Seventh article in a series . . .
If you work as a business advisor, you know that engagements can be unpredictable. Whether helping the owner take advantage of a changing marketplace, or optimizing the business to prepare it for sale, these initiatives typically involve significant planning, coordination, and effort from both advisors and their clients. Despite the best of intentions, these large-scale projects don’t always proceed smoothly.
There are many things that can affect the advisor-client relationship and make it harder for clients to accomplish the tasks associated with the project. This article is the seventh in a series highlighting matters that should be considered by advisors and clients before they agree to work together.
“If I would have listened to the naysayers, I would still be in the Austrian Alps yodeling”
– Arnold Schwarzennegger
As an advisor, most of your interactions will be solely with the business owner unless the project intentionally involves other staff. In some cases, the owner may even ask you to act on their behalf; for example, you may be asked to identify and screen high level job candidates. But no matter how the project is structured, there will likely be other stakeholders who have opinions, needs, and priorities that differ from those of your client.
Consider the case of Kevin, who built a business providing damage restoration and clean-up services for residential customers. His 10-person crew operated out of 5 trucks. Kevin wanted to expand into two adjacent counties to take advantage of their rapid growth in population. His advisor suggested that he solicit commercial accounts, even though doing so would require additional skills and credentialing for his staff.
Kevin was excited about the prospect of gaining new clients. He told his team that the advisor would help identify potential commercial customers and determine what specific remediation services they might need. The next day Kevin’s Service Manager asked to speak with him. He was concerned that handling commercial accounts could be complicated and potentially unsafe and he didn’t think the current crew would be able to master the specialized training needed to address chemical spills and hazardous waste clean-up. Kevin was more optimistic than his Service Manager, but he was worried about creating ill will and he didn’t want to provoke a power struggle over the issue. He told his advisor the growth strategy would need to focus solely on the residential market.
Change, even that which is well-conceived and communicated, is not always welcome by those affected by it. Clients like Kevin are vulnerable to objections raised by others, which can undo hours if not weeks of planning. His advisor might have seen evidence of Kevin’s vulnerability if he had explored this early on by saying, “Kevin, tell me about a business situation where you had to make a tough choice. For example, letting go of someone even though it was difficult, or choosing an option that displeased an important stakeholder.”
Even if a client appears confident in their ability to secure the backing of stakeholders, the advisor should review various scenarios with them beforehand. The advisor might introduce the topic by saying, “If our work leads to new initiatives or even modest changes in your operations, it’s possible there could be some pushback. As the project unfolds, we should schedule time periodically to discuss the best way to communicate changes, and plan how to respond to any stakeholder objections.”
This doesn’t mean that stakeholder objections are to be viewed as obstacles or irritants. To the contrary, advisors should help clients give strategic thought and consideration to potential stakeholder concerns and adjust their planning accordingly. For example, in the scenario above, Kevin’s advisor should have thought about how his recommendation might impact the staff. He might have then proposed an incremental approach to staff training and service roll-out.
This is the seventh in a weekly article series titled “Assessing the Advisor-Client Relationship”. Each week, I will explore a new element affecting the advisor-client relationship in some detail. These articles will help you understand potential opportunities and obstacles when working on long-term strategic engagements. The next article will explore the client’s sense of self-efficacy.
Please feel free to reach out for more information or assistance proactively assessing the potential advisory relationship.