In this episode of Beyond Consulting, sponsored by ECA Partners, we welcome Bijan Hardison, a former Accenture consultant and current Partnership Development Leader at BetterUp. Bijan joins us to share his journey from serving in the military to his time at Accenture and his transition to BetterUp, a company that focuses on helping individuals and organizations drive transformation through lasting behavior change.
The Beyond Consulting Podcast is hosted by Ken Kanara and co-hosted by Steven Haug. Steven leads this week’s episode.
Steven Haug: Welcome to Beyond Consulting, I’m your host Steven. Before we dive into our guest today, I wanted to thank our sponsor ECA Partners, a retained executive search firm that specializes in placing value creation roles across strategy, finance, and operations. Today we have the pleasure of speaking with Bijan Hardison. Bijan, welcome to the podcast.
Bijan Hardison: Thanks, glad to eb here.
Steven Haug: Thanks so much for stopping by EPA headquarters to meet with us. We’re glad that you could visit us today. You spent about four years at Accenture, but your journey there is at least as interesting as what you’ve done since consulting. While we usually talk about the path after consulting on the podcast here, I did want to start a little bit earlier with you to learn how you got to Accenture in the first place.
Bijan Hardison: Yes, it was quite a long journey. My story really starts with my family. I come from a family of 15. MY mom adopted nine kids out of foster care, which really kind of helped me become the man I am today with the values, the drive and really, the focus on people. Outside of my nine foster siblings I have two brothers, a stepbrother and a step sister, and then a half-sister, as well, so family parties are quite big and it’s always interesting.
Steven Haug: Are you all in LA?
Bijan Hardison: No, we’re actually spread out all across the US. I’m the only one in LA. My mom and the small kids they all lived in Georgia, and I have four siblings up in Washington. They keep moving around and I keep sticking around California.
Steven Haug: Great. So you have a big family, and you went to UC Davis. Was that right out of high school?
Bijan Hardison: No, I took a little bit of an alternate route. I wasn’t the strongest student or one who was really interested in school all that much. I like to tell people I peaked in high school. I was a jock, I played football, I loved hanging out with my friends, and I really wanted to go to college, but I really had no idea how to get there. I’m first generation college student and really all I had on my list was Cal State San Bernardino. That wasn’t the best choice for me at the time, and even if it was, I could not have gotten in. I came home one day, it was my senior year, and I come back from hanging out with a friend and there is a recruiter sitting at my dinner table. I never intended on being in the military, but I was presented with this opportunity. My parents couldn’t afford to cosign loans for me and at that point there’s really no chance for college, so I decided to enlist into the National Guard. I expecting to never go active duty, but I ended up spending four and a half years active duty doing satellite operations at Vandenberg Air Force Base, which was quite fun. My commander was an astronaut and she was one of the most amazing people. It really taught me a lot about discipline and life and really trying to figure things out.
While I was in the military I was going to community college full-time so that I could transfer out. In 2014, I was accepted into UC Davis. I was on a TAG Agreement, and a TAG Agreement means that you can’t drop below a certain GPA. I was taking night classes while balancing a full-time job and I’m not the strongest at math. I ended up flunking my calculus class, so I really had to figure out what I could do not to get kicked out of UC Davis before I got in. I decided to leave that summer and enroll in summer school, because it’s open enrollment. I was taking the calculus class and doing a pretty good job about it when I got a call from UC Davis saying that they were going to rescind my offer. I said, “You can’t rescind my offer, I already moved out of my house, I’m already here I’m taking a class.” Thankfully, they told me that I could stay as long as I passed the class, so I passed the class and the rest is history for UC Davis.
Steven Haug: Wow. So you joined the military, you spent four years on active duty, but you were in the National Guard for eight years all together?
Bijan Hardison: Yes, altogether I was in for eight years.
Steven Haug: Was that through college as well? You stayed and did weekends?
Bijan Hardison: Yes, exactly right. I stayed in, I was a weekend warrior, doing one weekend a month, balancing my school and really trying to figure out what I wanted to do in college. I knew it would be something business-oriented. I was econ major–economics and communications double major, and I found this consulting club and I kind of fell in love. They had this on-site where Accenture came in and I met this man, his name was Mark Dodge. He was a military vet, and I was enamored by the way he talked and his suit and I was like, “That’s exactly what I wanted to do.” After that, my mission was just to get into Accenture. It didn’t matter how, I was going to do it. In the meantime my grades weren’t that great. I came in with a 3.2 (GPA) from Community College and really struggled with these big lecture halls of 150 students and then balancing that with college boxing, where I was competing. I was just doing a terrible job of it. I was great at boxing, but terrible at school. I kept trying to submit my resume to Accenture and they would not take it. They were like. “Dude you only have a 3.2, we’re not going to take you, so just don’t even try,” basically.
Steven Haug: Wow, so they had a minimum GPA?
Bijan Hardison: Yes, they had a minimum GPA. I was like, “I want to work for this company, I’m going to figure it out.” Then I started looking into veteran programs and I found one for enlisted guys. At the time, Accenture was recruiting heavily for officers, but they weren’t recruiting for prior enlisted. They had this Java class that you can take and then they would hire you. I got in touch with a recruiter and told him, “I don’t want to learn Java. I want to be a consultant. I’m going to UC Davis, I’m getting my degree in econ” and he was like, “Alright, just hold on, just we’re making a program, just wait.” That program took about a year and a half to launch.
Steven Haug: Oh wow. This is a program at Accenture and then you were working with an Accenture recruiter?
Bijan Hardison: Yes. It took a year and a half to launch, so thankfully I started this process my junior year. I was emailing this guy every six weeks, “When is this going to start, when is this going to start?” I finally graduated college and I got put on orders to go to Colorado for training because my job was changing. In the middle of the training I got an e-mail and they’re said, “Hey, we want you to come to interview in Chicago at our headquarters on Veteran’s Day. We have a whole veteran cohort of enlisted guys and officers and we’re going to let you guys interview.” So I thought, “This is great. I’m part of this very first, enlisted cohort of people going into consulting for Accenture.” It’s really exciting, but I’m kind of losing myself. I have to make sure that I’m prepared, so I buy every case book that I can and I buy these huge Post-it notes. I’m reading these books, doing case studies and slapping them on the wall, and I’m living in a hotel. I’m living in a hotel for six months. I’m just doing as much as I can to make sure that I’m prepared for this interview. I finally get to the interview and I’m nervous, right? I’m probably just as nervous as I am right now to be honest, and I’m not sure how well this is going to go or if I’m prepared enough. I wake up at 4:00 AM because I want to study for this interview. I’m all hyped up on caffeine. I think, at the end of the day, I had like 12 shots of espresso. I was the very last person to interview.
Steven Haug: Wow.
Bijan Hardison: My nerves are destroyed.
Steven Haug: Was it at like 5:00 o’clock in the evening that you had this interview?
Bijan Hardison: I was at four, and it’s a super day. I had three interviews and I’m just nerve wracked. I end up doing really, really well in the interview and I got a call from the recruiter a couple weeks later. We want to offer you the job. We’re going to give you your top choice of LA. Do you have a 2.8? That was the same GPA that I needed to get into UC David. He said, “Do you have a 2.8?” I said, “Well, kind of.” He said, “What do you mean kind of, Bijan? It needs to be a 2.8 GPA.” I had a 2.795.
Steven Haug: Oh, wow. So it depends on how they round.
Bijan Hardison: Again, there goes my nerves. I may not get this job because of the same reason that I almost didn’t get into UC Davis. There’s a pattern there, right? I wasn’t the strongest student, but I was really just determined to get to where I want to go. They gave me a shot. I went to LA and did really well the first couple of years. I got promoted really quickly to consultant and then things started to change. Initially I was really chasing titles, the promotion and the salary, but there was always some expense. There’s always some sacrifice that had to be given, whether it was military, whether it was college, whether it was with consulting, and so my views really started to change. I had an incident with one of the senior managers there and it didn’t make me feel so great. I decided to leave and this is during COVID, where a lot of people are feeling this languishing, anguish, and disconnectedness, and I really didn’t know what to do. I just knew that it felt terrible. I got it hit up by one of my friends who said, “Hey, I have a role over here at this other startup, I think you’d be great for it, you should apply.” I applied and knocked the interview out of the park. I was their second choice and they ended up coming back and giving me the offer. I thought the grass was greener. I really, really thought the grass was greener. I get to leave this point where I’m feeling so much anguish and languishing, and not feeling like I’m being seen or heard, or like I’m doing well in my career. I knew that I was working extremely hard, but I wasn’t getting the feedback that I wanted. I thought the grass has to be greener, right? My boss was this amazing, retired marine, for the company I was going into. I was like, “This is going to be great.”
Steven Haug: What company is this?
Bijan Hardison: This is Live Ramp.
Steven Haug: What did they do?
Bijan Hardison: They’re an AdTech company. Think of TV advertising for Hulu. More like the connected ad space, or the digital ad space…For example, Steven, they’re making a personal ID on you. “How do we take what we know about Steven and distribute that to our partners so they can better and accurately target him?”
Steven Haug: Okay. This is in LA as well?
Bijan Hardison: This is based in San Francisco.
Steven Haug: Was it a move, did you have to move…?
Bijan Hardison: Well it was COVID. Even if they wanted me to I couldn’t. The reason I was their second choice is because it was a sales enablement role. While I was a consultant and all the work that I did was change management and learning and design, I had zero sales experience.
Steven Haug: Yes. Tell us a little bit more about what you were doing at Accenture.
Bijan Hardison: Oh yeah, 100%. I skipped right over that one, didn’t I? A lot of the work was change management and learning and design. I kept finding myself building out products to teach people things. It’s interesting because I’ve always fallen into that lane, even in the military I would build checklists and trainings for our folks. While I was at Accenture I did a lot of the same work.
One of my last projects was with a loan origination service for mortgages. They were implementing a brand new software for their internal team and their external partners. We had this really tight deadline because the regulations had just changed on loan origination, so we had seven months to really build out an entire program for their internal and partner side. That was some of the work I did there. I built out their external partner training and I had a lot of fun because I really got to use that future-minded work where we built out the course so we would have live-session, but we could really focus the learning to each type of individual.
Steven Haug: I wanted to rewind a little bit. I know that you joined Accenture by a bit of a different route. You said you were the first cohort of this new program. Was it parallel to the more traditional type of paths into consulting or was it different projects and different team structure? Tell us a little bit about what your Accenture days looked like.
Bijan Hardison: That was the best part. Pretty recently for most companies, there wasn’t a lot of equity between enlisted programs and officer programs. Your officers are seen as more polished, because in most cases, they really are. They go to college for four years, they have their career, they’re leading people, doing lots of program management. Then you have the enlisted guys who come in with, sometimes, not a lot of college experience, maybe not a lot of experience at all. Those programs are very divergent. Where an enlisted program would be task-oriented, the officer program would be maybe more strategic support-oriented, more project management oriented. This was their first program where they put enlisted and officers on the same footing. I was coming in as a regular consultant. I could do just as much as the officer could do, but the only difference was an officer would probably come in at a higher level because they had that type of experience.
Steven Haug: Were you hired for any of your military experience?
Bijan Hardison: Yes and no. We were hired because of our experience. Our experience being that we know how to learn. We know how to pick things up, how to follow directions. We know how to “team.” The roles are really agnostic of the specific experience that we had from our military backgrounds. What was interesting is that we could also make a career path out of the military-specific skills that we had. While I mainly focused on tech and finance in my career as a consultant, my career started off in aerospace and defense. I worked with Boeing as one of my first projects. You could really lean heavily on it, or not, or maybe get a different flavor, which is also really cool.
Steven Haug: Great, that is exciting. So you spent four years there. You moved up a couple of times while at Accenture. Was that leading larger and larger teams?
Bijan Hardison: Not necessarily. I came in as an Analyst, and really, as I was developing my career, I was taking larger and larger roles. At Accenture, you’re really not leading large teams large teams until you’re a manager. As a consultant, I managed teams of like three or four, but nothing really larger than that.
Steven Haug: You were at Accenture for about four years and then made the jump to LiveRamp. Did LiveRamp often hire people out of consulting?
Bijan Hardison: I actually have a few friends that came out of consulting at LiveRamp, but they hired, really, from everywhere because when you blend tech and advertising together you’re going to get some interesting folks. You’ll see some folks from consulting, some from the advertising side, and from the provider side as well.
Steven Haug: Okay, interesting. We started chatting about that story, can you dive into detail there?
Bijan Hardison: It was a very interesting role. Like I said, I had no sales experience but they liked me for my change management experience. I was there for only about a year, less than a year actually, and I had a similar experience to Accenture which left me kind of languishing and really not knowing where my next role was going to be or if I could even be in that company any longer. To be quite honest, I’ll be a little vulnerable here, I got put on a PIP and I didn’t know what to do because I knew it wasn’t my performance that was necessarily lacking, but really I wasn’t resourced effectively. As a consultant we know what we need in order to get a project done, and I had to let the staff know and I wasn’t able to get those resources. As that happened, like I really wanted to solve problems and I didn’t really know where to start. I think the first time anybody feels like they’re languishing, or maybe that they don’t feel too hot, they typically get a therapist, so that’s where I went. I was meeting with this therapist and I wasn’t really seeing the results that I wanted at all. I ended up getting diagnosed with adult ADHD and even medication for that didn’t help me because it only caused me more anxiety. Then I got this ad for BetterUp and I was like, “I’m already throwing tons of money at this problem, what’s it going to hurt if I just throw some more money at it?”
So I start paying for the BetterUp subscription and it’s this individualized, one-on-one coaching platform where they’re really trying to focus on leading you to an outcome that you want. They’re helping you change things about yourself, personally and professionally, to really move you along that path from languishing to thriving. I got this amazing coach and I was working with her biweekly trying to figure my life out. I was trying to figure out what was going on, why am I languishing, why am I on this PIP, what can I do? As it turns out, there really wasn’t anything I could do because I just was not a good fit for this company. Ultimately, that’s okay. I’m sure you can hear a lot of these stories where everybody is going through, they’re thriving, it’s a perfect fit, right? I have been looking for my perfect fir for years. I’m like, “what the hell do I do?” I grew so much through these two to three months that I was with this coach. I’m going to shout her out, her name is Karen Doll. She’s still my coach today. I will not get rid of her. I got so much mental clarity and really figured out what I needed. I was like, I just have to work for BetterUp.”
Steven Haug: Wow, really?
Bijan Hardison: It changed my life. I need to work for this company. It changed my life, I need to work for this company and help change other people’s lives. I was throwing in my resume, and dead silence again, just like Accenture.
Steven Haug: DI you let your coach know that you were applying?
Bijan Hardison: I did. We’ll get to that part in a minute. I was throwing my resume into anything that I thought that I could be an applicant for and nothing was sticking. I was able to get a second coach through BetterUp and it turns out he was a recruiter there. I was telling him about my story and everything that I was going through and he said, “why don’t you let me push your resume through. You’re clearly qualified for this role.” I applied for this role and I didn’t get it, but said, “Why don’t you just take an entry-level role?”
Steven Haug: Had you applied twice at this point?
Bijan Hardison: I had applied more than twice. I applied to probably four or five different roles–self-enablement, CSM, any role that I thought I might be a fit. He had mentioned, “Maybe you should apply for an entry-level role and get your foot in the door.” It kind of goes back to my mindset changing from chasing titles, salary and promotions to what’s going to be a good fit for me? What’s going to help fill my cup? I swallowed my provide and I said, “Let’s do it.”
Steven Haug: When was this? You were at LiveRamp during COVID, so this is a fairly recent move?
Bijan Hardison: My one year anniversary is in two weeks.
Steven Haug: Okay, wow.
Bijan Hardison: I interview. I get the role. They put me in a startup within the startup, so I work on the public sector side doing partnership development for our team there. While it is an entry-level role, it has been the most challenging role that I have ever done in my life. The amount of rejection that you get doing cold calls, cold outreach…it takes a special person to be okay with it. I’ve learned a lot about myself and the company, quite frankly, has been so supportive of everybody there and really lives and breathes its values.
Steven Haug: Is it a coaching platform itself? That’s what the company is?
Bijan Hardison: Yes, it’s a human transformation platforms, that’s what we call it. While coaching is one thing that we do, our platform does a lot of things. Essentially, when an organization or an individual is using our platform and we onboard you, we’re assessing you to really figure out where you are? Think of like an enneagram or Meyers Briggs type test. Those are very static. I’m an ENFP. I’m an ENFP forever, that doesn’t change. With our assessments, we take a crack at 30 mindsets and behaviors. They’re split between these two buckets of thriving. How do you thrive as an individual: emotionally, physically, and mentally? Then, we assess how do you inspire as a leader: how do you delegate and support others and how do you lead others? We assess you on those 30 mindsets and behaviors and we actually plot you across those 30 mindsets.
Steven Haug: Is this a career-focused assessment or just an individual, how-do-you-better-yourself assessment?
Bijan Hardison: Yes, that a good question. In most coaching instances, what are they like right? “I want to focus directly on your career.” While that works for a lot of people, in the instance that I needed, when I was working with my coach, I needed something personal. If I had figured out the career thing at LiveRamp, I still would have been languishing in my role. I needed to figure out personally…I needed to untangle my own personal values. I needed to really swim through the muck of the values that are given to you and the values that actually are, right? Am I making sense?
Steven Haug: Yes, I think so.
Bijan Hardison: You take an assessment, you figure those out and you get assigned to your coach. Four months later you actually do a reassessment and you can actually track how far you’ve come across those 30 mindsets and behaviors.
Steven Haug: Okay. It sounds like you’ve been working with the same coach for quite a while here, but of course you’ve probably passed that assessment and reassessment state.
Bijan Hardison: Yes.
Steven Haug: What does the process look like after the initial months or so?
Bijan Hardison: You’re continually getting reassessed every four months. It’s interesting to watch because you can’t be 100% on all these 30 mindsets and behaviors. It’s really based on what you’re going through. You’re going to change. When I first started at BetterUp, my “Supporting Others” was really low. I was an individual contributor. I wasn’t really teaming as much as I’d like, I was really focused on, “I need to hit my number. I need to make sure that I’m learning, and that I’m doing what I need to be doing.” As I’ve grown across this new career, I’ve taken those learnings and now I’m sharing those learnings, so my “Supporting Others” is actually growing. Then you’ll see your self-awareness grow as well as you’re able to understand what I call gales–some limiting beliefs. You’re able to really see those and better understand those fully more quickly and reframe it.
Steven Haug: That is good. I think it’s helpful for our audience to hear a little about that product as well. Were many of your colleagues users before they joined the company?
Bijan Hardison: No. I am one of the few. Everyday there are more and more now, especially as our as our user base grows. We have some really great partners with Google and NASA and the Department of the Air Force.
Steven Haug: They’re using the product for their astronauts and things like that?
Bijan Hardison: Yeah. It’s actually quite neat. I came from the direct-to-consumer side, which is this burgeoning new business, but on the organizational level it’s actually really interesting too. I told you individually how it works, but at the organizational level we can pull all the data up for your organization and cross section it to see how you’re doing organization is doing across those 30 different mindsets and behaviors, what topics they’re focused on, and things of that nature?
Steven Haug: How would an executive use that information? Would it help them better align teams or move folks around to put them in situations where they can perform their best?
Bijan Hardison: Yes. The best way for an executive to use a platform like BetterUp is really to come in with an idea of how you want to use it. Programmatically, everybody’s using it differently. Because I’m on the government side, I can talk more about how we’re using it on the gov side. In some instances, we’re focused on that top-level leadership. Within the government, they have what are called ECQs, which are their leadership competencies. What we’ll do is map those leadership competencies to our 30 mindsets and behaviors so they can track how their leaders are coming along. In another instance, NASA has what they call Tiger Teams, which are these really, highly technical, individuals who know their stuff really well but may not be the best collaborators or they could collaborate better, so they’ll use coaching to help them team faster and better and get better results.
Steven Haug: That is exciting, so lots of uses for this. I know you started at what you called an entry-level job there and it’s a sales-focused role. You’re consulting days were not sales-focused it sounds like. What were some of the tools that translated well into this new position from your consulting days and then what were some of the gaps that you had to fill in just off the cuff?
Bijan Hardison: The stuff that I use daily is that “figure it out” mentality. Regardless of where you are consulting and regardless of what frameworks they give you, there is always this level of, “Dude, you just have to figure it out.” There’s really no rulebook for it. That’s been really helpful.
What has been hard for me is, within consulting, especially when you’re at those lower levels as a consultant or an analyst, you’re really looking for the validation in your work because everything is so extremely important. Consulting has helped me so much. It’s giving me a framework for how to do my work.
Steven Haug: Good. That is good to hear. DO you have any advice that you would give people in consulting right now maybe looking to make a change?
Bijan Hardison: Follow your gut. Your gut is going to tell you exactly what you need. Don’t dismiss it. Do hard things and ask for forgiveness, not permission.
Steven Haug: Yes. Good. I think that is something that I would say a lot of our listeners could take to heart there and it’s helpful for them. It sounds like “take risks,” right. Think about what feels right and jump in. It’s okay if you mess it up right? It sounds like LiveRamp wasn’t the best fit and you were able to make a jump after that. It wasn’t easy, it took some work it sounds like, a few applications out there, but you were able to make it happen.
Bijan Hardison: Yes, 100%.
Steven Haug: Well Bijan, I really enjoy you telling us your story here. It was quite an exciting path in consulting and beyond, and of course before that as well to get into Accenture. I really appreciate you stopping by today.
Bijan Hardison: I appreciate being here. This was a really fun conversation and again, I appreciate it.
Steven Haug: Of course, thanks so much. Bijan, it sounds like things are going really well at BetterUp. If folks did want to use the platform, how could they go about that?
Bijan Hardison: Yes, if you want to use the platform, you can go to betterhelp.co and you can book a demo there. You can also reach out to me at [email protected] and I’ll make sure to get you to the right folks to help set that up.
Steven Haug: Good, that’s great. We can put some of that information in the description here as well so folks can find you easily.
Bijan Hardison: If you want to get to know me a little bit more you can find me on LinkedIn, the link will be in the description. I also have my own coaching business, as well. I really focus on helping people self-actualize and helping them find out they want to be and where they’re going. You can go to Interstate.io for that.
Steven Haug: Good, we’ll be happy to put that in the description as well so folks can find that. Bijan, that sounds great. It sounds like always in your career you have a few things going on at once.
Bijan Hardison: Always. You have to stay busy and you have to constantly be growing, right?
Steven Haug: Yes, good.