Getting Good Advice

Selecting the most appropriate consultant for your company—optimizing expertise—is the greatest challenge facing a decision-maker.

By Hank Moore, Corporate Strategist

Selecting the most appropriate consultant for your company—optimizing expertise—is the greatest challenge facing a decision-maker.

It’s lonely at the top. Certain kinds of objective information cannot come from within your own camp. True expertise is a rare commodity, and the successful company utilizes it on the front end, rather than on the costly back end.

There are the seven plateaus of advice given to business leaders, with No. 1 being the base level of advice and No. 7 being the most insightful:

1. Answers to Questions.There are seven levels of answers that may be given, depending upon how extensive one wants:

  • Easy and Obvious Ones
  • Knee-Jerk Reactions
  • Politically Correct
  • What People Want to Hear
  • Factual and Complete Explanations
  • Answers That Get Them Thinking Further
  • Deep Wisdom

2. Observations on Situations. These take the forms of “When this happened to me, I did X,” or “If this occurred with me, I would Y.” It’s often good to see things through someone else’s perspective.

3. Subjective Viewpoint. Friends want what is best for you. This level of advice is usually pro-active and is influenced by the advisor’s experiences with comparable situations.

4. Informed Opinion. Experts have core business backgrounds upon which to draw. Advisors bring facts, analysis, and methodologies of applying their solutions to your case. Niche consultants provide quality viewpoints…as they relate to their talents and skills. Carefully consider the sources.

5. Researched Options. Investments in research (formal, informal, attitudinal, demographic, sociological) will avert unnecessary band-aid surgery expenses later. Research leads to planning, which is the best way to accomplish tasks and benchmark success.

6. Discussion of Outcomes-Consequences. Most actions and decisions in an organization affect many others. At this level, advisors recommend that sufficient planning be conducted…please take their advice. The more strategic and Big Picture in scope, the more planning reaps long-term rewards.

7. Inspiring Directions. This gets into visioning. Planning and going to new heights are stimulating. The mannerisms and substance by which any organization achieves its vision requires sophisticated advice, deep insights, and creative ideas.

Matching consultants with actual and emerging company needs is the corporate leader’s quest. With a wealth of expertise available via outsourcing, one can quickly become a “kid in a candy shop,” wanting whatever is readily available or craftily packaged.

Too many consultants misstate and over-represent what they do, stemming from:

  • Eagerness to get business.
  • Short tenure in consulting, believing that recent corporate experience readily translates to the entrepreneurial marketplace.
  • Unfamiliarity with the actual practice of consulting at the executive level.
  • Lack of understanding about business needs, categories, subtleties, and hierarchies.
  • Failure to create service area niches and target clients.
  • Professional rivalry with other consultants, resulting in the “I can do that” syndrome.

Everyone knows that dentists, nurses, social workers, and respiratory therapists are all health-care professionals. Yet, distinctions in their expertise lead consumers to discern and seek out specialists…or at least ask a general practitioner physician to make referrals for necessary services.

Niche consultants place emphasis in the areas where they have training, expertise, and staff support for implementation and will market their services accordingly. An accounting firm may suggest that an economic forecast is a full-scope business plan (which it is not). A trainer may recommend courses for human behavior, believing that these constitute a visioning process (of which they are a small part). Marketers might contend that the latest advertising campaign is equivalent to re-engineering the client company (though the two concepts are light years apart).

Niche consultants believe these things to be true, within their frames of reference. They sell what they need to sell, rather than what the client really needs. Let the buyer beware.

A regular contributor to, Hank Moore has advised 5,000-plus client organizations worldwide (including 100 of the Fortune 500, public sector agencies, small businesses, and nonprofit organizations). He guides companies through growth strategies, visioning, strategic planning, executive leadership development, Futurism, and Big Picture issues that profoundly affect the business climate. Moore conducts company evaluations, creates the big ideas, and anchors the enterprise to its next tier. The Business Tree is his trademarked approach to growing, strengthening, and evolving business, while mastering change. His current book is “The Business Tree,” published by Career Press. Moore also speaks at conferences and facilitates corporate retreats on strategy. He has advised two U.S. Presidents and spoken at five Economic Summits. To read his complete biography, visit

Lorri Freifeld
Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.