Consulting vs. Advising

While both consulting and advising involve bringing in experts for strategic problem-solving, these services differ in a few key ways. Consulting engagements are typically designed to solve focused and specific challenges for clients. Advising engagements are generally longer-term and more systemic. An advisor may spend many months or years helping an organization across a number of issues. 

OE Consulting provides both consulting and advising services. 

Most of our client relationships begin with a specific consulting engagement—an executive search, organizational restructuring, a strategic plan, or impact evaluation. Often, building this relationship and our knowledge of the organization develops trust and results in OE becoming longer-term advisors across multiple issues—leadership and board development, new products or programs, long term impact management, and general change management.

What is Consulting?

Consulting has become a catch-all term loosely referring to the provision of business advice across a range of issues, but, as shared above, it’s much more than that.

At OE, our role goes far beyond mere advice. In order to help clients act on their greatest opportunities and address their most pressing challenges, we become profoundly connected to their talent, strategy, and operations. We consider executive search as a consulting engagement. For us, this places it outside the realm of transaction, and we approach search with a mindset of deeper, more holistic organizational consultants.

Considering Consultants’ Experience

Consultants come from a variety of backgrounds. We believe that the best consultants have sat in seats similar to those of our clients; so, we optimize for senior executives who have real operating experience. Consultants with wide operational experience will have expertise across a substantial range of organizational functions—general management, sales, programs, operations, and board management, among others.

OE ignores pedigree in favor of personal qualities. Among associates, we tend to look for a reasonably well rounded background. We have found success in hiring people with different life experiences and perspectives—military, public health, nonprofits, sales, and education—and we don’t compromise on integrity, curiosity, problem-solving, and grit.

What is Advising?

Advising is the province of our most senior consultants. In order to be embedded with an organization and advance its goals, a good deal of experience and pattern recognition is necessary to create both capacity and trust. 

OE’s advising engagements tend to focus on the general health of an organization—its talent, strategy, operations, culture, morale, and impact management. There are also specialized advisors who focus solely on a single function, like sales, finance, marketing, and so on.

How We Provide Consulting and Advising

We tightly structure our shorter term consulting engagements, working with prospective clients to understand their context and to design a specific, time-bound scope of work with a set fee paid in installments. 

Longer-term advising engagements are a little more open. Problems and opportunities will emerge over time that require flexibility. We define goals carefully, maintain flexibility, and generally charge a monthly retainer.

With regard to executive search, we perceive these services as discreet consulting engagements. Executive search only enters the realm of advising when we are retained over time to staff a company, department, or function.

See What an Advising Engagement Looks Like

In a recent longer-term advising engagement, OE helped an impact investing company wind down its operations and transfer its assets to a new firm. OE served as a long term advisor to both firms. 

Winding down a twenty-year-old company is always complex, but this was particularly complex given the size of the investment portfolio. This required meticulous care and substantial expansion of the new firm. 

For the original client, OE helped to assess existing talent and recommended those for hire by the new company. We provided advice around generous lay off packages for employees not receiving offers from the new firm and supported with honest, direct, and sometimes difficult communication, helping employees understand the firm’s decisions and prepare to move on. 

For the new firm, we assisted with the onboarding of its new employees, providing both advice and more formal executive support to leaders and the investment team.

OE provided external communications support for both firms and helped create content and decide on timing.

Consulting vs. Advising—How to Know Which Service You Require

Deciding whether you may need a specific consulting engagement or longer-term advising service is dependent on your circumstances. Using the different definitions above and comparing that to your needs will help clarify which service you could benefit from most. Building a relationship, understanding, and trust is essential, especially for any longer-term advisor. We recommend starting with a discreet engagement to make sure there is a fit.

When Your Company Should Use an Executive Search Firm and Why

In the case of executive search, the decision process is a little different. Executive search can be a big upfront expense. The acid question is whether the expense will pay off over time. That’s not as hard to calculate as it may seem.

The real value of outsourced search lies in four areas: 

  1. Higher-quality talent. The majority of the time, a professional search firm will bring you more and higher-quality candidates than a DIY process. This results in higher quality talent at your organization. 
  2. The value that talent delivers over time is the chief value of outsourced search.
  3. The cost savings, which is best conceived as the time that you and your staff did not spend on a search, is an additional benefit.
  4. The opportunity cost savings. This consists of the value you and your staff delivered (that otherwise would have been devoted to a particular search) combined with the cost of having hired lower-quality leadership talent.

This basic framework may help you make a decision: 

  • It is probably not worth hiring a search firm if:
    • You are seeking a single professional to fill a role that is clear and replicable
    • Multiple qualified professionals are likely in your existing network and, therefore, are easy to locate and contact through a ‘post-and-hope’ strategy
    • Your organization can offer a clear competitive advantage, whether through compensation, culture, mission, recognition, glamor, or whatever moves your particular talent market
  • It probably is worth hiring a search firm if:
    • Your leadership team is fully occupied with creating value for your organization
    • You are seeking multiple individuals in a time-consuming process
    • You are seeking hard-to-locate talent
    • You believe that the very best candidates are presently employed, and it’s unlikely to connect with them passively, through an advertisement or social media strategy
    • You require help thinking through compensation levels, available talent pools, or organizational design considerations
    • The role you are trying to fill is absolutely crucial to your organization’s success

Benefits of Using an Executive Search Firm

In addition to those touched on in the section above, there are other advantages to engaging an executive search firm that may not be obvious at first glance.

  • Numbers Game. As a rule of thumb, the larger the pool of candidates, the higher the quality of the finalists.
  • Risk Management. A professional search firm will almost certainly be able to do more robust due diligence on finalist candidates.
  • Compensation and Negotiation. A good search firm will understand contemporary compensation practices and may have insight into competitor cultures, practices, strategies, and challenges. This can help you come to agreement with the best in the field.
  • End-to-end Support. Many search firms, OE included, will offer comprehensive support to an organization, bracketing an executive search with succession planning during the preparation phase, as well as helping with onboarding, acculturation, and executive support after a hire is made.
  • And, Most of All. The best candidates are usually happy in the jobs they already have. If you are posting, rather than actively searching with an executive search firm, you are unlikely to come to their attention.

Discover How We Can Help You

At OE, we are relationship-driven and passionate about providing solutions for our clients. We celebrate curiosity, invite questions, and pride ourselves on honest answers. Connect with us to discuss consulting, advising, or an executive search, and learn whether we’re the right partner for you.

Let's talk

If you want to get a free consultation without any obligations, fill in the form below and we'll get in touch with you.

    Thank you! Your subscription has been confirmed. You'll hear from us soon.