Reservists are not all the same. There are the traditional reservists, who work on a regular basis with other reservists, and then there’s the IMA reservists, who are attached to active duty units. For the non-military folks, IMA reservists are basically consultants.
Like consultants, IMA reservists come in as an outsider. You have to build credibility and develop relationships, and that takes time. It’s like being new to a unit and having to prove yourself as a leader and as an officer, but you don’t have the luxury of time on your side. On the plus side, you get to swoop in and provide skills and experience to the unit that they might not otherwise have, and you get to choose when you come in. You have a lot of say in deciding what kind of work you do and the projects that you want to tackle. You’ll need a unique blend of analytical skills and communication skills.
However, IMA reservists face challenges that most consultants don’t have. You won’t have a team of people helping you. No case manager, no account/client specialist, no junior analyst…you’re it. A common saying among IMA reservists is that IMA stands for “I am alone.” To succeed, you have to be really proactive. You won’t necessarily get told what to do or how to do it. You might not have anyone walk up to you and hand you projects and assignments, or shepherd you through any processes. You have to learn these things on your own. Think of it as being a one-person consultancy.
I heard that in order for consultants to be really successful, you need to look beyond the project or particular task you’re being asked to do. Find out *why* the client wants you to do this project – behind every project and task there’s a business problem that needs to be solved. By just doing what you’re told and doing the project, it won’t necessarily solve the underlying problem that the client has. I think this applies to the IMA Reservist case as well. You need to ask questions and do some searching to find out what the problem is, and then present yourself as an ally to the unit. You can’t work “within” the program anymore, you have to work “on” the program and the organization itself.
The best thing about my MBA (so far) is that I’ve been able to rapidly expand my solution toolset, which will allow me to design better work projects. In my first IMA tour I saw more problems and projects than I knew how to solve by myself, and ended up being overcommitted. Now I have a much better feel for how much it’s going to take to accomplish a discrete task or project, and I now have more transferrable skills that can help me solve more problems and take on more projects.