← IC Matters · Best Practice

How to earn the trust of your internal stakeholders

Joe FredericksJoe Fredericks·

Back in 2000, Maister, Galford and Green’s seminal book, ‘The Trusted Advisor’, defined how clients gave their trusted advisors a trust score, based on four key criteria: Credibility, Reliability, Intimacy, and Self-Interest.

The idea was to keep your score as high as possible above the line, and as low as possible below the line.

And as it turns out, this equation is equally as applicable to those who are trying to build trust with their internal clients and colleagues as it does for external relationships.

Traditionally, individuals have often thrown all their energy into the first two ingredients when trying to influence colleagues.

But that just doesn’t cut the mustard anymore. Technical excellence and an ability to deliver are assumed. Credibility and Reliability might get you in the door. But they won’t get you up the stairs to the boardroom. From your internal client’s perception, they’re just the starting point – “of course you’re an expert…”

In the same way that the advertising execs no longer sell things based on their features or benefits, internal clients will be asking you – so what?

And as those same colleagues have become more sophisticated in their needs and demands, their expectations of what a Trusted Advisor is have gone through the roof.

By asking you ‘so what’, internal clients want to very quickly understand how well you know them – their pressures, their ambitions, their values, their pain points and their drivers.

Even if you can show them you do understand all of those things, they then want to know, specifically, how you’re going to apply that knowledge to help them live happily ever after.

Intimacy, in Maisterian terms, has become an intrinsic ingredient in that elixir of the promised land: Commerciality.

To become a Trusted Advisor in 2018, you’ll need to take your assumed technical expertise, add it to your deep knowledge of your colleagues’ innermost world and then collaborate with them in a way that not only enables them to achieve a critical personal outcome, but helps them to feel good along the journey too.

And when we understand the Trusted Advisor’s challenge in these terms, it becomes clear that Collaboration is not just a ‘nice to have’ warm and cuddly word, maybe as part of your list of values that sits on your shiny LinkedIn profile.

Collaboration suddenly becomes a central facet of Commerciality. To differentiate yourself, build strong internal relationships, and to influence your colleagues consistently, collaboration has to be lived day-to-day, in every conversation you have.

Finding the win-win with your colleagues has never been as important.

Now, the other upside of being able to develop deep Intimacy with your internal clients – delivering commercial help and collaborating at every opportunity – is that it will also keep your score below the line, low. Very low indeed.

And if you can do that, then you now have a more commercially viable way of keeping your Self-interest score down than just asking “How high?”, every time an internal client says jump.

Now, here comes the really interesting bit. Because it turns out all those things that you need to do to develop high-quality relationships with your internal clients are exactly the same things that organizations need to do to keep their high-performers and attract the best quality talent.

And bearing in mind that Gen Y are behaving even more like clients than we’ve ever seen before, if your organization is going to have any chance of staying afloat in one of the most fluid job markets of the last three decades, it needs to start getting pretty intimate with those Gen Y’ers’ drivers and values too – the same collaborative approach needs to be applied to them.

When it comes to retaining and attracting the very best talent, developing a long-term commercial relationship with them is down to whether your organization can map out a mutually-desirable win-win future together.

You can’t just get a carrot or a stick out anymore. Those donkeys have evolved into Arabian thoroughbreds.  And the courses they can choose to run are high in number and varied.

But let’s take a step back and ask ourselves that very same ‘so what’ question. What does all this mean in practice?

Well, what the market-leading organizations are doing is threefold.

Firstly, they are training their people to develop their ‘how’ skills. In the old days, these were dismissed as soft skills. But times have changed. 

What the innovative organizations have realized is that all that investment in the ‘what’ skills – the technical skills needed for those high Credibility and Reliability scores – is wasted if their people can’t put the ‘what’ into practice in a way that is relevant to their clients – both internal and external.

Without those ‘how’ skills (which, as it turns out, are anything other than soft), building that Intimacy score and keeping Self-Interest low becomes impossible. Whilst their people look commercial, they can’t behave commercially.

Secondly, they are training their people to develop their ‘so what’ skills. So, instead of lots of convoluted models and complex theory about what leadership, people management, and project management should look like, they’re focusing on teaching their people how to actually live it.

And, thirdly, what these same innovators have all realized is that when we talk about how our organization can stand out from the crowd and attract the very best high-performing talent, we’re actually talking about a series of outcome-focused conversations.

We’re talking about an alignment of the ‘what’ and the ‘how’. An alignment of Credibility, Reliability, and Intimacy. All with a single goal: To develop long-term, profitable, win-win relationships – with our clients, internal and external, and with our people.

To do this, we need to develop a joined-up, integrated communication strategy that starts with our long-term commercial goals and feeds all the way down to the way our receptionists answer the telephone.

An outcome-based approach to communication which marries the what and the how, elevating our organization high above the crowd.


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