What are corporate strategic advisors, consultants, coaches & mentors?
I am asked often what the terms really mean or how each is different. Because the answers are never clear cut, I want to be clear in what I mean when using the terms in our communications.
There are narrow and broad definitions of the terms, but interpretations online include contradictions and misuse and none has a precise consistent definition; all of which makes for confusion and miscommunication.
I accept that others may define the terms differently or disagree entirely. It is not my intention to debate others points of view, only to clarify my position.
Corporate may be defined narrowly to mean large multi-national enterprises or national institutions. We don’t dispute the accuracy, only that it is too limited. The broader definition includes any legally incorporated entity regardless of size; that means an entity of ten thousand or one.
Boorama uses the broader definition of corporate to mean:
- Companies incorporated eg Pty Ltd companies in Australia of any size;
- My underlying focus is on improving multi-faceted performance measures across divisional, departmental and functional areas even if the functions are performed by a few or one, in fact, particularly if they are performed by a few or one;
- My principal focus is on improved performance measures for small and micro businesses through integrated corporate strategies and operational tactics, the things almost every micro and small business owner prefers to ignore and avoid;
- Bias to any one discipline or function is deliberately avoided; and
- The implementation of strategic practices and thinking are championed from the top.
Strategic refers to corporate goals and objectives. It is vision but much more than vision. It is long term as well as all the terms in between. It is the interplay of decisions and actions and how they affect the long, medium and immediate term. It is an interweaving of endless, complex actions and forecasting consequences. It is seeing gaps others don’t and making connections others don’t.”
It is to know what, how, when, where and why to do – or not to do - to achieve desired outcomes. It is the ability to work with constant contradictions and opposing positions. It is culture, because, “The fact is culture eats strategy for lunch ... you can have good strategy but if you don’t have the culture and enabling systems to implement that strategy ... you will fail.” Michael O’Brien 1990 - late Joint Director Boorama Pty Ltd.
I differentiate between strategies and tactics because I hear frequent references to strategies that are, at best, tactics. Tactics do not stand alone as major determinants of whole-of-company outcomes although each and every tactic should contribute to strategic outcomes.
Think: winning battles versus winning wars.
Strategy is commonly misused when the context would barely equate to sabre rattling. The risks inherent are simple: flawed so-called strategies lead to flawed actions that increase risks and costs on many performance indicators.
Tactics are not strategies. If you really can’t tell the difference, find someone who can and don’t let them out of your sight.
I want also to differentiate between strategies - tactics and reactionary or habitual actions that don’t qualify as tactics or strategies.
Think: doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different outcomes!
Actions that do not contribute in clear and substantial or even minute ways to corporate visions and goals (whether a corporation of 100 or one) are neither strategies nor tactics; they are merely random actions with ill-defined goals.
Think: chaos, think high risk think exponential costs!
Corporate Advisors (CA)
CAs apply a whole-of-business long-term approach. They will be qualified in eg finance, accounting, marketing, law, project management and may have specific strategic management education. The common key attribute is an innate and well developed capacity for strategic thinking without bias to their discipline, in practice.
They have a keen interest in understanding all disciplines and functions and in facilitating empathy and collaboration. Their long term goals include leaving the client with greater capacities for strategic analysis, planning, communication and change leadership. They also leave senior management with greater capacities to lead, inform and develop internal tactical capabilities across all levels of the organisation. Finally, they typically leave the client with clear exit pathways if not results.
Business Consultant (BC)
Many BCs have advanced skills in a particular discipline applied typically on short or medium term contracts, although they may be retained long term. The goal may be to identify specific functional and/or behavioural problems. They may also offer solutions for other problems identified, provide advice on the kinds of resources needed and project manage the implementation of solutions. While their deliverables may incorporate some strategic elements, they will not usually be responsible for comprehensive corporate strategies or outcomes.
BC’s goals include leaving the client with better capacities for avoiding, identifying and/or managing similar problems in the future.
Business advisor (BA)
BAs tend to emphasise their value to their clients in experience as business owners more than through tertiary qualifications and corporate experience, although they may also apply. Their primary value to their clients may often be empathy in having owned and operated a small business.
While BAs may fulfil a range of services, their in-depth industry knowledge and networks may be particularly suitable when industry-wide risks or opportunities are at the core of key issues.
Business Coach (BC)
I use BC to mean the focus is on providing particular skills-transfer to clients. In such cases, they typically have short term relationships with predetermined performance levels.
Business Mentor (BM)
All business owners and senior leaders need an objective confidante who is not a major financial beneficiary (ie shareholder or secured investor) or emotionally involved with the business but who, most importantly, understands the complexities of business. BMs are trusted sounding boards who offer corporate knowledge and detached guidance as well as new and alternative ideas.
Benefits of mentor relationships to the business owner and/or senior managers include ongoing learning and greater or renewed levels of confidence in personal ability, and the business’s future. They usually have medium to long term relationships with the business owner.