If I could make money every time I’ve heard that objection, I’d have already retired! Jokes aside, it’s a fair concern…how can a consultant be an expert in all their clients’ different industries?
A better question is: how are you qualified to help with planning and implementation so I can apply my industry expertise? So, here are some things to look for when seeking a trusted advisor’s support.
The best advisors have real management and process development and implementation experience. They have coordinated the efforts of a large team (Board, staff, service delivery providers, etc.). Advisors should have experience managing finances, living within budgets, understanding difficult cash flow decisions, and demonstrating how a substantial portion of finances go directly to services.
Advisors must have experience as effective communicators, connecting the Mission with the service and the need for resources. Experienced advisors have managed staff, complete with all the HR challenges of covering operational work, making salary and benefits decisions, and hiring and firing.
Effective advisors have experience developing and successfully implementing clear and focused Missions, Visions, and strategic plans. Great organizations see these not as boxes to check, but as critical guides to success.
In addition to “boots on the ground” experience, a trusted advisor must be an effective teacher with baseline knowledge about managing a business. Managing teams is largely about ensuring the transfer of knowledge. Great teachers don’t just each their lessons, they ensure students understand and learn something. This requires significant reading and research experience, and the ability to communicate a general understanding of how businesses work, how managers do and should make decisions (not always the same process!), how to engage and manage staff members, the intersection of human behavior and business decision making, how to communicate effectively, how to mediate and resolve conflicts, and ensuring that clients have good personal organization habits. A great advisor even loves to “geek out” on some of those things. (Guilty!)
Every leader wants results. Even already successful businesses want to know how to grow further or achieve more success. So, they look to see if a trusted advisor has just sold consulting services or has achieved results like 25% increases in sales, 20% increases in overall organizational size, and 5% increases in client retention. They ask if their advisor has contributed to the knowledge and literature of the management world, and how current and well-read that advisor is. They ask about the success of past clients and wonder whether that advisor has re-invested his or her expertise in the community they serve.
Then there’s the choice by clients to continue re-engaging consulting services. What is the value they see in continued investment in a trusted advisor for planning, decision making, guidance, and feedback? And not only re-investing, but also evangelizing to others who may benefit?
One of the biggest problems with the consulting industry is advisors who take clients’ money and give them templates, worksheets, and one or two virtual classes or meetings per month with a hard stop on each meeting. A true trusted advisor walks into a new client relationship with the broad outline of a plan that he or she customizes to that client’s situation and needs. The advisor works closely with the client to develop the plan to address the client’s unique opportunities and challenges and guides the implementation process.
You see, the client is the industry expert, by nature. The advisor’s role is to help that client identify his or her needs, develop a plan to fulfill those, and support the implementation process. This is a form of path-goal theory, where the advisor clears the path for the client to apply job-specific knowledge to achieve the goal. A trusted advisor relationship like that is not only ideal, but also the best chance of producing meaningful, sustainable results.
No, an effective advisor may not be an expert in your industry, but if he is an expert in his, he can help you be one in yours.
“No prophet is accepted in his own native place.” Luke, 4:24
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