Turning the tables – part 1

In this blog, we talk a lot about how those in functional roles can become strategic advisers to their senior leaders. But today, I want to take a different perspective: what does it take to become a strategic adviser to me?

Specifically, I want to talk about how external agencies, consulting firms, or PR professionals can raise their game and fundamentally transform how they deal with clients like me. If you work in an agency or consulting firm, this blog is for you.

We’re going to turn the tables and discuss the role of external strategic advisers, and what you can do to become one.

When you start your career, in a junior role, most of what you will be doing is
at the behest of others. You are in effect, a waiter, delivering what others ask – be they clients or more senior colleagues. You develop and grow your expertise and reputation in a particular field and, as you get promoted and move through the ranks, you become an expert in a particular area.

But then something happens. You get promoted to an Account Manager or Account Director role. Congratulations!  Your role has completely changed, and you don’t even know it.

Suddenly you find yourself directing others, leading a team, negotiating with your clients, writing proposals, attending pitches, advising clients and working with other account directors to balance client needs, the firm’s needs, and your team’s own professional development.

And you have to leave all those fun, technical expert tasks behind. Because the more you allow yourself to be drawn back down to them, the less value you will add to me, Carmen Spinoza, your most important client.

So, what does it take to make the transition? In my experience, there are two sets of changes required: one internal, one external. This week I’m going to talk about internal. Stay tuned next week for the external ones.

Internal motivations

I’ve been speaking to a couple of my preferred external advisers and they all tell the same story: they started off being motivated by one type of work but now have to find their motivation elsewhere. After their initial graduate waiter jobs, many of them moved to back-office doing technical work, business analysis, or research. They were the chefs of the advisory world: producing great work but behind the scenes. And they loved it.

But just as some of the most famous Michelin chefs don’t do much actual cooking any more (they appear on TV, open branded restaurant chains, write books, etc.), my favourite advisers don’t do the detail work themselves. They have found another motivator: whether it is sales, business development, presenting, influencing, or just working with their clients. To continue my restaurant analogy, you need to become a maître d’: dedicated to marshalling a group of experts to create a great experience for me, your customer.

And so my advice to you is this: if you want to be my strategic adviser, be sure to find the right motivation. Otherwise, you risk either drawing yourself back into chef or waiter work; or you will lead an unfulfilled consulting life.

What do you think? What changes have you had to make as you develop your career in professional services? How have you changed your motivations?

Stay tuned for next week when we’ll be discussing external changes.

For more information on this topic, or to find to more about the brand new “external consultant” version of Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders, please get in touch.

If you are intrigued by the restaurant metaphor, explore how a being an adviser is like working at a restaurant.