7 Steps to Becoming a Trusted Advisor in Your Organization

June 24, 2022

Dan, the tech man, didn’t go to college. I saw that on his resume, and it made me hesitate. We had been through a few tech professionals in the past years who had been disappointing. We really did not want to fill this position once again. Even though he lacked that college degree, he had years of experience and training. He knew what he was doing and was an expert in his field. His work was consistently good, and he was easy to get along with. Everyone liked Dan. He wasn’t in management but quickly became our trusted tech advisor.

What Impact Do Trusted or Untrusted Advisors Have on an Organization?

I gathered data from 2,571 individual contributors from Marketing, Operations, HR, Finance, Product Development, Legal, Engineering, IT, and Research and Development. These people were all asked by their organizations to participate in a leadership development program for leaders even though they were individual contributors. Because they were asked to participate in a leadership development effort, I concluded that these were most likely knowledgeable professionals respected in their field. Despite not being in a management position, these individuals were rated significantly higher on their trust (other leaders 50.3, Trusted Advisors 55.0, t-value 8.111, Sig. 0.000).

But, not all these trusted advisors were more trusted.

In Zenger Folkman’s 360-degree assessment, each person was evaluated on their level of trust using feedback from all other raters with their self-assessment data excluded. I compared the results for those whose trust ratings were at the bottom 10% (166 people) to those in the top 10% (277 people) with assessments from all raters, managers, peers, and the person themselves.

The graph below shows the comparison between the most trusted and the least trusted advisors.

What do we see in the data?

  • In the managers’ ratings, managers were most likely expected to provide feedback, but their perceptions of the trust levels in these trusted advisors might not have been as critical or positive as the overall results suggest.
  • The lowest trust self-ratings indicate that these individual contributors recognized they had some issues with trust but didn’t realize the severity of the problem.
  • The highest trust self-ratings were at the 55th percentile reflecting a lack of understanding about how trusted they really were.

7 Steps to Become a More Trusted Advisor in Your Organization Graph

Actions that will Enable Individuals to Become Trusted Advisors

This research shows that you don’t need to be a leader for others to consider you a trusted ally.

Our research on trust has taught us there are three factors that are best at building trust. The first is positive relationships. We trust our friends and distrust our enemies. The second most important factor is consistency. When people do what they say they will do and keep their promises to others, they are trusted. The third is expertise and good judgment. We trust people who have the correct answers and can solve difficult problems.

Analyzing data comparing the most to least trusted advisors, I identified the top seven behaviors that can help individuals build trust.

  1. Being a role model and walking your talk. Some trusted advisors believe they do not need to follow the rules that apply to most others in the organization. This behavior destroys their credibility. Often, they make commitments and fail to deliver when problems are more difficult to solve than they expected. These behaviors destroy trust.
  2. Having good judgment and correctly diagnosing problems. It is surprising how long a poor diagnosis or a problem will follow a person around. Trusted advisors need to take their time and provide careful diagnoses of problems and potential solutions.
  3. Understanding the issues and concerns of colleagues. Too many trusted advisors remain aloof to the difficulties and problems their colleagues are experiencing. This damages relationships, which negatively impacts trust.
  4. Cooperating with other colleagues and groups. Many trusted advisors act independently with the expectations that other groups and individuals need to accommodate their approaches and decisions. This negatively impacts relationships and destroys trust.
  5. Balancing the need to deliver results with the needs of individual team members. Consideration for other team members builds positive relationships, which also increases trust.
  6. Following through on commitments. It is easy to say, “I will do that!” But while we may often forget our commitments, those we make commitments to tend to remember them. Trusted advisors need to be careful to make only commitments they are confident they can fulfill.
  7. Staying current with technical knowledge and expertise. Many people think school is where most of their learning occurred. After graduating, they apply what they learned in school. The problem with that approach is that technology is continually changing. And to stay current with all that is changing, every person needs to be continually learning. After being in the job for several years, many people get comfortable and fail to stay current with new innovations. This damages their expertise which creates a loss of trust.

Trusted Advisors Are in the Dark about How Much or Little They Are Trusted

In our research with leaders and individual contributors, we have learned that the worst person at evaluating weaknesses or brilliance is that person themself. Their manager, peers, direct reports, and others see them much more clearly and accurately than they see themselves. The evaluations from different raters are consistent and contain useful insights. A 360-assessment is a great value for a person to understand how they are viewed by others. Rather than a fickle evaluation from others, it is a highly predictive assessment that is strongly correlated with performance. Trusted advisors need accurate information on how trusted they are and their effectiveness on the factors that influence trust.

We strongly recommend that every trusted advisor participates in a 360 assessment that will provide them with an accurate assessment of both their level of trust and the behaviors that improve trust.

—Joe Folkman
Connect with Joe Folkman on LinkedInTwitter,  or Facebook.

(This article first appeared on Forbes)


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