The Young Consultant of the Year talks Social Business

Sarah Hughes, Managing Consultant in IBM's Strategy and Analytics team (second from left), won Young Consultant of the Year 2014 at the MCA Awards.

Since joining IBM as a graduate she has shared stages with CEOs, CIOs and Government ministers, and was the youngest person ever to speak at IBM’s Global Academic Day Conference. Her work focuses on Organisation & People for all aspects of transformation, in particular Social Business.

Congratulations on your success at this year’s MCA Awards. You were recognised for your work on Change Management and being ‘eminent beyond your years’. What knowledge have you been able to bring to the projects you have worked on?

Clients expect consultants to have a wealth of experience and knowledge which is a challenge when you are a young consultant. I was able to jump in at the deep end with support from experienced professionals and mentors to take on challenging roles where I had no option but to learn fast. From speaking to experienced consultants and heavily researching industries and best practice I was able to speak to my clients, discuss their needs and bring my own opinion to come up with solutions that suited them.  Clients often like to hear from a different angle and a new opinion – this is something young consultants can give, especially on something new such as Social Business. Young consultants are almost the pioneers in this space; it is definitely something that organisations look to young consultants to learn more about.

Do you think business leaders recognise the role of Social Business?

More and more so. There have been a number of studies showing it is a growing trend and more people are starting to recruit in that space. However, different organisations and industries are at different stages.

In my view, Social Business should be and will eventually be integrated into the way all businesses run and work.  It is relevant to everyone; it really should have a presence across the C-suite for example with the Chief Human Resources Officer with employee engagement, with the Chief Information Officer when talking about technology and with the Chief Marketing Officer when you are looking at external social platforms. It is important to look across the business.

You actually coach senior IBM colleagues on Social Business tools. What are your tips for approaching ‘reverse mentoring’?

Networking events are a great way to approach senior consultants and reaching out through people you already know Also being known for the work you’ve done makes it easier for a senior colleague to approach you. That’s what happened to me; following my involvement in Social Business, professionals across the business approached me to help with their use of external social sites such as Twitter as well as internal social tools.

I was also part of a group of young consultants at IBM who ran a reverse mentoring programme. We obviously wanted to hear and build our knowledge from senior colleagues but we also realised we had something to offer in return because we have experience and are familiar with areas such as social media.

I think mentoring is extremely important. I wouldn’t be where I am today without mentors and speaking to senior professionals with industry experience.

One of your many accolades is that you are the youngest person ever to speak at IBM’s Global Academic Day Conference. How did this opportunity come about?

I did an IT Management for Business degree at university, which is an initiative set up and run by e-Skills UK (the Sector Skills for Business and IT) which IBM and a number of organisations sponsor. For my final year dissertation I wanted to write about how the degree has benefited its stakeholders and the industry.  E-skills UK put me in touch with the IBM EMEA Chairman who I interviewed over the phone. As I was still a student it was a slightly nerve-racking proposition. I was well prepared; he was really supportive of my work and invited me to speak at the global conference.  It was a great and inspiring experience.

You are regularly featured in various external media. What tips would you give to young consultants trying to improve their personal brand?

A lot people say ‘know what you’re famous for’ but that is difficult when you are a young consultant and not yet necessarily a specialist in a particular area. You have to push yourself out of your comfort zone and be confident; perhaps write an article on Linkedin, publish a blog or contribute to the Young MCA. It will seem like small steps to start with but there are opportunities out there.

The MCA has just launched our Year of Digital, what would you personally like to see MCA explore in the coming 12 months?

I think the MCA’s Year of Digital is a fantastic initiative.  It is the perfect opportunity for young consultants to share their experiences and for the Young MCA to enable young consultants to discuss and explore the ways organisations are starting to use social media and digital tools for business benefit and what the trends are in this space

What message would you give to someone starting their career?

Take every opportunity that comes your way because you never know where it will lead.

Don’t hesitate to talk to experienced consultants and learn from them and get involved whenever you can with initiatives in addition to your day-to-day role, learning all the time and finding out which areas of business you enjoy.

What does the rest of 2014 hold for you?

It’s been a very busy year so far with the MCA Awards, getting promoted at work and getting married! For the rest of the year I’m continuing to deliver work in exciting new areas with my clients, such as social business.  I have also recently taken the role of Digital Lead in the Young MCA so will be looking to support the network as much as I can.