High Performing Professionals
Consulting Skills
Not-for-Profit Services


We know which professional skills differentiate high performance and are highly valued by the clients that internal professionals support.

First, some background about why we are confident with our findings. We manage a 360 customer/client service feedback survey that is administered in conjunction with our Consulting Skills and Business Partnering workshops. Professionals rate themselves and also get ratings from their clients, their peers, subordinates, or anyone whose opinion they value. The survey consists of 42 close-ended plus three open-ended questions, all related to some aspect of their business partnering skills.

Over the past seven years, we have amassed more than 10,000 survey records from more than 1,000 professionals working inside organizations—perhaps the best database of its type in the world. We have analyzed our collective data for some great insights into the “What makes professionals credible?” question.

Differentiating of High Performance

To draw our findings from our data, we carved out the 10% who received the highest average numerical scores from their internal clients, managers and peers. Then we compared these high-rated 10% to the 10% who received the lowest average numerical scores. In statistics lingo, we determined the “most discriminating” items. These “differentiating” items are the ones where the top rated professionals get high numerical scores and the low rated professionals get low scores.

Of the 42 items in our current behavior-based numerical questions, those that are most differentiating of high ratings in general are:

  1. Is skilled at leading groups.
  2. Can lead change resulting from his/her recommendations.
  3. Helps others deal with the stresses of change resulting from his/her recommendations.
  4. Makes effective presentations.
  5. Many people in your organization seek your opinion.
  6. Surfaces and manages conflict.
  7. Takes the initiative to end projects and assess outcomes with clients.
  8. Provides a broad perspective that goes beyond her/his professional expertise.
  9. Negotiates assignments/projects in a way that builds stakeholder commitment.
  10. Realistically assesses and deals with risks associated with his/her recommendations.
  11. Negotiates results, projects and roles realistically.
  12. Proposes and works in different roles, dependent on the situation.

To clarify our statistical analysis, if participants get a high score on “Is skilled at leading groups” they are likely to be rated highly on the rest of the survey. On the other hand, if participants get a low score on the same question, they are likely to get low scores on the rest of the survey. Therefore, “Is skilled at leading groups” is the most indicative of high ratings in general, “Can lead change resulting from his/her recommendations” is he next most differentiating, and so on down the list.

What Does it Mean?

A very practical way of looking at our results: If you are hiring and could get references for only one behavior that is most indicative of high performance, it would be “Is this professional skilled at leading groups?” If a professional gets great references on this item, they are likely to get great references overall. If you could do more reference research, it should be “Can this professional lead change resulting from his/her recommendations?” and so forth down the most differentiating items.

Based on our current analysis and research, a modern client implicitly rates professional credibility in this order, starting from the foundation:

0. The Expected Foundation is Professional Skills.
No professional would be credible without sound professional skills. But, alas for highly technical people, these skills are not differentiating of high performance. Clients want modern professionals not only to have these professional skills, but to be interpersonally competent and to connect their skills to organizational and business needs.

Highly credible professionals have these 5 major skill clusters, starting with the most differentiating:

1. Is a Change Leader
Three of the top 4 and the 10th most differentiating questions confirm this skill cluster as the most valuable in clients’ eyes.

Implication: Clients greatly value professionals who can go beyond their recommendations to set up and lead change.

2. Delivers Business/ Organizational Results
Modern clients greatly value professionals who can connect their professional expertise to business needs and who can produce results.

Implication: Professional skills alone are not enough for high performance, it is results that matter.

3. Is Role Flexible
Building on Leading Change and Delivering Results, our data and research tells us that two of the top 12 most differentiating questions are directly related to role flexibility.
Implication: Professionals must be able to create and take higher leveraged roles.
4. Has Influence Skills
Only 1 question has been in the top 5 most differentiating questions over 20 years: “Many people in your organization seek your opinion.” Couple this question with the #1 most differentiating, creates the case for Influence Skills: “Is skilled at leading groups.”
Implication: Professionals are much more valued if they can influence others.
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