Thanks to Brian, one of our readers for suggesting we write about this topic. We love to hear suggestions of what you would like to read - the purpose of these articles is to provide valuable insights related to innovation - so hearing suggestions from you helps us to know what will be most valuable!
Our definition of a consultant: A person who provides specialised skills to achieve a specific deliverable.
Our definition of an advisor: A person who provides specialised skills to help a business achieve its goals.
What's the difference?
Advisors aren't hired specifically, you hire a consultant and then good ones will act as advisors. An advisor focuses more on achieving business goals - short and long-term.
Scenario: an organisation has hired you to help them design a step-by-step innovation process for employees to use to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their innovation team.
The consultant way of working: the consultant will focus on this specific deliverable, seeking understanding of the organisation to the point that it helps them design the process. If they spot other problems to solve, a good consultant might raise it, but they won't solve those problems unless this is in the scope of their work - they work to scope!
The advisor way of working: the advisor will focus on understanding the whole organisation, the actual measurable business goals they seek to achieve by developing this process, and then determining whether the process is even the right tactic. If, during their exploration, they identify that there are more meaningful problems to address before creating the process, they will raise this with the organisation and make a suggestion of focusing on the most meaningful problem - even if this means forgoing revenue for themselves. Why? Because that is what is best for the customer.
At Alto, we find there is a conflict between being customer-centric and being a consultant.
Our objective is to help an organisation achieve their business goals and long-term vision. More often than not, the help an organisation thinks it needs is quite different to what will be most meaningful for the business to focus on. Innovation especially is an area where this is true, because it is misunderstood and not often examined through a systems lens.
If we are working with an organisation, and we spot a problem that is more important to solve and that is a precursor to the work we are doing - then we know that doing what is best for the customer is raising this problem and recommending that they solve this problem first. This can mean we lose work, and that's OK. Holding integrity with our values, one of which is customer-centricity, is more important to us than earning an extra dollar.
Now, that's not to say our way of thinking is right. Each organisation is unique and has its own goals. If your objective as the consultant is to maximise your shareholder value long-term, which is a very legitimate business purpose, then you could easily argue that our way of thinking is flawed. We believe doing what's best for the customer irrespective of the immediate financial gain is also best for shareholders long-term, but this may not hold true in all markets and circumstances.