…and how does it differ from other forms of consulting? What purposes or aims does it serve, and how are these best achieved? How does one measure its success?
Strategic Advising consists of two compenents, Consulting and Executive Coaching. The latter is best explained by defining the two words that make up the term. “Executive” refers to senior level leaders in an organization, usually the owner plus other members of the senior team.
“Coaching” in this context refers to the process of assisting clients to develop and improve executive skills and to work toward their own solutions for problems and challenges they may face in the workplace. The overall focus is to empower problem solving. This entails gathering facts, determining causes, choosing solutions from among the alternatives, and testing the solution after implementation, in a highly customized process.
Initially, the advising and coaching is almost always accomplished in a one-to-one setting, though team coaching may be appropriate later. To use an academic analogy, it is less like classroom instruction and more like an honors tutorial, wherein a student meets alone on a regularly scheduled basis with a top professor for a Socratic-style dialogue. This also explains the way in which our process differs from leadership training and development, or team-building, which are always done in a group or seminar setting.
The Socratic nature of the dialogue means that the coach’s role is not so much to be a provider of answers as it is to be the facilitator of the client’s discovery of answers. In other words, the successful coach is not necessarily a subject matter expert. The coach’s expertise comes in drawing information from the client through insightful questioning and assessing, exploring alternatives and their implications, and thereby guiding the client to an acceptable and workable answer in terms of that client’s goals, objectives, values, and priorities.
At the same time, the Socratic role can be over emphasized. This is where Consulting comes in. An effective coach should also be someone who has considerable business leadership experience and can provide helpful advice and guidance. Otherwise there will be little credibility or trust in the trusted advisor’s professional competence, regardless of other credentials. In this way, coaching and advising go together, much like in other areas, such as sports or opera. A good baseball coach will be someone who has played the game at championship level, and a respected opera coach will have been an accomplished singer, even though both hope to produce proteges who will exceed their own accomplishments. They have seen what works and does not and can help avoid costly mistakes.
Likewise, clients of Strategic Advising seek someone who has faced similar challenges and learned how to deal effectively with them. If the clients are to reach the “top of their game,” they need guidance and advice and illustrations of how to proceed, just as surely as the aspiring star athelete or performing artist. They need informed and expert feedback on how they have performed, what seems to work well and what needs to be improved and how.
Clients who seek trusted advisors are frequently experiencing new challenges and stresses. Fully exploring these issues requires that the strategic advisor be able to establish personal trust and rapport.
Perceptive listening and capacity for empathy are critical. Posing probing questions and challenging apparent inconsistencies in an engaging manner are also keys to making progress. These activities go beyond the rational, problem-solving of the Socratic dialogue and also beyond the advice and example giving of skill development. But without all three facets the advising and coaching are deficient and will likely be short-lived.
Success is measured against goals that are set. For most business owners this means increased revenues, market share, customer loyalty, gross and net profit, and ultimately increased enterprise value when the time comes to sell. If the owner decides not to sell, then the result will be a more profitable and prosperous enterprise. All other goals, such as talent acquisition, innovation or low turnover, however important, are usually interim goals. None of this is meant to discount the over-arching importance of your fundamental mission to deliver particular products or services, to serve the public interest, and to do all of that in an ethical way. The crucial point is that you, the client, set the measures of success, and we aim to help you get there.
Other Forms of Consulting
Other forms of consulting tend by their very nature to be less private. Training and development, for example, is a group function, and consultants’ reports are usually made available to a group. These forms of consulting, to be sure, may also involve assessments, questionnaires, listening, empathy, recommendations and advice. But in no other kind of consulting is there forged so strongly the confidential, mentoring bond between one person and another which is at the heart of the best Strategic Advising.