As consultants, we struggle with determining new ways we can add client value. We wrack our brains for breakthrough products and services or new content and resources to engage our clients. However, we are missing the one thing that we do that adds the most value which is when we serve our clients simply as sounding board.
All senior executives have a ton on their plates and on minds...and not a lot of people that they can talk to that do not have an agenda or expectations for them to be in perfect control all times. But when we, as consultant,s offer our think partnership to them, we provide a SAFE PLACE to help them sift through clutter and chaos to more quickly set to clarity in terms of both thoughts and desired action, so that results they seek can be accelerated and realized.
When we act as an executive sounding board we provide significant benefits:
Common Vantage Point:
In contrast to client's direct reports and peers, we can see the world from THEIR point of view. No matter how good your client's direct reports are, they naturally see a world narrowed by their somewhat limited spans of responsibility. They are tasked with and rewarded for making their areas successful. And your client's peers are in a similar position. But we can step out of the system and use our broader persepctive see what are clients are facing with through THEIR lens instead of a contrasting position.
In addition to having a common vantage point, when we serve as a sounding board we bring an objectivity which comes from not having “a dog in the hunt.” Everyone has an agenda, so advice from even the best partner or peer logically takes into account bettering his or her self interests. But an consultant's self interest is tied to the success of the executive with whom he or she is working.
As consultants, we don't and frankly should not have the same skills as our clients. Instead, we provide expertise that our clients do not possess. It’s the powerful combination of the executive’s technical and leadership knowledge and skills and our specialized expertise that creates exponential results.
Asking the right questions is the hallmark of a consultant serving as an insightful thinking partner. Those questions help an executive better understand what he or she is thinking and frame those thoughts in such a way that doing the right thing becomes more apparent.
When I was consulting to Eric, the senior Vice President of Operations for a large entertainment and hospitality company, we explictly set up our engagement for me to serve as his sounding board. The Vice Presidents for all operational areas reported to him. Eric undertook the unprecedented challenge of reinventing the customer and employee experience for operations on the whole (vs. individual areas). To succeed, Eric needed not only to have his direct reports “sing off of a common song sheet,” but also to get the support of his leadership and the dozens of stakeholders and partners throughout the organization.
As Eric’s sounding board, I provided more for him than a typical consultant (who would help him achieve his business goals) or a leadership coach (who would help him improve his leadership skills). I helped Eric clarify what he really wanted to accomplish on behalf of the organization and for his legacy. He started with a premise that he wanted to “do something for leaders.” But through my questioning, he discovered what he really wanted was more along the lines of engaging the hearts and minds of employees so they would deliver memorable experiences for customers. Because of my complementary expertise, we created a project plan that, instead of taking a handful of individuals off-line, leveraged the expertise of the broader organization with minimal time commitment.
And because of my objectivity and ability to see the organization from his vantage point, Eric was able to take his strength in political savvy to a new level. As a result, he obtained the support and resources he needed for the project and what he embarked on in his part of the company became the template for similar efforts in other parts of the company around the globe. From our discussions, Eric identified what we labeled as “power alleys” for each of his direct reports, and we leveraged those power alleys for the good of the project. Subsequently, the majority of his direct reports obtained significant promotions in part because of the exposure they received from their role in this project.
The Bottom Line
Executives are paid to enhance clarity in and make quality decisions for their organizations. By helping an executive organize and articulate his or her thousands of thoughts and ideas, a consultant who is serving in the capacity of a thinking partner and sounding board can enhance both the clarity of organizational processes and the efficiency and effectiveness of an executive’s decision-making, thereby supporting the achievement of many business metrics such as effective use of labor dollars and improved yield of existing assets. Thus, giving an executive the right person to act as a sounding board for him or her will provide a powerful return on investment for both the organization and the executive.
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