get in touch

10 Years at The Clearing: What’s Changed, What’s Stayed the Same


Paige Douglass

Date Published

Nov 02, 2021
8 minute read
Paige Douglass

What Brought You to The Clearing?

At the time I was looking for something different, a place where I felt true purpose, belonging, and personal growth in the work. I learned that John Miller and Chris McGoff were building just that – a unique approach to consulting. I had worked with John and Chris at their previous govcon firm. The new company was still focused on government contracting; however, the way they were building the company resonated with me.

Specifically, I was interested because The Clearing (TC) was founded as a platform for change agents, consultants and clients alike. Leaders could bring their organization’s biggest challenges and wildest dreams to TC. Clients’ passion plus TC’s expertise and bespoke solutions became the formula for making extraordinary contributions to causes that matter.

What Were The Clearing’s Early Days Like?

Our first workspace was a typical startup feel – high energy, fast pace, lots of laughter, fun, and are-we-going-to-survive anxiety. The office was a fourth-floor walkup in DC. We had a rule that you weren’t required to talk for the first two minutes after the climb. Phew!

Very quickly, we found government leaders with highly complex missions and fragmented stakeholder agendas who needed a navigator to help manage change and transformation efforts. These leaders were courageous, willing to take on the biggest challenges that agencies were facing and anticipating.

When I started at TC, I was the most junior change agent of the team – now I’m one of the most tenured. In my early days, I was the primary facilitator on the team of three; I was not only facilitating, but also taking notes, managing logistics, prepping for client meetings, and handling meeting after-actions. We lived the old “fly-the-plane-while-you-build-it” metaphor.

We quickly realized that our government clients needed our little group of change agents to disrupt the status quo and interrupt the pattern. They also needed a more reliable way to embed innovative solutions into existing operational systems. As we took on new customer challenges, we needed not just more people, but new and different competencies.

Over time, we added team members, each one bringing a critical element to our client solutions and team culture. We never looked for “culture fit” but for “culture additive.” Our team appreciates the unique strengths and capabilities that each member brings. We matured our internal systems to support our growing cohort of consultants, who represent the best of organizational design and development, workplace, resilience, risk & safety, data visualization, behavioral design, customer experience, and more.

Thankfully we’re now in an accessible workplace in DC, and we continue to foster an entrepreneurial spirit and proven method for success (and happy clients).

How Has Your Role at TC – and The Clearing itself – Evolved?

Over the last 12 years, I’ve gone from being more of an individual contributor and team lead, to being a senior leader at the firm. Today, I’m largely responsible for the firm’s ambiguous projects – the engagements where TC is co-developing the solution with the client in an agile manner. It’s exciting to me that the entrepreneurial spirit of TC is alive and well.

Although I now have an internal leadership role at the firm and all the responsibilities that entails, I still get to spend >50% of my time in direct delivery or opportunity scoping with clients and partners.

What’s Remained Consistent Over the Past Decade?

Our clients remain bold and courageous. We continue to partner with committed leaders across government and industry who are taking a stand for their mission. These are leaders who are willing to use their social and political capital to advance their outcomes. They understand that customer experience (CX) is not a function, but an entire way of being. Orienting to the customer’s needs and delivering with excellence is what we help all clients focus to achieve.

TC’s foundation has remained the same since my early days: we continue to design innovative ways to help leaders solve big problems. We continue to customize our proven solutions for diverse client needs.

Our values are still true. The language of the values may have changed over the years, but the notion of honoring the human, having fun, embracing ambiguity, and operating with integrity still line up with our founding values.

The Clearing Believes In “People First” Consulting – What Does That Mean to You?

Having a people-first approach is embedded in literally everything we do at TC.

The people-first approach is our client work. We won’t put forward a client solution that is absent from the ways that humans act and operate. Industry – and now the government – are embracing this philosophy of CX; for us it is the primary condition for successful change and transformation. The Clearing prides itself on creating change that sticks. To do that our teams and our solutions have to be relatable to the humans involved. Through assessments and engagements we get to know what inspires them to act and what incentivizes them to sustain long-term.

From an employee perspective, people-first means we don’t expect people to be machines. Humans are humans, and the workforce’s shifting to a Millennial majority is illustrating this in real-time. Our rising Gen Z consultants find ways to meet traditional govcon requirements while having flexibility in their lives. The marketplace is realizing that employees desire a fulfilling life AND a fulfilling career.

It sounds simplistic, but we believe people are the means AND the end. To be a Clearing consultant requires a certain mindset and a willingness to take chances. We don’t have a script we give folks on their first day. We invite honesty, creativity, and fun into the work so our employees can put forward their best thinking. Most importantly, these conversations don’t just happen in pockets, it’s universal across the firm. That human experience is what makes clients return again and again to partner with The Clearing.

Hear what attracted some of our team members to The Clearing in their own words.


What’s Your Hope for The Clearing a Decade From Now?

In 10 years, I believe the people-first approach will remain TC’s central focus. As long as the federal government has civil servants and as long as businesses have employees that serve customers, we’ll be here.

My hope is that we have more of our products and services available to those who can’t pay for them. When The PRIMES (our foundational underpinning) were created they were open-sourced. More recently, my colleague Hans Manzke published about giving equal access to what the world’s best minds have to offer, regardless of our background, age, education, or profession. He writes about the democratization of big ideas in his book, For All. I’d like The Clearing to continue that spirit of generosity.

Second, I want TC to continue to focus on the employee experience and drive our own people-first culture. It is extremely challenging to be a consultant – from entry-level analysts to the most seasoned executives – given the complex client challenges we tackle. Our teams are on the edge of innovation in all sectors. The complexity of the subject matter and stakeholder environments are demanding on each of us in different ways. I hope The Clearing continues to invest in resources that not only allow our teams to bring their best thinking but also ensure they feel supported as they take a stand for outcomes that matter.