What Do You Do?

I hate this question. It’s a terrible question.  It’s the first question at every party, but it’s still a very bad question.  Yet some law of human nature states any two strangers standing next to each other long enough will eventually ask – whether for reasons of genuine curiosity or to evaluate relative status –  “What do you do?”

“I am a Dynamics 365 Finance and Operations Functional Consultant.”

I’m met with a blank stare.  I’ve said words and communicated nothing.  Only once have these particular words been sufficient. I was on a plane.  The woman next to me lit up, “Oh! I’m a Dynamics 365 Finance and Operations Functional Consultant too!”.  Then she paused, “How do you explain what you do to your family?”

My brother works at Google.  I envy my brother.  

What do you do?” They ask.
I work at Google.” He answers.  

Done.  The conversation is simple.  Clean.  Maybe, if the inquisitor is real inquisitive, they follow-up: 

Are you a software engineer?
Yup

When I’m tired of not being understood I try explaining, “I help companies set up their accounting systems.” That really kills a mood.  I’d be better off claiming I was an insurance agent, or a mortician.  

“Oh! You’re an accountant!” they say, slinking away to find another conversation partner at the party.

I am not an Accountant.

When I want to be understood, I try elaborating, “Microsoft makes a suite of business applications called Dynamics 365 (D365).  Dynamics 365 Sales is a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) application.  Dynamics 365 HR is a Human Resources application.  Dynamics 365 Finance and Operations is an ERP (Enterprise Resource Management) application.  It’s a fancy accounting system where business data is turned into accounting entries.  When a company upgrades to D365 Finance (usually because they’ve grown to a certain size that they need a more sophisticated system, or because of a merger), I help that company configure their new system and teach them how to use it.”  

“Oh! You work for Microsoft!”  They say.

I do not work for Microsoft.

D365 is not sold directly by Microsoft, it’s sold through reseller partners – just like if you want to buy a Ford, you don’t go to the Ford factory in Detroit.  You go to a local dealership who helps you buy the car, as well as assist you with service and warranty issues while you own the car.  I work for one of these reseller partners.

I am not in Sales.

The closest I can come in the car-buying analogy above is if, after buying the car, you swung by the mechanic bay to ask about adjusting the seats and mirrors, how to drive the car, and after-market modifications.  As a functional consultant, I won’t do any of those modifications (that would be a technical consultant’s job), but I can put the seats and mirrors in the right place (or better, teach you how to use the buttons yourself), give you advice on cornering (turn in, aim for the apex, accelerate out), and help you understand that no matter how many Fast and Furious movies you’ve watched, putting NoS on a street car is not a great idea…but premium tires, while not sexy, can enhance performance dramatically.


“What do you do?” is a bad question because it asks for something easily measurable instead of real insight.  We all can fall victim to this availability bias – companies too.  My real curiosity isn’t what you do for money, it’s who you are.  Your job title doesn’t define your identity your identity.  So if my professional identity is not “functional consultant” who am I? I am an Advisor. I am a Teacher. I am a Therapist.

I am an Advisor.

I listen to what my customers need in their accounting system implementation.  This can be very different from what they think they need, or sometimes even what they were sold.  Understanding how much automation is useful or standardization possible is key when making design decisions in a system that will affect an entire company.  I listen to requirements, sift through the “whys behind the why” to understand the reasons a company does things certain ways.  I help the customer in frame and make critical decisions along the implementation process.

I am a Teacher.

I teach end-users how to use the system, or at least “train-the-trainers” in the company who will ultimately educate their end-users.  This involves facilitating hands-on sessions in how to perform business processes in the application (e.g. purchasing inventory, invoicing a customer, or entering an expense report). Ideally, users will see what they are doing as part of complete processes, not just the clicking of a series of buttons on a series of screens.

I am a Therapist.

People often laugh when they hear this.  “You’re a business consultant!  How are you a therapist?”  But it’s true.  Transitioning to a new business system is full of change and uncertainty.  Change is hard.  Uncertainty is scary.  As automated as they are, business systems are still ultimately operated by humans, not robots.  

People need to be heard.  Their concerns need to be addressed.  It is essential to get everyone in the company working together to make the transition a success.  Good listening and empathy can move mountains in business system implementation projects.


So that’s what I do.  I just wish there was a way to fit that explanation into the attention-span of a stranger at a party.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY   

I’m a post-purchase car consultant (which is not a real thing), but for business software (which is a real thing).

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