With over 30 years of experience as a human resources professional and almost ten years as a small business owner, Janice Downing has worked to cultivate a successful consulting firm to serve in the business world.
As the owner of Common Sense Consulting@Work, which specializes in helping clients, driving performance and engagement and navigating conflict; Downing works as a consultant. Serving notable clients such as the City of Minneapolis, St. Paul Eye Clinic, Land O’Lakes, and most recently with the State of Minnesota; Downing has worked hard to keep her team at the head of the game.
Surprisingly, Downing’s career path did not start with a dream to work in either Human Resources or Consulting. Thankfully, circumstances and associates encouraged her towards the course.
“Going into school I thought about the business law program,” Downing said. “Luckily I learned pretty quickly the field was not for me.”
Downing described that the business law program followed a system that did not meet her needs as a student.
“I realized that my thinking and operating styles are very different from the individuals I saw pursuing the business law program,” Downing admitted. “The way [the students] practiced law, the way [professors] taught law, even the way [students] lived was not going to work for me. I wasn’t sure where to go from there but I knew I wanted to stay in business.”
A visit to her business adviser, Dr. Germaine Simpson, at The Ohio State University, put her path into perspective. Simpson asked Downing if she had ever thought about pursuing an education and a career in Human Resources.
From there, Downing began taking Human Resources courses, studying the practice, and talking to individuals who mentored her throughout the process. Downing refers to these individuals as “champions, bosses, and advocates.” “They were the ones that pushed me, they were the catalyst that led me to a future in Human Resources and Consulting,” Downing said. “But they were also the ones that pushed me to start my own firm.”
Downing had worked for the Minneapolis law firm, Fredrikson’s Human Resources practice, under the leadership of Ms. Mary Weber, one of Downing’s mentors. She eventually became the practice leader. After 8 years, she was informed that the enterprise would be discontinued.
“When my clients heard I was going to be laid off they were concerned that it meant I could no longer work for them,” Downing said. “They all asked that I continued to work with them while I figured out my next move. But again, I was concerned about where to go next.”
But her mentors, friends, family, and clients, were not. She received encouragement from her clients, St. Paul Heart Clinic, Tri-City Enterprises, and Multicare Associates to open her own consulting firm. The administration at Fredrikson was incredibly supportive helping Downing launch her own consulting practice. Downing describes her husband, Gerald Downing, as being the most encouraging catalyst throughout the process.
“Gerald was very instrumental,” Downing said, “he told me to go ahead with the practice. He assured me that I’d figure it out as I went through the process and he made it seem like it was no big deal. Looking back on it the move was, it is clear it was my clients, friends, family, husband, and my faith that made the transition successful.”
As she built her practice and worked as a private consultant, Downing began to notice that she loved being both a private consultant as well a business owner as much as she did working as a Human Resources practitioner.
“I’ve said before I always worried about what my ‘next’ was. Before I became a business owner I worked in corporate America. I became very concerned that each time I ended employment with one employer, I would have to find that ‘next’ employer,” Downing said. “With consulting I don’t need a ‘next’ employer, I just need a new client or project. I can work with a client for a while and then go to another client and then go back to the original client after a certain amount of time.”
Downing also explained that the competencies needed in consulting go beyond the skills, abilities, and experiences needed as an HR practitioner. “In consulting I use a lot of my Human Resources skills, but I can also use my emotional intelligence, business experience, and degree, as well as my ability to navigate conflict. It’s the combination of skills that allows me to meet our clients’ needs and get a job done well,” Downing said. “In Human Resources I was never given the opportunity to use all of them together.”
In addition to her competencies, she also relies on a team of subcontractors. Downing describes her business network as a “seasoned” group of highly skilled professionals that are able to get the job done. “I work with a broad network of a group of super talented individuals. Some of them work in government, others work in nonprofits, education and for-profits organizations,” Downing said. “It’s important to have this broad network because someone can ask me to do work with them and I can connect them up with the best individuals to complete the work.”
Downing still has her critics. “There are times, that a client may initially be ‘concerned that my broad network means they may not get the best work or enough of my time’, Downing said. “Sometimes they say, ‘we wish you were more focused on our sector, e.g. education or government.’ But how we complete the work always eases their concerns. They then like the fact that I can always supply them with a team of experts that can do the work except when I know I can’t. They appreciate my honesty about how and when we can complete a project.”
Downing will celebrate the ten-year anniversary of Common Sense Consulting in July of next year. She has completed many goals thus far and continues to look towards the future both for the company and her personal life. “I want to continue to grow the business. Work with more organizations. And eventually, may 10-15 years from now I want to do less client work and more community work,” Downing said. “It’ll be nice to say that I’m leading programs that help youth and individuals in the community. Work can continue to be done for businesses, but the goal is that I won’t need to be the center of it all.”
And as for her personal life?
“I want to have balance. I want to travel with my husband, spend time with my children, visit family on the East Coast, and check countries off my bucket list,” Downing said. “Oh, and have no stress! But that’s a fantasy!”
And what about the current goals for the company?
“I just need to continue to do the work that we’re doing now. We’re growing, we’re evolving, and we’re putting forth our best work. I want to assure our audience and our clients that Common Sense Consulting is here to help in every way.”
Throughout the summer Common Sense Consulting will be uploading weekly posts and updates on the Common Sense Consulting blog. All content will focus on relevant news, stories, and investigations that pertain to information that 21st-century business owners, economists, financiers, policy makers, and future entrepreneurs should take into account and apply to their everyday business lives.
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