We hear a lot about being a “business partner” or having a “seat at the table” with our business leadership. As HR professionals we pursue this goal like Indiana Jones searching for the Holy Grail. But much like your airline mileage or hotel points where the membership reaches beyond the Silver and Gold to Platinum, the same can be said for the next level that everyone should be aspiring to: a status known as trusted advisor.
While some may feel that business partner and trusted advisor are synonymous, they’re not. If your ultimate goal is to impact and influence organizational decisions, then trusted advisor is the standing you are trying to reach. While the destination is clear, there are no short cuts. You have to be willing to take a few risks, fail, and god forbid, be wrong at times in order to get there. You want that seat at the table because you know it makes you more effective at your job. But how do you know when you’ve made that transition or when you’ve arrived?
There is a simple nuance, a shift if you will, between you and your business leader when the transition takes place. If you’re not careful you might miss the subtlety. I’ll come back to this later (and get into more detail this April in Las Vegas) , so keep an eye out — or more importantly an ear out — for when it happens.
As I stated before, there are no shortcuts. A “seat at the table” is not a rite of passage nor is it something you can request, purchase, or demand. It’s earned. The good news is there is no secret handshake, underground tunnel, or backroom password you need to learn. In fact the roadmap is less complex than you think, yet very effective.
There are several ways to achieve trusted advisor status. Certainly more than I can list in this segment, but here I’ll share my top four guiding principles. These four have nothing to do with your role, title, or level within your company. However, the better you understand them, the quicker you will see your career opportunities elevate. On their face they’re quite simple, but in practice they become a little more challenging.
Principle #1 — Know Your Stuff
First things first, you have to know your stuff. This may be the simplest but it’s also the most important principle. To emphasize its importance let me state it another way. There is no reason ever for someone who doesn’t do what you do, to know more about what you do than you. I’m going to let that sink in for minute, because I’m sure it probably sounded like a tongue twister. Take a moment and read that sentence again because it’s the foundation on which the next three principles are built.
You don’t need to be industry expert or even a subject matter expert. But you surely better know more about what you do than the person you are trying to advise. If you can’t accomplish this first principle then you may want to stop reading now or consider moving to another field.
Principle #2 — Add Value
Number two builds off the first principle. You can’t add value if you don’t know your stuff. If you’re wondering, ‘how exactly do I go about adding value?’ You need to master the 3 “I’s”: Invaluable, Indispensable, and Irreplaceable. None of us are invaluable, indispensable, or irreplaceable, but the perception that you are is what matters. How many times have you said, “If Sarah ever decides to leave, we are in deep trouble”? What you’re really saying is that Sarah is invaluable, indispensable, or irreplaceable. What you’re also saying is that you really don’t want to find out what life would be like if you had to do without someone like Sarah.
Now take a moment and think about what Sarah does that leaves you with that perception. She meets deadlines, has a sense of urgency, and is well organized. If she doesn’t have the answer to a question, she will find you the person who does. Sarah adds value and value in the business world is as tangible as currency. She trades that currency every day for credibility. This brings us to the next principle.
Principle #3 — Be Credible
By now you are probably beginning to see the building blocks take form. Credibility is a confluence of several traits; accountability, objectivity, integrity, and humility. Being accountable means you own your mistakes and assume responsibility for them. Taking ownership (not credit) leads to credibility. Being objective requires bringing facts, data, and/or empirical evidence to the table.
Unless you are the ultimate decision maker for your department, region, business unit, or organization, your opinion really doesn’t matter. What matters is what you can show, what can you prove, and what supporting data you can bring. Just remember, she who brings the data brings credibility with her.
There is a saying in consulting: deliver good news fast and bad news faster. Nothing demonstrates integrity better than being the first to recognize and communicate that you may miss a deadline, or can’t fill that role in the four-week timeline you promised. If you wait and allow your colleagues or business leaders to uncover problems, you’ve missed an opportunity.
Lastly, be humble and admit when you’re wrong. Learn from your mistakes. It never hurts to practice saying two of the simplest words in the business dictionary “my mistake.” You can always salvage credibility when you can admit when you’re wrong.
Principle #4 — Execute
This is also known as deliver. It’s he final building block in your journey to trusted advisor. We are all here to do a job, whether that is to fill a requisition, close a candidate, or manage a team. You must execute. There is no substitute. You can be the nicest, most credible, value-adding person on the planet, and know your stuff inside and out, but if you fail to deliver time after time after time — your number will never get called.
People gravitate to winners. Winners execute. When you get things done, people want a piece of your mojo. The reason they want you at the table is because you deliver. You can’t get around the fact that we are in a results-based business. This isn’t little league soccer; you don’t get a trophy just for playing.
OK, so there you have it, the big four. These will get you that aforementioned seat at the table. It’s really that simple. Yes, there are several other elements and factors that can help you get there. But in my 25 years in the business, these four run common to the most trusted of advisors.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot. I promised to tell you how you would know when you’re no longer sitting at the kiddie table. The key is to listen for it. Yes, I said listen for it.
When you’re viewed as a service provider, your business leader will tell you what they want after they’ve decided. When you are viewed as a business partner, your business leader will tell you what they want while they’re deciding. You’ll know when you’ve moved to trusted advisor status when your business leader tells what they want before they’ve decided.
It’s at this point the shift takes place. Like I said before, it’s subtle. It won’t happen overnight. It will be a transition. You will get that meeting invite or the leadership call including you in discussions where critical decisions will be made. A moment will come when you notice that your views and insights are sought in conjunction with those of your leaders. Finally, a time will come when some of your viewpoints will change the thought process and/or decisions of your leaders. That my friends is when you will know, that you’ve truly become a trusted advisor.