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How to Position Yourself as a Peer with Executives [Behind-the-Scenes Tutorial]

mindset mastery organizational consulting Sep 16, 2020

Are you tired of the endless chase for small-paying consulting gigs? Are you so over those labor intensive projects that keep you as busy as you were when you were an employee? Do you want to stop under-valuing yourself through sub-contracting with other consultants and take your place as a sought-after advisor to the C-Suite?

Then you're going to love this tutorial video because it will reveal to what the true purpose is for the consultant's role and how to fulfill your potential in this role.

The truth is - becoming a sought-after advisor isn't a matter of luck or even talent. It's a consequence of an intentional positioning strategy, which I will explain to you in this video.


Betsy Jordyn: It's Betsy Jordyn. If you're a consultant who's just starting out or been at it for a while and you want to either avoid or get out of that extra pair of hands, trading time for money trap. I am so excited to share with you my secret strategies around how you position yourself as a strategic partner. There's a lot of information. This is a longer video than a typical Quick Win that you might see here. But I think it's going to be tremendous value. I don't know how to break up the content.  I decided just to go with it. I'm going to share my screen and I'm going to share with you my secrets around how you go from service provider to strategic partner.

The Vision & Value of Strategic Partnership (0:50)

Jen and I talk a lot about our vision in so many things that we do.  But one of the things that may not be super clear in your mind around, what's behind a marketing agency is what we're trying to do is we're trying to take all of the pressure that you might have around growing your business and run how you find clients.  And we want to alleviate that for you so that you can get in front of clients and make a difference.

You're a purpose driven consultant, and we want to equip and empower you to do the work that you're here to do. We know when you do the work that you need to do, then together, we can elevate the consulting profession.  We can position people like you to be in the forefront of not just helping with short-term profitability, but facilitating solutions that promote global and social justice across the world, in our workplaces, our society in the world. And right now in our world, you cannot miss how important this vision is.

How I Discovered the True Consultant's Purpose (1:48)

I want to get into the tactics behind this vision, but before I do this, I need to tell you where these tactics come from.  How did I start positioning myself in the way that I did? In order to address this, I need to have you come back with me to 1997. This is me when I was in my twenties and I just got my master's degree in Organization Development. I was super excited, and I had this opportunity to be an internal consultant for a nonprofit organization. I had the official role and the official title, and it was great. It was one of those things where I was able to go straight from grad school into a role. And I had this team that I was leading around human resource development. We had career development, organizational development, training, and development. We had the whole kit and caboodle, but I was crushed because my organization, my VP had announced there was a massive reorganization and they were not leveraging me to lead the process.

They brought in an external consultant.  And to add insult to injury, I wasn't even on the project team and I did not know what to do with myself. I had a mentor at the time. This is where I had this great opportunity because I just got out of grad school and I had one of my professors mentoring me and I talked to him and he's like, “listen, nobody is going to just hand you the role because the role that you want, most leaders don't even know how to leverage somebody like you. You need to go talk to the VP and offer your availability just to be."  He's telling me to be humble and just to offer my availability, to support the team however I wanted. I just wanted the learning experience.  I did do that. Then, I made myself indispensable to the external consultant who wound up mentoring me.

Now I had two mentors, not just one. Then eventually I wound up taking over different workstreams and guiding different parts of the workstreams. Eventually, I started leading the project and then eventually the external consultant pass the baton completely over to me. And my consulting career was born.

It's one of those things that I learned very, very early on is that the role that I wanted, nobody was going to hand it to me. I was going to have to go find it and I'd have to proactively advocate for it and I'd have to position myself. This is what enabled me when I got the opportunity to leave that nonprofit and grab my dream job at Walt Disney World as an internal consultant, why I was able to get, again, some of the more strategic projects that were available. When I was working at Disney, I worked on projects like the Imagineers and the operators and getting them to work together and a strategic partnering project.

I worked on the Animal Kingdom brand relaunch. I had the opportunity, my last role there to redefine the guest cast and cast leader interaction. What I did there, now is taught at the Disney Institute all around the world. 

Becoming a Proactive Advocate for Your Clients (4:36)

This is one of those things that positioning is key.  How you position yourself, how you proactively advocate for your roles. This is what enabled me to achieve the success that I've had to date. This is what enabled me to grow my business. Here's the key insight. It's up to us to proactively advocate for our value-added contribution and position ourselves against the right work and the right role.

Clients are not going to ask that of you. They're going to ask you to be a pair of hands because they can't conceive it. What the problem is, is that we need to recognize that we don't have a formal place on the organizational chart.  Meaning the role that we really want to be an executive advisor.  It's not on the org chart, the day to day work can and will get done without us. We shouldn't even be looking for the day to day work.  That's not what's interesting because then we start to compete with the bigger competition and it's not other consultants, it's our clients and their choice to do nothing or just do it all ourselves.

They don't get our role. They don't get how we speak. But the thing is, is that they cannot really grow to the next level without us. Therefore, we have to make sure that we get in there and you may think you have a sales problem, or you might think that you have a marketing problem. You may actually think you have a positioning problem. Maybe you've, you've taken it to the next level, but really you have an unclear vision problem.  

Positioning Pitfalls (5:58)

The purpose of this particular training is I want to expand your vision around your role.  Why you're here and the contribution that you're supposed to create. What I want you to do today in this particular video, is what we're going to focus on is getting our arms around the reality that our clients are facing so that you can position yourself as their essential solution provider.

Before you talk about that, we need to talk about what does strategic partnership look like. As a consultant, we're not trying to replace the leader. We're not trying to be that surrogate leader. If we are trying to position ourselves at the head of the table, we will fall into the surrogate leadership trap, which it could seem interesting, but believe me, it's not because what you're doing is you're doing the work that the leader should be doing.  You're not going to lead in the way that you're supposed to. The client's not in a better situation. And when everything falls off the rails, who are they going to blame?  YOU.

The other thing though, is you're not a direct report to the senior executive either. Otherwise, we fall into that pair of hands trap.  Extra pair of hands means that the client defines the work. You just go ahead and implement it. That is not an advisor.

Related: How to Position Yourself as a Peer (and Stay out of the Dreaded "Pair of Hands" Trap)

What you want to do is be the person who owns the process and you're outside the system. You are an outside perspective and you are advising the leader and you're advising their direct reports. Being a strategic partner is when you use your complementary skills to enhance the leaders, organizational and leadership capacity.

Think for a minute.  Which trapped you fall into? Are you the surrogate leadership trap or the pair of hands trap? And why do you fall into that trap? Just think about that for a minute so that you can get out of that trap.

Five Steps to Strategic Partnerships (7:36)

Once you get that clear, now let me jump into the five steps to strategic partnership.

The first thing that you need is a clear vision for organizational and leadership excellence.  This is my definition of a great leader. A great leader has a vision for a better future, and they must be at the helm to lead others towards that vision. I would say the definition for an exceptional consultant is somebody who has an even bigger vision for organizational leadership excellence. And they must be at the side of a leader, influencing them towards that particular end. This is where you start to go into the next step, where you create a clear vision to your contribution and your calling.

Then you meet your client at their point of departure. You pivot them from their wants to their needs. And then you proactively advocate to your client, what they should do and how they should leverage you. 

Step 1: Create a Vision for the Organization and Leadership (8:28)

The first step is you need a stance for what organizational and leadership excellence looks like. You can break down any worldview into these three categories:

  • What's the ideal state - the Eden like-experience?
  • What went wrong?
  • What's the solution?

You need to have a point of view around: What does a healthy organization look like?What does a great leader look like? Why is it not happening in organizations? And what is the solution from your standpoint?

Four-Part Framework for the Organizational System (8:54)

This is my four-part organizational framework that you could look at as a starting point. This is me. This is my belief. You may have a different one, but I believe that there's four key activities within an organization.

Everything begins with vision and ideas. You have parts of the organization that's focused on envisioning and creating. Once they create the idea or they birth the idea, then it gets kicked over to the departments that are focused on stabilizing and improving the organization where ideas are evaluated, developed, and strategized.

Then it gets kicked over to another group of people who is focused on enrolling people and training them and engaging them.  They're all about helping and connecting. Once all of that is in place.

Then it moves into the parts of the organization. That's responsible for mobilization and doing, and this is where activities and people are coordinated and plans are implemented. All of these pieces need to work together.

To me, organizational health is when all of these things are working in alignment with one another. When you have the business strategy that matches the organization strategy and matches the people strategy and the performance strategies, and all of these things work together in harmony.

There's certain departments that naturally align against these four buckets. And that's why all of them have to really kind of play their role, but understand how their role fits into the overall system.

And then another big part of what I believe is having a CEO and a senior team at the top who is guiding the system on a whole. I believe me, you need to think about for you. I believe the ideal state is when all of these strategies are explicit, effective, and aligned with one another.

You could use the example of Nordstrom and say, well, this is all these things that they had, and this is why they were successful for a time.

I also believe from an executive standpoint, I believe great executives are distinct from other leaders. I believe that they have a different type of strategic, big picture thinking they have that presence.  They have political savvy and other competencies.

Leaders Approaches to Power (10:56)

But a big thing that I believe in is that great leaders manage power differently. I believe that in effective organizations, you have power with and within leadership where you have leaders who operate from a source of power from within and they share power. And I believe what went wrong is:

  • when there's disconnects in the system,
  • when the strategies are not explicit or aligned,
  • when the structure doesn't support the achievement of the goals,
  • when the people practices work in opposition to the business critical core competencies,
  • when leadership practices work in opposition to require performance.
  • And particularly abusive power, when there's an overvaluing of one part of the system at the expense of others, you can look at a lot of organizations.

Anytime an organization says, “Hey, we're a sales focused organization.” I know that they are favoring sales at the expense of operations and everybody else and that's going to be an organization that's not going to work.

My stance on the solution is it's through the way that they've solved the problem that you actually solve. The problem that transformation takes place in the midst of it, which is why I use a lot of action learning solutions. That's me.  That's my stance. I have that vision. Whenever I go into an organization, I have a perspective.

Similarly, if I went to a doctor, the doctor would have a stance on what creates a healthy body and what goes wrong. They bring that to the table when they're advising you. You need to be clear. What do you think great leadership and organizational excellence looks like so that you can be clear that you have a standard that you're working from.

Step 2: Create a Vision for Consultants (12:34)

Once you get that vision around the organization, then you need to understand your role.  What is your contribution? If I talk to two people, I'm going to get three definitions around “What is a consultant?”

This is a continuum of how different people approach consulting all the way from that pair of hands. As surrogate leadership, you could be a solution specialist where you have in-depth knowledge of a specific tool or methodology. You can be a Myers-Briggs person or a Six Sigma something, or whatever that is your solution specialist. Or maybe you're a coach where you're all about developing leadership effectiveness solutions. Or maybe you go on the other side where you're more around the subject matter expert and you analyze business problems and solutions, or maybe provide the end to end.

One of the predictable challenges that happen, if you're more on the left side is you might find yourself in that endless chase for smaller paying non-strategic projects.

And this is the kind of situation where people wind up looking for subcontracting opportunities, or they get frustrated because there's a cap on their earning potential and they're in this time-based pay and they can't get to the table. That's the predictable path there.

Or if you go to the other side, you might find yourself in those labor-intensive projects where you might be making great money, but you're working as many hours as you did when you were an employee. And you're not necessarily getting that advisory work.

My belief, my stance, and you needed to think about this for years for yourself is that executive advisor is a leader of process. And that's that person right in the middle. This is where you proactively advocate. And I am using that word again, a point of view around what the organization needs to do, how work should be integrated, who should be involved in how it should be accomplished.

It's having that point of view, this in my mind is where you maximize impact, time, and earning power. Think it through for yourself, we talked through what is your stance for the organization, but what's your stance on you? What model do you have? And which one do you want to have?  Just as important.

What do we do as consultants (14:31)

Now let's talk about what do we do as consultants. These are a bunch of change tools. There's a lot of different things that we do. But the thing is, is that when you have an advisory relationship, sure, you may bring all of these tools to bear, but the real goal of what we do in an advisory relationship is we come alongside a leader and help them solve their problems. This is where we help them go from where they are today, to where they want to be.

When you're positioning yourself as a consultant, you really want to go after the most strategic, most interesting issues that the clients dealing with so that you can be at the right hand for the biggest, most significant challenges.

The thing is why this is important. Consulting Matters because Leadership Matters. And you want to position yourself in such a way that you can speak truth to power and that you can make that difference. We know that leaders when they don't do their work well, when they use that power over leadership style, it has a huge detrimental effect. Sure. You might be able to see some short-term profit gains, but there's a consequence.

I like to use the whole story of the Lion King.  You can take the girl away from Disney, but can't take the Disney out of the girl. When Scar was in charge using power over leader's leadership style, and he forced the lioness is to over hunt.  And then the whole kingdom went into despair.

When you're a consultant, we have opportunities too, do we collude with that style, or do we speak truth to power? Do we are, or do we be that type of person where we tell the clients the truth and tell them what they need?

We make sure that they are setting up organizations that respect the diversity of all of its members. Are we observing and noticing when there's not a lot of diversity when there's only one demographic on the executive team, do we speak up when we're helping our clients with succession plans? And again, there's only one demographic in the succession plan. 

Do we move forward with a code of ethics that say we are going to give clients what they need, because we know this will make a difference, and this is going to make a difference for their long-term gain?

Are we going to be just the good cop kind of person where we just say whatever, are we going to be the ultimate good cop where we speak truth to power? What are we going to do?

This is where my favorite example of the, one of the best consultants around, which is Rafiki, who can bring about that truth. Rafiki could have come alongside Simba and help Simba set up shop as he was Hakuna Matata'ing. And he could have made it even more fun experience. And he could have given him advice on how to make this type of experience even better.  Or it can bump him on the head and say, "you are more than you've become" and invite him into the true potential of what he really had in front of him. We all know the end of the movie because you know, it's a circle of life and you picture at the end, but this is where we make a difference.

There are complex situations in our, that only complex systems thinkers like us that are capable of managing all of those different types of stakeholders and issues and challenges. And this is what we can do. I want you to think about what is the transformation you want your consulting to create in the world?

Step 3: Meet Clients at their Point of Departure (17:50)

Once you get that cleared, then you can meet your clients at their point of departure. As you're an internal consultant or an external consultant, one of the things that you can do is make sure that you meet with all of the members of the senior leadership team and making sure that you understand their perspectives. That's a way that you can meet the clients and you get to know what is their point of view. What's the political context?

How I did that when I was an internal consultant is I did meet and greets whenever I was assigned to a new client system. I adopted it as an external consultant is my first order up for bids for every one of my projects is always a stakeholder analysis as option one.

The other thing that I would recommend, it's definitely using strategic facilitation opportunities as your entryway in as a way to shape the agenda. One of the things that I would definitely say is if you are facilitating a meeting, do not, do not, do not ask for somebody to capture the meeting notes. You capture the meeting notes because that's how you could shape the thinking of the organization. You can offer your availability. When I was an internal consultant at Disney, anytime I knew that there was a major strategic retreat or strategic planning session, I always offered my availability because this is how I got myself in the door and having opportunities.

As an external consultant, if you want to look for a really great marketing opportunity, go find broke boards and nonprofit boards that you can facilitate their meetings. They would love that, and you can meet a ton of buyers. And when them over. 

My framing and empathy framework is what gives you the permission then to move them from where their starting point is to talking about the business issues. If you are wanting to learn more about my framing and empathy framework, I got some videos on that on YouTube and on my blog. This is my secret sauce. I have a lot of secret sauces, I guess, cause I keep saying, that's my secret sauce and that's my secret sauce.  But this is one of the big things that, that people would say that I get brought in all the time for is having an ability to sort and organize thousands of things that are on an executive’s mind and frame it in such a way that it brings clarity for them.

Pivot the Client from Wants to Needs (19:52)

Then you can pivot the client from wants to needs and figuring out what, what do you need to do?  They will want to position you. I promise you, they will want to position you as that pair of hands. Of course, they do. This is where they are their leaders. This is all their role. They get it. But if you want this position where you're this outside advisor, you're going to have to carve it out and suggest it. Cause they're not naturally going to think about it. It all starts with your discovery meeting.  If they come to you with a particular want, you need to move them away from the want and get them to reframe things as business performance issues:

 “Hey, we got a customer service training we want you to design and deliver.” It's like, “That is so awesome. That makes tons of sense. I understand why you would want that. But before we get into the details on that training, let's talk about what that training is supposed to do.” Get them to articulate. Oh, well our customer satisfaction scores are 80% excellent and we want it to be 85% excellent. And then you can put some numbers against it. Increasing customer satisfaction by 5% can translate to a million-dollar, increase in profitability due to customer retention per customer spend. You could see the difference just in this conversation. One is a four-figure one-off, and one is a six-figure consulting gig.”

Or “Hey, we got a website we want you to design and deliver.”  Get it to reframe. “Hey, we're looking for increasing your brand awareness, client acquisition. And if we do that, that's going to translate to a certain dollar amount.”

No matter what your client's starting point is, you could always move them. Even with coaching. A lot of you coaches out there, you're going to be thinking, oh, well I just do coaching. No, your coaching has to deliver a business outcome. If you're going to go work for an organization. If they say we want you to coach five and we're our leaders get them to describe why, well, maybe it's because their employee engagement scores have been dropping and is creating performance issues and retention challenges. Now we're talking in the world of business performance gaps where you're trying to increase employee engagement. That leadership coaching is just one small part. There's a bunch of other things you could offer.

Step 5: Proactively Advocate the Right Work and Your Contribution (21:56)

And then the final step is proactively advocating for the right work in your contribution. The magic of our role is not in the black space of the organization. It's the white space meaning between the systems and stakeholders.

There's a big difference between consulting and leading. The leaders are accountable for the solution. You're accountable for the process. They own the content. You own the process. He who has the marker controls the world.  Do not underestimate the value of the process. You bring value by demonstrating where there's disconnect among the senior leadership team, where there’s silos. When the right and left hand don't know what they're doing, and the mismatches. This is where you create massive, massive, massive value.

What was really interesting for me, I did this interview with a bunch of my former clients and Brad is somebody I worked with for years and years and years. I interviewed him just to find out, what do executives look for in consultants, thinking it would be a gift to offer my mentees. It was really interesting.  

What he said to me is “90% of consultants are not brought in for economic reasons, but political ones.” I'm like, okay, “Explain that a little bit more, Brad, because I thought you referred me because, hey, I got Disney background, I've got my master's in organization development.” He's like, “I didn't do it. Disney's great and all.” It's because of, and he said that over and over again, “it's your ability to wrangle all the stakeholders. It's your ability to bring the alignment, it's for the political stuff. That's the stuff that we really can't do on our own.” I wish I would have had that information years ago. I wish I would have had better questions that I would ask.

Positioning Yourself with the Consulting Engagement Cycle (23:28)

If you need to know what awesome questions are that you can ask to find out really what your ideal clients want need, definitely let me know. That's a big part of the messaging and positioning work that I do with my clients, but this was a big aha for me. I wish I would've known that because that's what I love to do now. It's what I was great to do, but that's a competitive differentiation. If you walk away from anything from this little training that I'm doing here, this is where you could stand out where nobody else is really owning that.

That's why the Consulting Engagement Cycle. I have an article on my blog, videos, and have a training on it. My entire Consultant's Toolbox is all around this consulting engagement process.  Is it allows you to manage the stakeholders as part of doing the work.

The why behind it is that you are constantly integrating the political aspects, the positioning aspects, and the tactical aspects, all as part of the consulting process, change projects, don't fail because of lack of good planning.  I know that you want to believe that it's like, Oh, bad plans. I could do plans. They fail a hundred percent of the time because a lack of good politics that is either you lose sponsorship or somebody just tanks it from the side, cause the passive aggression or whatever. You really want to make sure that you have a consulting process where you're integrating all of these pieces. Think through like, what's your point of view? What does it look like?

Also we have to be cognizant right now, if you're watching this one, I'm recording this particular video in the middle of a lot of social unrest in our world and in the middle of a big global pandemic that our world has gone through. You really need to understand that there's a difference when your clients are going through unplanned change.

Planned vs. Unplanned Change (25:15)

There's ripple effects of change. There is a different kind of scenario when your clients are going through unplanned change.  Planned change is when you can kind of like set the timetable and you can figure out which way you want to go. And you could say, all right, here's my starting point. Here's my business strategy. Then you can naturally flow into all right now, here's my strategy is changing. Now I could figure out how we organize around and figure out now how we staff and organize against it.

When you're dealing with unplanned change, like workforce reduction, it's like everything's going in a different kind of order. And this is where it gets very, very confusing for your clients. That if all of a sudden they have to reduce their salary to an hourly headcount, it does affect how work gets done, how much, what workloads are looking like, and it should affect the what.  But a lot of times what happens with your clients is that they want to keep the what the same, even though they're going to reduce the who. They're not even going to think about the how.  This is where you can add value to the whole process. 

Or they might change something. Maybe there's a new technology like virtual work right now is a big deal. Virtual work might get be putting into place. Now how does it affect the rest of the system? This is where your clients will need you. You need to help them plan for these ripple effects with there's like a headcount reduction. How do you help them think it through, in all of the different strategies?

Here's the implications for today and where we're at right now. You definitely want to be following this whole process in general, but you'll have to remember that what your point of view is and what it looks like in some ways has to be fluid based on the current environment, but you still need to have some basic philosophies around what you believe about an organization. What excellence looks like, what health looks like, what is your role?

It's up to you.  Positioning is not going to happen. It will not happen based on a client asking for you to be positioned in the way that you want. You've got to have the vision for it, and you need to work on those influence leadership skills to get you in that right place.

How are you positioning yourself currently? (27:20)

Your takeaway is from this particular training that I would like you to walk away and think about is how are you positioned currently? How would you like to be positioned? And what would it look like for you to cultivate that personal power, where you will have that inner confidence to proactively advocate for the right work and your contribution in a way that feels like it's coming from within, you know, your ability to hold your own with senior leaders has to come from a grounded place where you could say, honestly, if you do it this way, it will be in an investment that generates a return, not an expense.

If you work with me, it will be an investment that will generate a return and not an expense. That's the confidence that you need to have.

Now, if you need to do a little bit more work around that, this is where the work that Jen and I do with our clients around the messaging and the positioning and building that business foundation is going to be transformative for you. As I mentioned, I'm all about action learning. Through the process of clarifying your messaging through the process of clarifying your website content and getting that business platform, you will get that confidence from within. I've seen it over and over again.

Definitely check out my client stories and you'll see the same theme over and over again. I got clarity and confidence, clarity and confidence, clarity and confidence. That is the game-changer.

It's not going to be more leads. It's going to change everything for you. It's going to be, what do you do with those leads and how confident are you and how clear. Hopefully, this was helpful to you. I know it was long. Thank you so much for hanging in with me. It was not quite a Quick Win. It was a little bit longer of a win, but hopefully, it was a huge win for you. I'll talk to you soon.

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