A Trusted Advisor
What, specifically, are L&D professionals doing differently in the organizations that demonstrate “readiness” to deal with this oncoming performance gap? The first clue is that they are seen differently by their internal clients . . . they are seen as trusted advisors, providing value in solving clients’ business problems.
Increasingly, L&D professionals are earning the right to behave as internal consultants, engaging in multiple conversations, at higher levels of management, and earlier in the formation of strategy and tactics.
This is a crucial difference. In the past, L&D largely provided training services upon demand, after strategy and tactics have been defined.
To function as trusted advisors, L&D leaders and professionals have moved out of the training silo and are engaging throughout their organizations. They are initiating conversations that help executives assess current capabilities and competencies, and are discovering, articulating, and defining training needs. For the most part, these L&D professionals have not so much been invited into these conversations as they have earned the right to contribute by demonstrating a set of higher-level skills, knowledge, and attitude.
These professionals don’t see themselves as providers of training solutions but as partners in a strategic conversation about defining business goals and selecting strategic targets. They must see themselves in the business of solving problems, and their internal clients must see them as trusted advisors.
This approach requires a broader mindset and attitude, a distinct set of consulting skills, and an ever-expanding knowledge base that extends beyond the borders of common HR topics.
A Problem-Solving Attitude
The trusted advisor cultivates a wider, more strategic view of the field of play. This professional is focused on thoroughly understanding the business issues and strategic concerns of internal clients. At the same time, as they are focused on the disciplined execution of their current projects, they are also focused on producing their clients’ required business results. In addition to building excellent training solutions, they are advocates for reinforcement, coaching, and the business success of the learning audience.
The trusted advisor employs a wide array of skills, concepts, and tools to every engagement with a client. Trusted advisors deploy their knowledge, skills, and attitude in the service of three strategies: Earning Trust, Discovering Motives, and Making Sense of Complexity.
Strategy 1: Earning Clients’ Trust
Trust is earned. It can’t be demanded. It is the natural outcome of a history of contribution and collaboration. Nothing damages one’s prospects more than behavior that seems to say, “Trust me.” Wilson Learning’s approach to building trust in a client-consultant relationship is based on the presence of four components of trust: propriety, competency, commonality, and positive intent.
Trusted advisors have developed and apply a specific set of skills that earn the trust of their internal clients.
- Propriety: Be on time, dress appropriately, and match or exceed the client’s expectations for professional and personal behavior.
- Competency: Share or demonstrate that you possess the capability and experience to do the job.
- Commonality: Find a shared basis of interests, beliefs, and values.
- Intent: Declare, demonstrate, and express a positive shared intent, i.e., serve the business leader’s business goals.
When trust is present, the business leader feels comfortable sharing information and will fully express concerns and be open to exploring contributing issues.
Strategy 2: Discovering Motives
When the business leader trusts the L&D consultant, the information gathering and needs assessment conversations begin to flow freely and naturally. The trusted advisor has the ability to “listen through the noise” and detect the sources of both professional and personal urgency. This leads to a much deeper sense of what is at stake than is possible with a narrower needs assessment conversation.
- Task Motives: There are four general business motives. The trusted advisor must discover the specific business goal of the client. Is the client looking to grow revenue or control costs? Is the client looking to increase quality or engagement? Or is the client looking to decrease effort or gain efficiency?
- Personal Motives: There are four general personal motives. The trusted advisor must discover the personal motives of the client. Is the client looking for Power, Respect, Approval, or Recognition?
The trusted advisor demonstrates the ability to gather, organize, and summarize a large body of information. This ability, in itself, is a considerable source of value to internal clients. It helps to keep the business problem prominent. It clearly communicates what business problem needs to be solved.
Strategy 3: Making Sense of Complexity
Now that we know the issue that needs to be solved, it is important to clearly identify how it will be solved and the expected performance gains or other benefits of solving the business problem. We use a simple but powerful approach to help you create a clear and concise statement so the solution and benefits are understood by your clients.
- Solution Summary: This is a concise statement of what the solution is and how it will work. This is not every feature of the solution, only the features that matter to the business leader and in solving the problem.
- Advantage Statements: These are statements that describe how each element of the proposed solution will contribute to solving the business problem and how it will address the task motives discovered in the second strategy.
- Benefit Statements: These statements describe how each element of the proposed solution will address the personal motives of the sponsoring business leader, the leader’s team, and the participant population.
No Invitation Required
Many L&D professionals are already accustomed to working closely with subject matter experts and executives outside L&D. Many already have surprisingly broad experience in developing training that impacts business performance. Too many L&D professionals are waiting to be invited to contribute their valuable perspective and experience.
There are no barriers to becoming a trusted advisor. All you need to do is widen your attitude and rethink your approach, while putting the application and development skills you already have into use.
Apply those skills to the three strategies of Earning Trust, Discovering Motives, and Making Sense of Complexity, and you will be well on your way to more effectively delivering business value through learning and development.
First published on TrainingMag.com.