What’s the right way to get the most value from your executive advisor?


Published on: January 2019

Written by: Elizabeth Freedman

As 2019 gets underway, many senior executives – including many from our own client companies – engage an outside advisor to act as a consultant, thought partner, coach, and sounding board for them, while offering practical advice and insights to help advance and execute on their strategic agenda.

This kind of high touch partnership, reserved typically for C-suite leaders or those with enterprise responsibilities, can bring immeasurable value for executives who want to accelerate and deliver on their enterprise goals, and those of their team.

However, not all executive advisory relationships are created equally. Over the years in my own work advising senior executives, I have found some gain more value than others, and it’s not an accident. Here’s what I’ve found differentiates the leaders who get the most out of advisory, versus those who get average results.

Consider these as you prepare to partner up with an advisor to deliver on your agenda.

  • Invest the time to prep. I have a number of clients who have what they call ‘Elizabeth prep’ time on their calendars. It may only be 15 or 20 minutes, but they carve out time for themselves to plan for our meetings and decide on exactly what to focus on and prioritize when we are together. This makes a very big difference in making the time targeted and productive. I have clients who routinely reach out to me about 3-4 days before we meet to let me know what is high priority to address when we are together.
  • Share relevant documents and information. Sharing relevant information on a regular basis so that I am up to speed on a leader’s strategy, initiatives, organizational structure, or other aspects of their work, is another difference-maker in executive advisory work. It goes without saying that all information is handled with extreme sensitivity and attention to confidentiality and privacy, but this step should not be skipped.  It provides important context and allows the advisor to prepare, so that we can most effectively focus on what’s current and relevant for you.
  • Bring in key players. My advisory clients often connect me with key stakeholders of theirs. We refer to this group as a leader’s ‘kitchen cabinet,’ a few key people important to that leader’s success. In advisory work, I find that having an ability to occasionally touch base with this ‘kitchen cabinet’ (which may include a manager, peers, or other senior leaders) following an initial 360 or assessment period, can also be highly valuable. Certainly, this is a step that has to be exercised with good judgement and is a powerful way to gauge progress in advisory work, so we don’t operate in a siloed way or in a vacuum.
  • Make the most of time together. Leaders that really get the most out of this work treat our time like a focused working session. As you might imagine, this “roll-up-your-sleeves” approach typically covers a wide range of areas, depending on the executive’s own strategic agenda. It can include: Preparing for a board meeting; working on a 2019 strategy to roll out an initiative; driving better team performance; practicing for a high-stakes engagement; developing a new vision; creating yearly strategic objectives; building a message platform or communications strategy, etc.
  • Leave “rainbows and sunshine” at the door. Because advisory provides a confidential space and offers a sounding board and thought partnership, the most successful leaders take advantage of this by bringing specific challenges and problems to unpack, examine, and determine what might have worked better. They recognize that many of their colleagues may not be able to be fully candid with them in the course of the work day, and they use advisory as a way to get a different, more objective, and perhaps more candid perspective.
  • Keep a running list. Many of my most effective clients keep a simple notepad or running list on their phones of ‘things to discuss with Elizabeth’ so that they remember specific situations when the time comes to meet. Easy to forget otherwise!
  • Hold strong on uninterrupted time. Working with an advisor is a commitment with high stakes outcomes and potentially big results. To get the most out of the partnership requires making the time spent together sacrosanct. We have some advisory clients who will come to Bates’ offices and spend a half a day: it’s almost like a ‘mini offsite’ for them. Some prefer to meet at a third location (not their office or ours) for truly uninterrupted time and a deeper dive meeting.
  • Attach the scope of the advisory to business outcomes. It goes without saying, but it’s critical to focus the work on areas that are high priority and relevant to the business. It’s one of the reasons why we do the occasional pulse check – to confirm that we are focused on the right things. It also helps us to understand whether the leader is moving the needle on their strategy based on the work together.

Perhaps the biggest difference-maker comes down to commitment versus participation. Clients who participate tend to engage when we are face-to-face, but that’s it. And they get so-so results from this process. With commitment, there is a much higher level of interaction, there is work happening in between meetings, and the meetings themselves are productive sessions that energize.  It’s easy to tell that they are ‘thinking’ about this work even if we aren’t together. There’s a desire to always get better and raise the bar that becomes clear in the process.

And by the way, executive advisory is a true partnership and two-way street.  My clients expect me to also bring my ‘A’ game and give me feedback too! This is always welcome and helps us get to the right outcomes faster.

Executive advisory services are carefully tailored, and they have the capability of catapulting an effective leader to great heights, and faster than you might expect. Done right, it’s one of the best business relationships you’ll ever have.

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