According to a recent DRJ professional development Web program promotion, “BC professionals are losing their jobs daily and many of our colleagues have little confidence in their futures.” One reason this is true is our failure to learn how to enhance our value to clients and bosses.
The place to begin building you personal and professional value is always by putting yourself in the shoes of those you are advising, counseling, or coaching. All too often, it appears as though the consultant or advisor has a personal agenda of limited value to those paying for and receiving advice. What clients and bosses want, need, and expect have to be the driving forces behind the advice consultants, internal or external, provide.
During more than 30 years of being a trusted strategic advisor to a broad array of clients and bosses, as well as a teacher of these skills, it appears to me that there are seven specific on-going expectations that all clients and bosses tend to have:
Advice on the spot: If your habit is to show up and ask questions, take some notes, and then disappear for a while to think about things or develop recommendations, while this may seem to be a useful methodology to you, change your approach. Most of what bosses and clients do happens in real time. If you leave, whatever the reason, there is going to be a gap between what you present later and where they are later on the issues they are facing. When you return with the advice you intend to provide, you force clients and bosses to go backwards in time (towards yesterday) and probably recover ground they have already thought through. Providing simple, sensible, competent, incremental advice, on the spot adds measurably to your value.
Candor: I define candor as truth with an attitude. It is information that is necessary and known, though perhaps fragmentary. As it happens, trust is mostly built on the basis of the candor of a relationship. That is, one person has information of importance to another and every effort is made to share that information fast, before the other person needs to actually act on it, or be affected by it. The failure to be candid is noticeable and affects the most fundamental ingredient of any relationship: the willingness to trust and be relied upon.
Candor is also about stating the obvious. There is nothing more debilitating then engaging in a discussion where the boss knows things you should be talking about, but you fail to mention them. Stating the obvious is often one of the most powerful tools advisors have to demonstrate their credibility and reliability.
Say things that matter, from the boss’ perspective: In one of his books, Price Pritchett (the famous organizational behavior consultant from Dallas, Texas) talks about the 95-5 Rule. According to Pritchett, ninety-five percent of what we do and say is irrelevant, unnecessary, and wastes someone’s time. The goal is to strive for the five percent that really does matter. The caveat here is that it should matter from the boss’ perspective first and foremost. Perhaps one of the most important questions consultants and advisors can be asking in meetings and during interactions is, “Does this really matter? How?” If it doesn’t matter or can’t be explained, dump it and move on. It is the advisor’s responsibility to keep discussions, processes, and projects focused and moving steadily forward. When you focus on what is important, your value increases.
Say things the boss doesn’t already know: Generally, bosses are bosses for a reason. Even if they have very specialized knowledge, there are things they know and assume they know. One of the consultant’s most important challenges is to be relevant by providing information in areas where the client or boss has weaknesses, information deficits, or blind spots. If you are advising someone who is already a technical specialist in your field, this can be extremely challenging. On the other hand, there are other areas beyond those which you share mutual expertise, which you will need to focus on to bring additional value to the relationship.
The single most common complaint I hear from clients and bosses is that employees and consultants rarely share insights or genuinely new ideas. Strive to be insightful. In other words, constantly look for ways to extract new information from information that is already at hand. This is a mindset. If we were talking strategy, I would be asking you to be intentionally inconsistent—look at every issue, topic, assumption, and concept from a different perspective, intentionally, every time. It can be extraordinarily helpful.
Avoid the mindless cataloguing of client information deficits, weaknesses, or blind spots. It is your job to fill them, expand information, and help bosses and clients with what to know next.
Provide options: Most consultants tend to believe that there were hired to be solution finders. My sense is that this is largely a wrong perception. The person who is the boss will tell you that one of the great energizing challenges of being a boss is finding solutions to challenges. It is what makes their lives interesting every day. What bosses look for from those who advise them are suggestions and options from which to choose the ingredients for solutions. Put down this burden of solution finding. Pick up the opportunity to become the incremental “suggester” of ideas, concepts, and progress. I generally recommend that you make recommendations in clusters of three ideas. Anyone who can provide a cluster of three useful, incremental suggestions, on almost any topic, any time they are asked, is extremely valuable and will be called again sooner and more frequently.
Help the boss/client with what to do next: One of the great problems that leaders face is being at the head of the line. When you are up there, there is really very little information on what to do next. Any boss will tell you that they may have to invent as much as 25 percent of their work, concepts, and ideas every day, simply because they are at the head of the line. Bosses learn quickly that they have to, to some degree, make it up as they go. The further out you are ahead of your followers, the more you are on your own to make things happen. The savvy teacher and observant counselor will be prepared to share ideas about what the next steps might be in any given situation. And, there is one more step.
Quite often the boss will ask, when hearing an idea, “What would the first step be if I were to take your advice?” All too often, I watch the consultant who made the good suggestion falter by having failed to think about what the first couple steps are to implementation. The cost of a good suggestion is knowing what to do first should the idea be explored, accepted, or implemented.
Test your ideas against a “sensible client or boss expectation” template: Too often Internal and external consultants can mistakenly feel self-assured because they have provided a bunch of ideas or recommendations. In my experience, this is one of the more irritating sources of client/boss agitation. The mindless provision of ideas is not really all that helpful for two reasons. First, the more ideas you present, the less likely many of those ideas can be used, so it is a waste of time for the boss/client. Second, many ideas tend to be irritating because the boss/client is now forced to say “no” to a whole bunch that probably should have been left off the table anyway.
Develop a sensible way of testing your ideas, in your mind or even with others, before you open your mouth in front of the client/boss. Here is one approach for testing the value of an idea before you suggest it:
Does the idea help the boss clearly achieve his or her objectives?
Does the idea help the organization clearly achieve its goals and objectives?
If the answers to questions one and two are yes, is the idea really necessary or critical to future success?
What will stop, be damaged or harmed, or fail to proceed should you not share the idea you have in mind?
This testing strategy will accomplish two powerful objectives that build your value. First, it will significantly reduce the number of ideas that you recommend, which is a good thing. Second, those ideas you do recommend will have obvious importance and value, and will be considered more seriously, as well as have greater impact.
The ultimate demonstration of your increasing value becomes more evident when you can pass the “high level of influence test”:
Test 1: Do clients/bosses quote you when you are not present?
Test 2: Do clients/bosses quote you when you are present?
Test 3: Do clients/bosses tell your stories and give your examples (whether or not they give you credit)?
Test 4: Do clients/bosses hold up meetings until you arrive?
The influence each of us has on clients and bosses is our own responsibility. These seven techniques will help you significantly enhance your personal value in ways that you will notice, and others will as well.