From Business Consultant to Trusted Advisor: How to influence others with impact

Dorothea Derakhchan25. September 2018

Without complexity and dynamics, there would be no need for consultants. Therefore, an increasingly networked, fast and hard-to-predict world is not what scares consultants. Quite contrary: Mastering these developments for customers is the core of every consulting firm’s business model. The big question is rather how a consultant with knowledge, experience and convictions can effectively influence and initiate lasting changes.

Consultants rely on the commitment of the project teams

The process of business consulting has continuously changed in recent years to a model based on participation and implementation: Solutions must be developed and implemented in joint teams with customers. This change is undoubtedly correct, but presents the adviser with completely new challenges. Because now its result depends heavily on the entire team, whose members are often not sufficiently briefed, managed, motivated or trained to successfully master challenging projects together. At the same time, an external consultant does not have a hierarchical approach and thus relies on the commitment of the project staff.

New diversity of roles

This change also results in a growing diversity of roles for the consultant: More and more frequently, he must also be a generator of ideas and momentum, devil’s advocate, interim manager, companion, coach, catalyst, bridge builder, and motivator. Knowledge, experience, decision-making power, and intelligence are still indispensable, but not enough to be perceived as a “trusted adviser”. Characteristics such as charisma, presence, relevance, closeness, unconditional trust, and independence, therefore, ensure that the consultant can exercise effective influence as a trusted adviser.
For consulting firms the problem lies in the fact that there is no correlation between the traditional competency profiles in counseling and a trusted adviser profile. Even a particularly deep subject matter expertise says little about whether you have the potential to become a point of contact that customers want to call when worries keep them up at night. With that in mind, the training of skills and traits that distinguish a trusted adviser is central to business consulting.

Step by step to becoming a trusted advisor

In practice, the proven model is a modular approach that conveys the ability to effectively exert influence as a trusted adviser from multiple perspectives. The focus here is on three levels:

1. The “I” level, where more presence, personal authority and charisma are to be achieved through strategic self-awareness and good self-guidance.

2. The material level, which ensures greater clarity of objectives and a focused application of effective influence strategies in specific practical cases.

3. The “We” level, in which the establishment of trusting relationships, persuasiveness and binding cooperation through commitment communication move into the foreground.

A decisive factor here is a training design that allows continuous self-testing, team feedback and the simulation of specific practice situations. Thus, the effects can be experienced directly and new insights for professional everyday life are integrated effectively into behavior patterns.

Effective influence as the foundation of success

In the future, successful consulting projects and effective exertion of influence will require customer intimacy, trust, empathy and the power to generate commitment and binding cooperation. Characteristics that distinguish a trusted adviser and that compellingly supplement the traditional competence profile of management consultants. Business consultants therefore need to broaden their understanding of roles and take consistent steps to live up to this understanding of roles.