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The adviser as missionary?


Peter Ellen offers you the best advice you never paid for.

May 6, 2013 3:06 by

For many years of my life, I have been employed in an advisory capacity. Sometimes, as an employee, I have trained and coached my colleagues, with the result that I have been lucky enough to be asked to mentor some of them, too. At other times, as a management consultant, I have been paid to advise companies about problems that fall within my particular, if limited, field of competence, as well as act as a personal coach to some senior managers and directors.

What has all this taught me?

First, I now believe that we value what we pay for more than what we don’t. Advice that is given freely is, unfortunately, seen as worthless.

Secondly, in a business-to-business relationship (such as client and management consultant), the client is more often looking for a problem to be solved than advice as to how to solve the problem for himself.

Thirdly, unless the client (individual or organisation) specifically asks for advice, the chances that he will accept and act on it are quite low (“between slim and nil” as one client put it to me when I was much younger and keen to change the world).

Is there a more general message here for people in advisory positions?

Let’s suppose we have dealt with the three points raised above – the client is prepared to pay; he wants advice; and wants to solve the problem. What is the key to being a successful adviser?

Professionalism – the one word that sums it all up. To be professional involves, on the one hand, being competent, and competence is a mixture of technical expertise (as an adviser, you have to have some solutions in your kitbag, and more importantly, you have to have diagnostic skills to work out the nature of the problem, in order to select the right solution) and professional qualifications (to reassure the client that your technical expertise is supported by external accreditation).

On the other hand, being a professional involves ‘bedside manner’ (the client wants to feel listened to, appreciated and recognised as an individual with a unique problem, even if the adviser has seen the same problem a hundred times before) and experience (no client wants to be an adviser’s first client).

So, the equation for professionalism is (technical expertise + professional qualifications) x (bedside manner + experience). Through the astute application of these attributes, the adviser can build a trust-based relationship, allowing him to help the client to solve the problem…professionally.

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