by Tony Vidler
Professional development is all the rage…the regulators and the professional associations and training providers in the compliance space are all raving and writing about it continuously. And virtually all of them have an extremely narrow focus when it comes to the concept of developing a professional.
Virtually no emphasis upon developing skills, and almost no concept of continuous personal professional development over the course of a career is forthcoming.
Sure there is plenty of emphasis upon maintaining technical knowledge and competence from those parties, and that is absolutely necessary of course. But it is a fairly “one dimensional” perspective.
Notwithstanding the need to stay sharp with technical professional knowledge, there is actually a greater need.
Rarely is it the depth of technical knowledge which is the differentiator for the truly exceptional and the ordinary professional advisers. Skills are the differentiator.
When I say “ordinary professional adviser” I mean it in the sense of superb technically, and with an abundance of knowledge and great ethics. That is typical….it is ordinary. It is not bad. It just isn’t enough to become exceptional.
This is the journey that the exceptional embark upon….
The 5 stages of professional development are driven by changes in skill sets primarily – knowledge becomes a secondary influence relatively early in a professional’s career.
Level 1: The Salesperson
I can hear the “harrumph’s” already, but everyone starts out as a Salesperson. Beginning with the total reliance upon selling time or solutions to specific needs, everyone begins at the level of just trying to sell themselves enough to get food on the table and acquire clients. The entire focus is upon fixing immediate problems with a specific solution. That may be a product solution, or it may be a simple needs solution such as a will, or tax returns…but it is simple solution delivery to specific, and often isolated, client-driven needs.
Level 2: The Technician
As Technical knowledge increases, and layers of depth and breadth are added to the professionals technical ability, there is a move towards focussing upon that knowledge base as a differentiator, or service offering. This may take the form of specialising in a particular area of knowledge, or providing a generalised and holistic service.
This is a natural evolutionary path for many professionals, and one which is relatively easily achieved on the back of the standard approach to “continuing professional development” (CPD).
It is also where many professionals career development stagnates, in the false belief that knowledge is the most important element of maintaining a professional edge.
Level 3: The Facilitator
A reasonable proportion of professionals do move to a higher value offering when they move into the “facilitation” space. Generally this is a method of delivering value based upon templated systems or processes, which are often delivered in conjunction with other professionals on a collaborative basis. To do this successfully requires both the sales skills and the technical knowledge base acquired earlier in the career, however it is a step beyond just using knowledge. It is a shift to relying upon a process rather than a knowledge set, and understanding when the technical knowledge does or doesn’t apply to a client situation. Many consultants, or professionals focussing on business development functions, or holistic financial planners work in this space – their process and framework and templates are being applied to deliver value for clients.
Level 4: The Strategist
There is a BIG step up from working as a Facilitator to becoming a Strategist, and relatively few make it this far. As then name suggests this is a way of delivering value which is focussed upon understanding and interpreting highly complex and dynamic situations in such a way that you are able to identify the most lucrative, or optimal, way ahead for clients. Again, all the knowledge and skills gathered during the first three stages of development are necessary in order to be able to do this – one doesn’t just decide to move from Salesperson to Strategist next week. The Strategist has in depth knowledge, systems and processes, sales and influence skills – and knows when they are not needed. They are tools in the kitbag which may be needed, but the real value is being able to determine which path is the correct one, and what tools may or may not be needed.
Level 5: The Orchestrator.
This is the “movers and shakers” territory. The deal-makers…the entrepreneurs…the people whose main skill is finding the right people and opportunities and matching them up. It is a role which is largely about co-ordinating ideas, people, capital, opportunities….it is the Conductor at the front of the stage co-ordinating all the highly skilled musical technicians to play somebody else’s piece of music, whilst also managing the audience and the environment.
The main focus of the orchestrator is managing relationships and people. Not just keeping people happy or satisfied in a fundamental “happy client” way, but using their knowledge of people, and their networks, together with their knowledge and strategic capability to create new opportunities.
These are the rare few who clients and other professionals follow because they know that if they do, money will be made.
When one thinks about how a professional’s carer can develop it becomes relatively easy to see that technical knowledge serves as a base. For many that base camp is a fine place to live, and they stay there for an entire career. They are happy Technicians…and there is nothing wrong with being a happy Technician. There’s just not a lot of money in it generally, and it is a perpetual cycle of maintaining technical prowess. For many professionals however, the real joy in business is operating in the areas where it is more about facilitation, strategic thinking, or being a mover and shaker. They pay more for sure, but they are areas where for many it is just more interesting work.
To get there though you must understand that beyond a certain point gathering more technical knowledge actually adds little to your value as a professional. What will add enormous value is building great systems and processes knowledge, learning more about people and strategy, and building a great personal brand and network.