Consultants vs. advisors.


Are you looking for a consultant or an advisor?

There is a difference.

Arthur Martinez, the CEO who led Sears' successful turnaround, has a reputation as one of industry's shrewdest users of outside professional help. He likes to call on consultants when Sears has a clear cut problem in need of solution.

But when he uses an outside advisor, Martinez already has thought through several possible solutions. The job of the advisor is to serve as an impartial sounding board, a sparing partner to help Martinez test his ideas and then identify the pros and cons of proposed courses of action.

Consultants are problem solvers. They excel at developing and selling ideas, and they can be great simplifiers.

Good advisors, though, often muddy the waters, leaving their clients with a new and often broader perspective. They are better problem-definers than solvers. At their best, they contribute to strengthening their clients capacity to solve their own problems.

Advisors can provide an early-warning about emerging problems, signals often missed by a consultant's sharp focus on eliminating the problem at hand.

These are two very different roles. It's hard for one person - or firm - to act well in both capacities at the same time.

For an example of the distinction, look at this report on leadership development:

Twelve Common Dilemmas of Leadership Development Programs - and what to do about them

It is an example of the problem-solving approach of the consultant.

This paper, in contrast, is more typical of the ideas that may emerge from advising, and is intended to stimulate rethinking of a common approach to executive development:

Developing Tomorrow's Growth Leaders: Clones or mutants?

For another example of an advising work-product, see:

Is GE a Good Model for Other Companies to Follow?

For an example of the kinds of issues an advisor might raise with a client facing talent shortages, see:

Winning the Talent Wars



© Robert M. Tomasko 2002

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