Anyone who works for a “staff function” or a “support function” will tell you that the nature of this function is advisory. The people belonging to this function investigate, research, and give advice to their line managers or clients. The value of the function really then lies in becoming a trusted advisor to the business. Being a trusted advisor simply means that the “clients” value the deep subject matter expertise that the specialist brings to the table. All advisory professions have to earn the trust of the client without which they are not relevant. That view is as true for a Human Resources professional as it is for a doctor, a lawyer, an accountant … the list goes on. The feeling of professional self-worth of such service providers is directly linked to how valuable they and their advice is, to others. The more they are consulted the more valued they feel. A doctor who sees a crowded waiting room outside her clinic feels good about how valuable her service is to others. So what makes a person a trusted advisor? What makes us trust someone?
We trust people in varying degrees and for different reasons. You may trust your friend with money or a secret. Yet, you may not trust the same friend to administer an injection to you. You could also then argue that we may trust a doctor to give us medical advice or trust a surgeon to perform a complex surgery on us but may not trust the person with our deepest darkest secrets. So trusting someone has an implicit element of competence built in. We all evaluate this competence instinctively and then decide whether or not we want to seek the advice of the specialist. If the specialist’s knowledge level is not substantially more, then we are unlikely to seek or follow their advice. For minor aches and pains or the common cold, we may not feel the need to visit a doctor. When you visit a chemist’s shop and seek their advice on some of the over-the-counter medication, you will no doubt get advice that may well match what a doctor may have (and charged you for it as well!). But when you have a more complex medical problem, you do not rely on the chemists’ advice. A skilled doctor may be able to look at your symptoms and suggest diagnostic tests and procedures that the chemist may not be able to. A superior level of competence leads a specialist to have insights that an enthusiastic amateur may not have. A trusted advisor is one who is perceived to have deeper knowledge and uses that knowledge to find solutions to issues that create complexity in the lives of others.
The internet has led to a lot of information being available to amateurs. That has changed the nature of interactions between the specialists and the amateurs. Medicine is one such field that is in transition. The doctor or the specialist is no longer the sole keeper of the knowledge. Many doctors will tell you that today the patients and their relatives will all routinely come armed (a sometimes annoying exercise with half-baked information) with their own alternative diagnosis, opinions about medication, side effects, pricing options thanks to sites like webmd.com or even patientslikeme.com that enable patients to compare notes. So the doctors’ role is now changing in learning how to deal with a reasonably well informed (and also sometimes a partly or wrongly informed) patient. The widespread availability of information has changed many other relationships. Parents no longer are the only ones controlling the shaping of values and opinions of their children. Teachers are routinely using sites like turnitin.com to check plagiarism. The site crawls 2 billion web pages and flips through over 100 million student papers and over 80,000 major newspapers, magazines and scholarly journals to find out just what has been cleverly swiped off from someone’s original work without proper acknowledgment.
In the workplace, an advisor is trusted only when the colleagues believe that there is a degree of expertise the specialist has which someone else does not. For instance interviewing a candidate is a skill that needs training and many years of practice. If the HR person is able to make better hiring decisions based on better skills of interviewing or get further insights than others, it is a way of being a trusted advisor. If the HR person can help create an incentive system that improves business results dramatically while improving retention of talent, it is a step towards being a trusted advisor. When the Employee Relations specialist advises the employee(s) and or the organization to untangle complicated legalese and find solutions that others could not have, it is easy for everyone to see the value of the specialist.
- Build Depth: So to be a trusted advisor build a depth of knowledge that goes far deeper than what a quick Google search will yield to others.
- Keep Yourself Updated: Read different blogs and magazines that give you the latest buzz in your field. What are the old theories that are getting challenged and what is your opinion on that issue?
- Write a Blog: Start placing your opinions on the web for others to see. The value of the specialist is to explain in simple everyday language stuff that amateurs can use to build their knowledge.
Try these three and you are well on your way to being a Trusted Advisor in your field. It takes much more to be a trusted advisor these days.