Jenny, a young professional at a big firm, had spent four years in a specific practice area. Because of her smarts and interpersonal skills, she was seen as having high potential for rapid advancement. This assessment was confirmed when a senior executive at a client where she was working invited her into his office to talk about another issue he was facing.
Jenny quickly realized that the issue was outside of her area of specialty, though well within her firm’s capabilities. After a ten minute conversation, she offered to identify the right person at the firm to help with the matter, but by the time she had done so and could get back on the executive’s schedule, he had found someone else to work with.
It is doubtful that the executive expected Jenny to have a ready-made solution to his problem; he knew what she specialized in. He was, more-likely, looking for someone who understood his organization, could understand his problem, participate with him as a thought partner about it and marshal the right resources to help him. If that was the case, Jenny didn’t demonstrate the confidence and technique to serve as this kind of trusted adviser. She lost the opportunity to advance her relationship with the client and to provide him greater value by cross selling a number of her firm’s services.
This is a limitation of many narrow specialists, including many who are older and more experienced than Jenny. They don’t know what to say and do when presented with a problem outside of their specialty, other than to off-load it to someone else as quickly as possible.
So, what are people in this position to do? They need two things, the right mindset and good questioning technique. I will address the first of these here and the second in a later post.
The mindsets of trusted advisers and specialist differ on several dimensions, including:
- Specialist: To prove my knowledge of the special characteristics and implications of the client’s problem.
- Trusted Adviser: To help the client articulate his concern and its implications and bring him the resources that can help him solve it.
- Specialist: Solver of the client’s problem.
- Trusted Adviser: Thought partner, representative of the client’s interests and needs within your firm and with others who will assist in providing a solution, the one who marshals the right resources.
- Specialist: Ask questions that, by their nature, reveal command of the specialty and allow scoping of the assignment in detail.
- Trusted Adviser: Ask questions that help the client explain and develop his own thinking on the matter at hand by helping him amplify his own beliefs and judiciously challenging them. When appropriate, empathize with the client showing a shared understanding of the stresses, costs and opportunities that he faces.
- Specialist: Largely from within own practice
- Trusted Adviser: From wherever needed; inside the firm, inside the client organization or elsewhere
- Specialist: Often one, and seldom more than two or three conversations, prior to submitting a proposal.
- Trusted Adviser: Often several conversations, in order to ensure that the right problem is being solved and the right resources applied.
Once you have the right mindset, you are ready to learn technique.