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Bruce Holland

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How to become a trusted Adviser

Many of my clients are advisers. They include accountants, scientists, engineers, analysts, statisticians, information specialists, researchers, and policy-people. They often have stronger analytical skills than interpersonal skills. They know their communication skills could stand improving.

The issue

Usually they have the answers to the most important problems in the organisation; yet, often they are frustrated because they can't sell their ideas. Intellectually they can be head and shoulders above others, but they are wasted because they don't rise to the top of the organisation; or even to leadership in their speciality. This frustration and waste is sometimes reflected in apathy, withdrawal, bitterness and other destructive behaviour.

The solution

How can we reduce this frustration and eliminate the waste? The fact is, advisers need interpersonal skills to be successful in an organisation; and many analytical thinkers have not developed these skills sufficiently.

What's the solution? I've developed a Trusted Advisers Program, specifically designed to help these people sell their ideas and become leaders in their organisation.

Design features

A few of the design principles include:

  1. Peer-to-peer. The first design feature recognises that many analytical thinkers hate trainers, especially 'touchy-feelly' trainers. They learn best from their peers who share the same daily experiences and issues. My Program sidesteps this whole issue because we don't train, we facilitate. We introduce new ideas as readings before workshops, then, during workshops, we get people talking and sharing their experiences and in the process they learn from each other.

  2. Whole group. Development programs that advisers usually go on take them out of their group and send them off, on their own. The Trusted Adviser Program involves everyone together, as a result they all learn new skills together, they support each other together and they build closer ties and trust together.

  3. Time to change habits. The third design feature recognises that it takes about 4 months to change a lifelong thinking habit. Normally we hold a series of about 8 to 10 half-day workshops every couple of weeks. During the two-week periods between the workshops advisers practice their new skills on real life issues in their own work. This drives home the learnings and makes them real. As a result the Program is constantly in front of people for 4 to 5 months (long enough to change habits) but the actual amount of time in workshops is only 4 or 5 days.

Half-day workshops

The program of workshops may look something like:

A typical Program may include the following half-day workshops:

1. Understanding people

Often analytical thinkers assume that everyone else is just like them. Normally we use Herrmann's Thinking Preferences to prove that this is not true. They find out that people are fundamentally different from each other; and if they treat everyone in the analytical way they like to be treated they will be successful about a quarter of the time and unsuccessful three-quarters of the time. I am often surprised how big an insight this is to analytical thinkers.

2. Understand and communicate with clients

This workshop extends Herrmann's Thinking Preferences to show advisers how to develop service delivery plans for each of their clients that targets exactly the right approach for that client. For example, some clients are 'coloured' green and need totally different approaches from clients who are 'coloured' yellow.

Some time ago, I was working with the accountants of one of our biggest social policy organisations. Their Herrmann profiles showed that almost all of them were strongly analytical in their thinking, however, the management and much of the rest of the organisation were strong interpersonal thinkers. Until my Program the accountants had sent out reams of detailed numbers, assuming that their readers would be able to understand the data as well as they could themselves. The Program proved that this was untrue; so as a result, they changed their whole approach, and started sitting down with each of their clients to explain the two or three major points to come out of the accounts that month.

3. Influence

Most advisers have no organisational authority over their clients; their success depends on their ability to influence people. In the workshop they discover that several simple behaviours are practiced by all influential people; then they practice these until they become second nature. I am surprised how many people have never thought about how to be more influential. I could never convince them this; but, by getting them to share stories about the person who was most influential in their lives, they convince themselves.

4. The power of questions

Many advisers think their key skill is to give advice. Actually their key skill is to ask powerful questions; and most of them are not good at it. If, by asking the right set of questions, an adviser can get the client to come to the solution themselves, the solution will have a far greater chance of being implemented quickly and successfully.

5. Systems thinking

Advisors are skilled at taking an issue and pulling it apart; this is the essence of analysis. However few are as skilled in the process of understanding how things influence one another within a whole, or showing the linkages of cause and effect over long periods of time. This is systems thinking, it's the difference between breaking-down to understand the parts and building-up to understand the whole - both are needed.

6. Networks

Networks are vital to the success of advisers, after-all there's not much point in knowing something if others don't know you know it. Yet many analytical thinkers seem to almost take pride in their weakness in this area. In my Program we usually schedule half a day working on the Laws of Networks. These Laws have been developed over the last 10 years and while computer people understand them other advisers don't.

7. Trust

Without trust, advice does not get actioned. Without trust things happen slowly if at all. In our half-day workshop we usually cover areas like understanding the attributes of trusted advisers, behaviours that build trust and destroy it. These lessons are not taught, rather they are learned as people tell each other stories about how the people they trust most behaved.

8. Review and accountability workshops

Even the best learning dissipates over time and old behaviours reassert themselves; however, with a tiny investment about every three months all the benefits from the original investment can be regained and extended. We usually schedule at least two additional workshops at 3 months and 6 months after the last workshop. This extends the total program to about 9 months by which time new habits are deeply engrained.

It's amazing how small the difference between average and success can be. A few simple things done every day can make an enormous difference. These are the areas that the Trusted Advisers Program targets. If you know a group of advisers who could be more successful please let me know, because in these days of doing more for less, it's waste we cannot afford.

Warmest wishes
Phone +6421620456 or Skype Bruce.Holland
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Key words: Leadership, leadership development, leadership management, leadership training, leadership program, leadership skills

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