Key takeaways from The Trusted Advisor (book)

There are many different ways to achieve success in the work place. The road to becoming a trusted advisor will naturally guide you through a number of elements that will enable you to gain trust and in turn create more value for your key stakeholders.

I read the book The Trusted Advisor by David H. Maister, Charles H. Green, and Robert M. Galford. It is aimed at advisory professionals such as consultants, accountants, lawyers, and alike. However, the takeaways can also be applied to a wide range of other jobs because no matter what position you hold you serve some sort of clients or customers. The position you hold has responsibilities that make you an expert of sorts within a narrow field within your firm – in a sense, the same as an external advisor. Hence, you can position yourself as an advisor to your clients and over time become a trusted advisor. This, in turn, will increase the value you can contribute to the company in which you work.

Being a trusted advisor results in a number of benefits as it facilitates building closer relationships with the people around you in the workplace. For instance earning trust from your immediate manager will position you well to get the projects and assignments that are the most interesting and will develop you best. Further, it will decrease the psychological distance between the two of you resulting in a more equal relationship where you act as sparring partner rather than a task solver.

The way to becoming a trusted advisor involves working with a trust equation, as the authors call it. The equation is essentially the essence of the book and stipulates four parameters that determine how to become a trusted advisor:

  • Credibility – the extent to which your client believes in what you are saying. Credibility can be boiled down to three skills; 1) being able to anticipate needs of the client, 2) telling nothing but the truth, so don’t get caught lying or telling inaccuracies, and 3) credentials e.g. previous experiences relating the task at hand. Apart from experience, preparation is key for building credibility during interactions with your client.
  • Reliability – the extent to which your client believes that you are going to deliver what you have promised when you have promised it. This is all about delivering “on time on spec”. It requires consistency in your deliverables to your client. A shortcut to achieving this in practice is to be almost overly specific in what you have agreed to deliver and by when. This signals you are on top of things, and if you deliver, they will remember it the next time around.
  • Intimacy – the extent to which your client feels comfortable in discussing personal or confidential topics with you, in other words; feel comfortable with you. In the early years of their career many young professionals confuse professionalism with a high degree of formality and distance to people holding senior positions. However, this is just augmenting the perception that you, as a more junior person, is an underling to him or her. Of course, this is not to be desired, intimacy with seniors is achieved by getting closer to them and learning more about them as a person. Beginnings of meetings are great opportunities for small talk to venture into non-work related topics – and usually the executives are longing to talk more informally for a few minutes between meetings in their heavily booked calendars with important decisions all day.
  • Client-orientation – the extent to which the client is confident that you have his or hers interests at heart. As oppose to looking after your own interests such as how you are perceived and what you are getting out of solving a particular task. This means putting the focus of getting ahead in your career in the backseat and focusing only on the task at hand – really delivering on the task you are working on without thinking about what this can do for you and how well it will position you going forward. This requires that you believe in yourself and have confidence in your abilities without being too eager to impress with your vast amount of knowledge and capabilities.

You become a truly trusted advisor to your client if you manage to perform on a high level on each of the above parameters. The road to mastering each of the parameters is not easy but takes hard and focused work. The sequence of the four parameters presents a logical order in which to work with them in turn. Focusing on all four at the same time will put too many things on your plate and thus diminish the chances of success.

This brief blog post alone cannot, by any means, replace a read-through of the book, but just might give you a gist of what it takes and why it makes sense to think in terms of becoming a trusted advisor to your clients and closest stakeholders within your company. I definitely recommend you to buy the book and getting a bit further into the details as these parameters are fantastic elements to put into your formal development plan at work.

Please note that I do not own any interests nor am I affiliated with the authors or distributors of the book.

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