The Trusted Brain Surgeon Advisor
post # 165 — August 17, 2006 — a Client Relations, Strategy post
Duncan Bucknell, who is a “lawyer, patent attorney and intellectual property strategy consultant” – and a regular participant in these discussions – writes in to ask:
To use an analogy I picked up from you, it seems to me that the trusted adviser is the local doctor – the person you first turn to for assistance.
The Brain Surgeon gets the most challenging and difficult work. However, they are too expensive to call all the time. You want them on your team when there is something really important, but you don’t need them all the time. So, is it actually possible for the brain surgeon to be anyone’s trusted advisor? The business model for the trusted advisor is clearly very different. (You have previously discussed hourly rate and lower leverage etc.)
It also affects things such as conflicts of interest policies. A true trusted advisor will work for fewer clients, because he or she is busy looking after each one more fully. He or she will also see conflicts where other advisors may not – simply to be genuinely looking after his or her client’s best interests. The brain surgeon can not afford such a tight conflict policy. He or she has a larger pool of clients who call for help less frequently, but when it is REALLY needed.
David, can you please shed some light how it is possible to stay a trusted advisor and a brain surgeon at the same time?
Duncan, let me both agree and disagree with your propositions. Your analysis seems to be position the “Trusted Advisor” as a particular role or “positioning”, rather than as a set of behaviors and skills.
I made the same distinction in a chapter called “What kind of Provider Are You?” in my book TRUE PROFESSIONALISM where, like you, I pointed out that the two roles are quite different. In that book, among many other contrasts, I pointed out that the “family doctor role” (I sometimes call it “psychotherapist”) is primarily about the skill of diagnosis – helping the client understand and unbundle the complex symptoms in a situation and decide what needs to be done.
As you say, it is to other people that I may turn (almost always WILL turn) to execute the highly specialist tasks that emerge from the diagnosis. I don’t want a surgeon deciding what needs to be done (they will always say ‘operate’) and I don’t want my family doctor or ‘trusted guide’ always saying “yes, I can do that, too, let me just get my knife!”
So, I end up concluding that you do have to decide what you want your market positioning to be. The tough part is that we’re all capable enough to do it all, but it would be a poor personal or firm strategy to actually do a little of everything and go to market shouting “You wan’t it we got it!” That’s no way to build a reputation. (Even though many large firms try to do exactly that.)
If ther’s a solution for a large firm (not an individual) I could see successfully pulling it off by having clearly organziaaed different teams, staffed with different people (just as a hospital does.) “Here’s our diagnosis doctors, and when the time comes, we have specialist surgeons to hand you over to, if you ever need them.” It won’t be credible if the same doctors keep working in all wards of the hospital!
Of course, even a brain surgeon, who focuses on highly technical tasks, needs to learn interactive skills such as those described in THE TRUSTED ADVISOR book. Brain surgeon’s don’t have to be strong, brooding, sullen, abrupt types. They can and should learn how to interact with clients for the times when they have to. But that’s not their role. It’s not their positioning.
You had it right first time, Duncan.