Honoring Individual Strengths

This year, Fathom Consulting celebrates 20 years in business. In addition to happenings planned throughout the year, we’re sharing a series of blog posts to celebrate the last two decades and the years to come.

As I reflect on what has contributed to our success over the last 20 years, a few things stand out to me. One of them is that the team at Fathom is truly a team of team of learners and leaders. My colleagues are excited about exploring their professional passions and have the freedom to activate the talents that are most meaningful to them.

The associated challenge with this perk? It can be tricky to lead a group of leaders. While it’s thrilling to have team members all empowered to find their own expression of leadership, we do need to find ways to create a cohesive unit that generally moves in a shared direction.

Since joining Fathom Consulting, I’ve had the opportunity to witness, noodle on, and address a variety of organizational changes and challenges just like this one. As someone who pursued a graduate degree in Organization Development, Change Leadership and Conflict Management, tackling challenges like these is the sort of thing I get jazzed about.

And the solution I’ve arrived at for our “leading leaders” conundrum? Fostering an environment that focuses on strengths.

It starts with self-reflection

When I was in graduate school, I was introduced to the concept of “self-as-instrument.” The idea is essentially this: The only tool that any individual has to bring about change, to guide themselves or others in a direction, is themselves—their actions, behaviors, and choices. They must choose to use their skills and abilities in deliberate and thoughtful ways to guide others. In short, they must use themselves as the instrument of change. And getting good at using self-as-instrument requires complete clarity about the unique skills and abilities one most naturally and authentically possesses and can bring to bear.  Getting this clarity starts with a practice of self-reflection.

Being thoughtful and honest about what you are good at—and what you are most interested in—is something that each individual must do on their own.  Journaling, conducting self-reviews in parallel with an annual performance review, and leveraging some of the many existing tools (Clifton StrengthsFinder is one of my long-time favorites) are great places to start. Once you figure out your strengths, you can share these talents within the organization to lift everyone up.

A culture of feedback

In addition to identifying personal strengths, employees get plenty of feedback from coworkers—both formally and informally. One example of peer feedback is Fathom’s High Five program. Each team member gets a budget for the year that can be used to recognize colleagues who’ve done outstanding work. When the occasion arises, the High Fiver chooses a gift for the Hive Fivee and publicly recognizes their awesome work at the monthly all staff meeting. Another example: peer feedback is integral to annual performance reviews. Twice each year, Fathom Consultants identify a handful of others with whom they’ve worked closely in the last six months. Those colleagues are asked to respond to two simple questions: 1) What strengths has the consultant displayed and 2) How can the consultant improve to be more effective in their role? We’ve learned that often your colleagues can spot your own strengths and talents better than you can. 

Using strengths to do great work
Through self-reflection and peer feedback, we strive to uncover the unique thing each consultant brings to the party—subject matter expertise, industry experience, or skill mastery. Strengths are considered  in:

  • Performance reviews
  • Monthly all-team meetings
  • Consultant-driven internal “lunch and learn” sessions on a particular topic of interest
  • Surveys and project checkpoint discussions with clients
  • Talking about and sharing project insights with each other
  • Matching people to projects that let them play to their unique areas of strength


According to my colleague Julie Pettit, a strengths-based environment is not only rewarding, but it’s necessary to best serve clients. She says, “We have come to depend on it. If we were all uniform, we could never survive as a small business. Embracing everyone’s unique strengths allows us to be more nimble and meet a wide variety of client needs.”

Why celebrating strengths is right for us

In a society that often zeroes in on personal deficits, it’s common for organizations to approach employee development by focusing on areas of relative weakness. In fact, this is how we used to approach professional growth at Fathom. But about 10 years ago, we flipped our focus. Now, we encourage people to play to their strengths.

And you know what we’ve learned? Really good things happen when you bring people together and allow them to foster their strengths. Our employee satisfaction scores are consistently above 80 percent. Consultants work with Fathom for more than seven years on average. Fathom has repeatedly made the list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” in the Twin Cities.

The individual strengths our team members possess (and continue to grow) are a tremendous asset, and I couldn’t be more thankful to have the opportunity to work with such a collection of uniquely talented individuals.

Aging at Home: Fathom Study Explores the Authentic Needs of Older Adults

The largest-ever cohort of Americans over 70 are changing our culture’s notion of what “senior-living” looks like. Nearly all of the aging baby boom generation plans to age in the homes they love, and they have much higher expectations for their quality of life than the generations before them.

Co-creating solutions to the challenges of aging at homeHaving worked with dozens of clients designing products and services for this enormous audience of more than 70 million consumers, we are still surprised how many businesses assume that basic needs—such as health and safety—are all that seniors care about. A Google search for “aging in place” still returns nothing for these aging Americans other than ads for shower grab bars and “nanny cams for mom.”

Co-creating solutions to the challenges of aging at homeThis misplaced focus—seeing seniors first and foremost as vulnerable and disabled—prompted Fathom Consulting to explore how to better help our clients design for the real opportunities of the thriving aging at home market. After a year of focused research (using qualitative, quantitative, secondary, and co-creation methods), it has become clear to us that seniors have needs far beyond just surviving their daily shower.

Illustration of hierarchical needsToday we’re excited to share a framework for supporting the holistic needs of those who are aging at home. Similar to other hierarchical models in the field, our framework emphasizes that health and safety are only a part of the quality of life picture. Today’s seniors are thinking beyond survival and striving for continued purpose. In addition, our framework illustrates the essential emotional needs for connection and self-determination. Without accounting for how a product connects and empowers the older adult using it, nothing it is trying to achieve towards health, safety, or purpose will work.

Using the framework as a starting point, we can leverage traditional ethnography, design thinking, and co-creation methods to envision innovative products and services to satisfy the full range of needs of older adults. And those who take this human-centered approach can expect greater adoption and usage of their innovations for many years to come.

For more information on the needs framework, including many examples of how it can be used to spur innovation and design, read the full study here.

Evantage is now Fathom Consulting

MINNEAPOLIS  (January 31, 2017) — Evantage Consulting, a Minneapolis-based business consultancy that has been serving the Twin Cities for nearly 20 years, today announced that they will be starting the new year with a makeover that includes both a name change and a new office location.

The tide of evolution began in 2015 when the firm founder, Robin Carpenter, unexpectedly passed away and Kate McRoberts, former minority partner, assumed ownership. A few months later, former Carlson Rezidor and McCann Worldgroup executive, Rachael Marret, joined the firm as managing director, and Bret Busse was promoted to senior vice president of operations.

“The name Evantage was coined when the firm was founded in 1999 when the Internet was becoming mainstream and adding an ‘e’ was the thing to do,” said McRoberts, “After nearly 18 years, we felt it is time for an update as we mark a next step in our evolution. We specialize in helping clients capitalize on periods of change, and now it’s our turn.”

Starting this week, Evantage will be known as Fathom Consulting, (consultfathom.com). “We believe our new name more keenly signifies what we have always done best for our clients: delving deeper, asking tougher questions, and helping to bring understanding to their most complex business challenges,” explained Marret. “After talking to our clients about what sets us apart, we have also adopted a new tagline: ‘From complexity to confidence’ that expresses our ability to unravel and solve some of their toughest strategic, operational and customer experience challenges.”

Along with a fresh face, the firm has also moved to a fresh office space in the North Loop, just two downtown blocks from its former Colonial Warehouse location on Third Avenue North to the historic Bradshaw Building at 108 N. Washington Avenue. The relocation gave the firm a chance to design its own collaborative workspace and integrate its new branding of Fathom Consulting.