• Bio: Having fulfilled a childhood ambition to become a rocket scientist, Allen Knight decided to pursue a career in consultancy. Initially he became a freelance technical consultant before founding Berkshire Consultancy as a general management consultancy.

Allen Knight

So why the move into management consultancy?

I still love all things aeronautical, but designing a motion system for a flight simulator or an altitude control system for a satellite is a lot like most conventional office jobs. I quickly learned that I could achieve more by working with and through other people and that I had a knack for listening, influencing, coaching and gaining consensus for a particular course of action – key consulting skills. So the move seemed natural and I got my aeronautical kicks by learning to fly in my spare time.

What training and development did you need?

Having set myself up as a freelance technical consultant at age 24, I was soon leading a team of nine designers for one client with no line management training or experience, so I completed an MBA via distance learning from Henley Management College.

I then briefly joined a client organisation, embarked on their leadership development programme and was appointed to lead a major change and performance improvement programme. Working alongside external business consultants soon had me totally hooked and so I joined a boutique management consultancy to further my development. I realised I was good at building relationships with clients so decided to set up my own practice.

Today, Berkshire is a Premier Practice with the Institute of Consulting and we have a formal programme of development around our competency set and award Certified Management Consultant status for those who fulfill our exacting requirements – a process I was pleased to put myself through first.

What does your role entail now?

I founded Berkshire Consultancy with two others in 1994 and haven’t looked back since. I was not happy with the values system of the company I had joined, so decided to create a firm that had real respect for clients and staff alike.

We insist on demonstrating a return on investment for clients and on transferring skills and developing capability within the client organisation wherever possible. This is tough, but adds real value and clients don’t forget you. For staff, we respect that they have a life outside of work too and, although we are demanding and expect them to work hard, we are also supportive and flexible when it comes to their personal commitments and interests.

Berkshire is a business consultancy which provides bespoke services under the banner ‘People Led Performance Improvement’. These range from employee engagement and capability development through leadership development to change management and performance improvement, including sourcing and supplier management. We have won numerous national awards and have been a finalist for the Institute of Consulting ‘Practice of the Year’ Award for the past two years.

Most of my time today is spent developing new business and services, developing staff and running the business which has grown massively in the last decade.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I have always regarded consultancy as a huge privilege. I get to see things that would otherwise be off limits such as: prisons, sugar refineries, air traffic control centres and missile manufacturers, I get to travel and, although I get bored easily, I never get bored.

The thing I enjoy most about consulting is what I call ‘turning the lights on’ for clients. You can often gauge the precise moment when they truly understand what they need to do and how to do it (we always help clients change their own organisation; I don’t believe you can do it for them). This is a magical moment and hugely satisfying.

Today, I am increasingly doing the same thing but for our own staff, especially those we recruit as graduates and develop and grow with us. This is equally rewarding and you get to see how they become more and more capable over time.

Running a medium-sized business, winning a major new contract and being shortlisted for another award are also thrilling – so basically I enjoy it all!

What advice do you have for others?

I can hardly say my personal route into consultancy was conventional, and what I like about consultancy is that it is truly diversified.

This leads to a great richness, breadth and depth among individual consultants and practices. So much so that it can be daunting for clients to choose. So one piece of advice I would give would be to achieve a recognised standard for your profession, such as the CMC with the Institute of Consulting or a Premier Practice.

Currently anyone can call themselves a Management Consultant yet by choosing a CMC, clients know they will be professional, that other satisfied clients have vouched for their competence, integrity and effectiveness and that they adhere to a code of conduct.

Otherwise, confidence, born of a range of experiences and being open to personal learning opportunities, is always essential. And did I mention a sense of humour!

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