Growing With A Growing Company

Jon Howard, Head of Customer Acceleration — Minneapolis, MN

Jon Howard, right, Nick Serati, left, in COCO Minneapolis (Sept, 2017)

The Start

To put it bluntly, I got very lucky. The opportunity to work at Twelve Consulting Group did not result from years of preparation or educational background, but instead from the right connections in my network, the willingness of Jill King to bring me onboard as the first employee and the happenstance that I was looking for a career change. It was a fortuitous combination of different events that brought me to Twelve, and I haven’t looked back.

When I first met with Jill back in 2014 on some typical freezing Minnesota evening, I had a feeling that the company Jill wanted to build was going to be special. Even though there was incredible risk in joining a brand new organization, deep down I knew that “yes, this is going to be different, this is the way I want to work and this is the way I want others to feel about work.” This unshakable instinct coupled with the chance to help grow something from the ground up easily surmounted any downsides my skeptical mind could think of. On top of it all, I’d have the chance to work with Anaplan, which I viewed as a game changing technology. In May of 2014, I signed on and hit the ground running.

The Ramp Up

Working at a brand new startup, especially a consulting startup, I knew the terms, “learning”, “stretching” and “grit” were going to mean something on a completely different level than I’d ever experienced. When I started out at Twelve, the sense of urgency to perform was never lost on me. There was no shortage of work, so there was no time to slowly warm up to the job; I was jumping into a crucible. Within my first two weeks, I went through training and started leading a small implementation. Undoubtedly, the first months of working at Twelve involved some long nights and some heavy post-work headaches. I found myself careening into the weekend just plain exhausted, but I viewed these pains as a good thing. It meant I was growing, that I was being challenged and that I was hungry for more. Within my first year, Twelve quickly started to grow, and with that came many opportunities (and necessities!) for me to work on different things and grow with the company.

Striving for Success

One of the biggest things I’ve learned while working at Twelve is that success is a fleeting thing. The pace of growth at Twelve and the challenging nature of our work is humbling. Just when you think you’ve ‘made it’ or ‘got it dialed in’, something will come along and make you think otherwise. These learning opportunities come in many different forms; a challenging client, a difficult technical build or figuring out the best way to cut up Styrofoam so we can safely pack our client’s holiday gifts when we run out of packing peanuts. (Yep, we had to solve for this.)

I don’t want to leave the impression that Twelve doesn’t achieve success. We do. We’ve completed many successful projects, held great events for our clients, grown our presence in the communities we work in and given back in a positive way through our Empowering Leaders program. But the growth and success quickly lay bare areas where we need to improve as we continue to accelerate and work with larger and more complex clients. To address these new frontiers at Twelve, I’ve found that you have to start simple and work hard to find small successes and build on that. You always have to get back to chopping wood and carrying water.

Jon Howard working in COCO, Minneapolis (April, 2016)

The Hockey Stick

Due to the fact that we are mainly a Minnesota company and hockey is my favorite sport, I couldn’t avoid this metaphor. Twelve is going through the classic “Hockey Stick” growth curve, both by the way of our client base and the number of employees. Growing this much is great as it pushes people to adapt and to move into formal or informal leadership roles. The pace is a bit daunting and requires a calculated effort to build leaders to help maintain the quality of our work. Because of that, I’ve jumped into various client projects and internal projects to build our knowledge base in a leadership role. I’ve also watched many of the talented people I work with jump into these leadership roles as well. We can’t ride the steep part of the growth curve without stepping into these leadership roles.

Growing this quickly can be painful. It stretches people and strains mental resources. At times, I’ve felt like I’m trying to do too many things and doing none of them very well. Going through cycle after cycle of “blindly figuring it out” can be taxing. But the burden of rapid growth within our organization is softened due to the focus on our culture and people. Individuals at Twelve jump at the opportunity to help each other out. It’s incredible to see the amount of support that people provide each other. I feel as though the term “collaboration” is paid a lot of lip service these days, as people and organizations barely go through the motions to truly collaborate. At Twelve, I’m amazed to see us actually pulling this off. Because collaboration is so fluid at Twelve, I’ve learned a great deal from so many different people. This focus on people, culture and collaboration is the foundation from which we can continue to grow.

Customer Acceleration

As the rate of growth at Twelve continues to accelerate, and is showing no signs of abatement, we’ve reached a point where new layers of leadership are needed. For my part, I’ll be transitioning to the position of Head of Customer Acceleration. Essentially, I’ll be spearheading our effort to build out our Anaplan knowledge base and share it with our customers and internal consultants. This can range from domain specific collateral, training content or enablement sessions. As usual at Twelve, there will be a bit of “figuring it out as we go” with this new position. While the unknowns make me nervous, it’s exciting to have another opportunity to build something from nothing. I always have to remind myself that the unknowns are part and parcel when working for a fast growing organization and that I just need to jump in and see what happens. For that, let’s get growing and see what we can create!

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