVA before rapidly moving into and up the partnership ranks within the firm – on the back of the business he had been able to build.

The secret to our respective successes – always stay at least one chapter ahead!