Life at Trium with Kent Harrel

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Tell us a bit about your background and why you wanted to work at a boutique firm

I grew up in a suburb of Houston and moved to Washington, DC for college. I studied International Relations and focused specifically on U.S. Foreign Policy in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. I have always had a huge passion for politics, history, and travel, so the international realm seemed to really fit with what I wanted.

After college, I joined an international development consulting firm in DC and spent the next few years helping to manage foreign aid projects in countries throughout the former Soviet Union and the Balkans. Through that work, I learned a ton about project management and consulting in general, but I often found government consulting too prescriptive and rigid to actually be effective. After a few years of extensive travel and increasing frustration at the lack of creativity in government consulting, I began to look for a firm that would encourage originality and authenticity in its work, and one that sought to help clients find solutions that might actually solve their problems. I wanted to join a boutique firm that didn’t pretend to immediately know all the answers for clients, but instead was open and curious about finding the actual root causes of the issues and committed to helping their clients solve them organically.

And how was the actual recruitment process for you? Were you expecting to get hired?

I remember during the process, I thought it took a really long time – close to 2 months from the initial reach-out until I knew I had been hired. Ultimately, I really appreciated the fact that the hiring process was so thorough. It obviously gave Trium plenty of time to determine if they thought I was a fit, but also provided me an opportunity to really sit in the question of whether or not Trium was a place I could flourish.

As the first step in the process, I received an email with a list of thoughtful questions designed to get a better sense of my personal and professional journey, my aspirations, and my overall personality. Then I did an initial phone screen that provided Trium with a basic introduction to who I was and what I was looking for. Given that I was living on the East Coast, they then set up an additional phone screen with two other employees – it was similar in a lot of ways to the initial phone interview, but went deeper into my experience and future aspirations. Finally, I flew out to San Francisco and had three or four additional meetings with Trium staff. Those meetings seemed to be more or less about getting a feel for my cultural “fit” with the rest of the Trium folks.

After my first in-person meeting with a couple members of the team, I expected I would be hired. I had felt such a strong connection with everyone I’d spoken to at Trium, I pretty much knew that things would work out.

How was settling in?

At Trium, you’re expected to contribute almost immediately. On Day 1, I met everyone on the team – on Day 2, I was thrown into my first Trium internal offsite where, at one point, I was asked to tell a brand new colleague what my highest aspiration was for her in the coming year. Anywhere else, that sort of authentic exercise may have seemed awkward or daunting, but at Trium, you’re expected to bring your “whole self” to work every day, so I appreciated the chance to dive in immediately.

In terms of learning how we do our work, there’s a fairly robust onboarding program (which is true of most consulting firms), but in my opinion, the best way to learn at Trium is just to dive into the work from the get-go. Once you’re a part of the daily client conversations, planning sessions, and tactical meetings, you gain a much better sense of the work and all of the intricacies it entails.

At what point did you feel like you “got it”? When did everything click?

I actually don’t recall a specific moment when I felt that everything just “clicked.” For me, it’s been much more of a journey. Trium’s work involves many different aspects – I mastered some aspects more quickly than others. One moment, you will feel as though things are humming along, and the next you realize you’re on a new trajectory that requires you to think and perform at an even higher level.

I certainly felt much more comfortable in my work after about six months on the job, but each client brings new team dynamics, technical content and implementation challenges, so there’s always something new and interesting to learn.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Ah yes, the stereotypical “what does a typical day look like” question! And now for the stereotypical answer: there is no typical day at Trium.

One day, we will lead three or four meetings for different clients, rushing between different client sites. On those days, it’s my job to make sure we’re prepared for each meeting and that I’m coaching my partner between meetings to remind her of where things landed and what our next meeting’s dialogue is all about.

The next day, we might hold intense internal working sessions in which we really think through our clients deepest problems and determine how we can best support and guide them.

Another day, I may spend the bulk of my time scheduling client touch-points, connecting with my team, recruiting new staff, or working on other internal Trium priorities.

Long story short, there’s no typical day, and that keeps things interesting!

What have been your high and low points during your time at Trium?

I prefer to start with my low point so that I can end on a high note! I hit a relative low point last summer (about 6 months into my time at Trium) when it felt like my team was just slogging through a particular client engagement. None of us were showing up as our best selves through our work, and things just felt off. Luckily, we all realized we had become bogged down in the details of the work, and took the necessary time and space to course-correct so that we ensured we were providing our client with thoughtful partnership around their business needs and opportunities.

My high points have almost always come during client offsite meetings. We can masterfully design dialogues that create an incredibly deep sense of connection among executive teams that doesn’t normally exist. That connection enables people to show up as authentic, vulnerable, and open to possibility, and as a result, the outcomes of the meetings are almost always incredibly profound. It’s this deep, emotional connection that we’re able to build among teams that really sets Trium apart from other firms.

Based on your experience, what advice would you give to someone interested in transitioning into a boutique consulting firm?

I’d say that you need to have a great level of comfort with uncertainty (probably more so than at a big consulting firm). Boutique firms, like Trium, can be more fluid and entrepreneurial. Although some of our engagements may have a similar look and feel, we’re constantly innovating and customizing our approach. Our teams are small – in my case, it’s often just a Partner and me – so I’ve had great client exposure from the beginning of my time at Trium, and the client sees me as an essential member on the team.

What I also love about working at a small firm is that I can not only make an impact for my clients, but I can also bring ideas to the table to improve Trium’s culture and strategy. If I have an idea about new client or type of engagement, I can readily bring that up with the leadership team and CEO. For example, one of our team members proposed a 9 week intensive mindfulness program (that we could ultimately share with clients), and the whole team got really excited about that. So now, every Wednesday for 90 minutes, we take time to explore some of the mindsets and behaviors that may be getting in the way of our success and happiness. It’s a great way for our team to connect at a deeper level while we’re experimenting with new approaches to serving our clients. For me, choosing a small firm aligned with my desire to solve challenging problems in a way that allows for flexibility and creativity.

What does the next year look like for you?

I still have a lot to learn, but I’m at a point now where I’m uniquely positioned to play more of a lead role in driving several of our client engagements. I want to really work on deepening my relationships with some of our existing clients and build solid foundations with some of our new clients – after all, relationship is key to any client engagement.

On a personal level, I want to continue to push myself into places where I feel uncomfortable, but which will ultimately make me a better person. I’m starting improv classes next month – something that both excites and terrifies me! I’ll continue expanding in other areas of personal growth work, as well, and that will hopefully have positive impacts on both my personal and professional lives.

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