Perpetually Improving Performance: A Q&A with Global Operating Partner Paul Callan

Global Operating Partner Paul Callan

Paul Callan has been with Dalberg for over 10 years. During that time, he has been heavily involved in Dalberg’s internal development – he designed the firm’s first knowledge management database, and for the past three years, has chaired the People & Values Committee, driving a number of people-focused initiatives. Paul also heads Dalberg’s Strategy & Performance practice, where his commitment to organizational growth and effectiveness carries over to his client work.

In January 2013, Paul assumed a new leadership role in the firm: Global Operating Partner. Here, he shares his thoughts on his new position.

As you begin your term as GOP, are there any plans or goals that you’re particularly excited about?

Dalberg is unique in a few ways. We are the only firm that combines top-tier consulting skills with an exclusive dedication to global development. We are the only firm to have a roughly equal balance of staff in the Global North and the Global South, giving us a balanced perspective and diverse knowledge base. Most important, we are a mission-driven firm – every decision we make bears in mind our ultimate goal: to improve the lives of the world’s poor.

To that end, Dalberg has done a lot of good work and made a real difference. But we can do better.

One of our priorities is to put in place a more systematic approach to training and developing our people. Up until now, we have relied on individual training as needed.  But we are now more than 150 people – and we’re still growing. So we need to have a regimen of quality training programs for people at different points in their Dalberg careers.

Another priority is to share our good ideas much more widely. Our project work for clients is – and will remain – the most important route to impact for us.  However, we can also influence debates for the better and help the global development actors to improve their performance by expanding our efforts to communicate ideas externally.

Could you tell us about a related project you worked on—perhaps one in which Dalberg went beyond the usual?

Absolutely. I worked on a project for a UN agency that involved understanding why there was so much variability in the way the offices were staffed.

Before we started out work, whenever anyone asked why, the answer had been that each country or situation was different. But when we ran data, using parameters that everyone in each office agreed were fair, it showed that the different situations were not enough to account for the different staffing levels – indicating that part of the issue was management decision-making.

Most consulting teams would have conducted interviews to understand the problem, but we managed to devise a (rather tricky) statistical analysis to make a seemingly qualitative problem quantitative. Because our findings were fact- and data-based, they broke through the “he thinks, she thinks” stalemate that had previously dominated the conversation, and the client was able to make decisions based on our analysis.

Is there anything that personally motivates you to assume greater leadership in the firm?

I’m currently working on a project to devise industrial development plans for key sectors in Ethiopia. While there, I visited the Tigray region, where the 1984 famine happened, and spent some time hiking around the ancient churches of the region. Passing by farms and villages, you can see that people are now doing okay, as agricultural outputs have been reasonably good in recent years. But even when things are good, it is clear how hard life is and how limited the resources and opportunities are.

Walking in Tigray reminded me of the critical nature of Dalberg’s work.  Through our project on industrial development – and through many other projects that Dalberg does around the world – we are helping people to break out of this cycle in which people experience limited opportunity in the best of times and face the risk of hunger and deprivation in the worst of times.

Thus, improving Dalberg’s performance, expanding the scale of our work, and enlarging our impact all matter. And I’m looking forward to playing my part – along with my partners and colleagues – in shaping the next phase of the firm’s growth.

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