Are you a trusted adviser? If you are, what impact does it have on the way you work?

Being a trusted adviser is often hailed as the pinnacle of being a strategic internal communicator. But what does it actually mean? How can you be one, how do you know if you are one and what steps can you take to become one?

So many questions! I’m going to address them all via this article to help you learn and benchmark yourself. I’ve also included comments and suggestions from people in my network.

I recently featured Saskia Jones on my blog when she shared her free internal communication plan template with All Things IC’s readers. She was described by the Institute of Internal Communication as being a trusted adviser in this interview, following her Communicator of the Year Award.

A couple of weeks ago I spoke at the Institute of Internal Communication’s annual conference about personal branding. During my talk I asked attendees to tell me how they’re viewed by their stakeholders.

Here’s what I asked…

The options were:

  1. Trusted adviser
  2. Comms Police
  3. Employees don’t know me
  4. I don’t know.

The majority of people in the room – nearly three-quarters – put their hands up to say they are viewed by their stakeholders as a trusted adviser.

Demystifying the jargon

But it got me thinking – what does that actually mean?

If you’ve attended my Strategic Internal Communication Masterclass you’ll know the definition I use is taken from an excellent book called The Trusted Advisor by David Maister (2002).

In the book, it talks about how being a trusted adviser (I know it says advisor in the title, but my preference is adviser, so I’m sticking with it) is a process.

It starts off with you offering ideas, then solutions and then finally being a safe haven for hard issues.

Are you a safe haven for hard issues?

I work with a lot of Comms Directors and senior practitioners 1-2-1 as a Comms Coach to advise and mentor them. This sort of work draws on all my strengths and experience as a practitioner and I love it because it taps into all of my personal values, which I also talked about at the IoIC conference.

For example, this year I’ve helped three senior practitioners prepare for their first 100 days in new roles and set them up for success. I’ve worked with them individually to create a plan of action so they’ve been able to hit the ground running.

I’m a trusted adviser to trusted advisers, which is a privilege and joy.

If you want to be viewed as a trusted adviser, you need to identify how to gain credibility, demonstrate gravitas and build trust from your first day.

It’s never too late to invest in your own development and identify steps towards becoming a trusted adviser. Even if you are half-way through a contract, or would like to change what you’re known for, you can do this too.

How?

It starts with being clear about your personal brand, which I define as your promise and reputation as a practitioner.

I’ve written this many times on my blog over the years, but if you want to be a trusted adviser, don’t just say the C word (Comms).

Of course you can talk about Comms, that’s expected of you and you probably offer ideas and solutions.

However, if you want to be seen as a safe haven for hard issues, you need to demonstrate the breadth of your experience and deep understanding of the business, which goes beyond just Comms.

Under the microscope

You need to have a forensic understanding of how your organisation works and be able to answer questions about what’s keeping the Board awake at night, what’s on the minds of both leaders and employees and how your competitor’s latest move impacts your pipeline. You need to act with confidence and integrity.

Being a strategic internal communicator and trusted adviser means you are demonstrating your detailed knowledge of the business.

What’s your culture like? What are the top three reasons employees are leaving your business? What are employees saying about your senior leaders that you think they should know?

If often means having difficult conversations. I pulled this together in under five minutes to help a client the other day and hope you find it helpful:

What is a trusted adviser?

I think you are a trusted adviser when these scenarios happen. There are many, but here are some quick highlights:

  1. Stakeholders/clients ask for you by name. They have a problem and know you are part of the solution.
  2. When you are included in conversations early. For example, when discussions start about upcoming change initiatives, you’re invited to be in the room. It’s unthinkable you won’t be there because you have so much to offer.
  3. You’re invited to comment outside a Comms remit. Your expertise in Comms is a given, but stakeholders/clients value your sage advice and forensic understanding of the way businesses work, so they seek you out.
  4. You have incredibly strong relationships. For relationships to truly work, they need to be deep and ingrained in trust. The better your relationships and personal connections are, the more likely it is that you’ll be trusted.
  5. You are trusted to be constructive. I believe being a trusted adviser means being able to say no, to explain why you are making certain recommendations and to leave those conversations with your respect intact. People may not like what you say, but if your intentions are in the right place, you’re in the right mindset.
  6. Comms is on everyone’s agenda. Your “comms update” is not at the end of Board meetings, but everyone around the table understands internal communication is too important to be left to one team or person. It’s an ongoing and constant conversation, with you as the subject matter expert. Yes you have an update and can share insight, but the input is constant.
  7. You put others first. Being a trusted adviser means leaving your ego at the door. You need to take a genuine interest in people and demonstrate exceptional listening skills.
  8. You keep your promises. If you’re clear on what you want to be known for, you need to deliver. You need to be consistently excellent at what you do, to be credible, reliable and focused on execution. It’s no good talking the talk and not walking the walk. There needs to be no integrity gap between what you say and do.
  9. You’re in it for the long-run. Building trust takes time, you need to make emotional and mental connections with people and invest time and effort in your long-term relationship/s.

What would you add?

Last week I was writing content for a client’s bespoke Masterclass and wanted to know what other communicators think a trusted adviser is.

So I took to Twitter @AllthingsIC to ask. Thank you very much to everyone who responded. You can see their comments below:

Looking at the trends

Thank you to everyone who responded to my query via Twitter.

The key trends from the responses relate to being involved early, having honest conversations and demonstrating expertise.

What do you think?

How are you taking steps to become a trusted adviser? What impact will it have on the way you work and are viewed?

As ever, you’re welcome to comment below or Tweet me @AllthingsIC to share your thoughts.

If you want to know more about some of the topics I’ve mentioned, some of my past articles will help you:

Learn more about internal comms
If you’d like to learn more about internal communication, come and join me at one of my monthly Masterclasses here in London. See my Masterclasses website to find out more and save your place.

You’ll also find a range of ways we can work together, from one-hour calls to my VIP mentoring package. Let me know how I can help you succeed.

Thank you for stopping by,

Rachel.

Post author: Rachel Miller

First published on the All Things IC blog 23 May 2018.

Disclosure: Links to books are associated with my Amazon Associates account.

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