Kjersten Adams is an Associate at Cicero Group. She has been with Cicero since August 2012 and will be leaving to attend graduate school at the University of Chicago in the fall of 2017.
Kjersten has experience serving the needs of political, government, legal, education, technology, finance, healthcare, media, and nonprofit clients. Prior to joining Cicero Group, she interned with XacBank, a leading community development and micro-finance institution in Mongolia. Kjersten graduated from Utah State University with a degree in economics.
Let’s start from the beginning. Where were you before Cicero, and how did you find us?
I came to Cicero straight from undergrad—I went to Utah State and studied economics. By the spring semester of my senior year, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do for a living. Consulting had crossed my mind at the beginning of my college career, but by the end I wasn’t really considering it any longer.
I found out about Cicero through the grapevine. A connection told me about the firm and so I applied. I wasn’t really jazzed about consulting, but I was looking for a job and thought Cicero sounded interesting.
I just loved the interview process. The case studies were so fun for me. I wasn’t that nervous because I didn’t know if I even wanted to do consulting, but because it was such a fun process, I accepted the offer when I got it. I thought, I’ll try this for a year or two and then move onto something else… and here I am five years later!
What types of projects have you worked on at Cicero, and how has that evolved?
My evolution at Cicero has been related to Cicero’s evolution. When I started, Cicero was mainly a market research firm. Over the years, we’ve transitioned more to strategy and heavier data analytics, but the bread and butter has always been market research.
Pretty soon after I started, I was chosen for a role managing market research projects, and I did that for 2.5 years. Cicero grew a lot throughout that time, and eventually I realized that I had so much market research experience—and really enjoyed it—but wasn’t getting as much exposure to the strategy work that we were doing. So, about a year and a half ago, I transitioned out of my former role and have been more focused on strategy projects. Since then, next to market research, my specialty has probably been customer segmentation.
Can you tell me about a project that was particularly interesting and insightful?
Definitely my first project, post-transition. It was an education project in the social impact space. Basically, we wanted to evaluate how well an educational professional development program was being delivered to schools and teachers in several states, and how well the teachers were incorporating the training in their lessons. The program had only been in place for about 3 years so there wasn’t enough data to figure out if it was impacting student outcomes. Instead, we evaluated how effectively it was being rolled out.
It was probably the hardest project I’ve ever done because it was so qualitative in nature. Most of our data was based on interviews and classroom observations, and our final deliverable was a massive, 80-page written report.
In market research, I was used to PowerPoint presentations and graphs and charts and visuals and reporting solid numbers. This was much more explanation-oriented. I knew the value of quantitative research—getting opinions from lots of different people, quantifying them, running analyses—but I hadn’t had much experience with the deep-dive approach into why things work and why they don’t and how people’s feelings impact how they work and how effective they are. It was a different kind of report for me, one that I wasn’t used to, but it was really neat to see how qualitative research can be used.
Cicero has grown substantially in the last 5 years. What change have you seen and been a part of?
Direct feedback—in real-time—is one of the major parts of Cicero and I think that has driven much of our change. At Cicero, if you have a problem with something, you’re encouraged to go directly to the source. Rather than complaining about it, talk to the person who either is responsible for whatever you don’t like or to the person who can do something about it. I think that much of the impact that I’ve been able to have has been related to that culture.
More specifically, I’ve definitely seen an increase in diversity at Cicero and loved the impact that it has had on our culture and work. When I started, there were two women working for Ed Direction, and a handful of others in operational and administrative roles. I was the only female doing market research or management consulting, but I was used to that because I had been in a male-dominated program in college; my upper division classes never had more than 2 women in the entire class.
As we started expanding our hiring, and as more women came into the firm, it was eye-opening to see how work and collaboration dynamics changed—I had never been in a situation where that was a possibility. The women brought perspectives that were more naturally intuitive for me. I became more active in trying to explain that dynamic and the value of diverse approaches to problems, clients, and projects. It has been really interesting to see how the culture and the firm itself have evolved as we’ve gotten more diverse. We have so many more ways to approach clients and problems, and I think it’s a lot better for our work.
What do you think sets Cicero apart?
My love for Cicero is based more on the culture than on the actual work. When others talk about Cicero, they focus on the consulting experience: you get to see a lot of different industries and a lot of different areas of those industries. There’s a wide spectrum of project types—some are marketing, some are operations, some are sales, etcetera.
But that’s not what keeps me here. What has kept me at Cicero for so long and what has made it so hard to move on with my education is that I just feel so valued at Cicero. I feel like my opinion is valued, and I think that everyone feels appreciated that way. As soon as you start, you’re expected to start contributing to projects. If you don’t agree with something, you’re expected to speak up and explain why, and we value that in everybody because we know that no one person knows everything and that everyone has something to contribute. The feeling of knowing that people here want to hear what I think, even when I was an analyst, has really made the difference for me.
You’re leaving us in the fall! What are your next steps?
I’m going to grad school! I’ll be in the Master’s of Public Policy program at the University of Chicago. My experiences at Cicero played a big role in helping me decide what I want to do and where I want to go.
At Cicero, I’ve done a lot of political polling and have worked with municipal governments and state organizations trying to influence policy or get policies passed in the legislature. It’s not a huge part of what Cicero does, but it’s a huge part of what I’ve done here. I’ve always liked those projects and liked that they have a broader impact on the community rather than just on a company and its customers.
Part of what drew me to the University of Chicago program specifically was its data-driven approach to policy. At Cicero, we focus on giving our clients solutions based on data that we collect and analyze. The Master’s of Public Policy program is focused on making sure that we are helping organizations create policies that are based on data; it’s the first thing that really attracted me to the program.
I have a background in consulting, and I want to channel that into policy-type work. I think that ultimately, I think I’d like to do policy consulting, whether here at Cicero or at a more specialized firm.