Change Thinking

Despite all the business change knowledge uncovered during the last 50 years, many seasoned change management professionals still aren’t adequately prepared to serve those trying to navigate their way through today’s turbulence. Change Thinking is an effort to have an exchange with, and be part of, a community of practitioners committed to raising the level of their game and that of the field of change execution.

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Mindfully Holding Space (free eBook)

Why Should You Want Your Competitors To Care About Character and Presence?

What Can You Gain By Incorporating Character and Presence Into Your Work?

A Shift in Blog Cadence

The Thought Leadership Environment

How Does a Trusted Advisor Act?

Categories: Trusted Advisor

We’re talking in this series about change agents who function as trusted advisors, which is the highest level of partnership with a sponsor. Trusted advisors engage in some or all of the following activities.

  1. Assess and work within whatever predispositions the sponsor shows. (That means stretch, but don’t overly exceed, the capability of the sponsor.)
  2. Help the sponsor establish goals slightly beyond what he or she currently expects to achieve.
  3. Understand, diagnose, formulate a prognosis for, and develop actions related to, the sponsor’s challenges.
  4. Communicate in ways that are direct, explicit, caring, and sensitive. It’s important to be confrontational sometimes, but never argumentative.
  5. Present thought-provoking questions that encourage the exploration of issues at a deeper level than the sponsor normally would pursue.
  6. Challenge his or her existing frames of reference (e.g., time and resource allocation, degree of progress achieved, amount of investment needed to succeed, assumed restrictions, what can/cannot be accomplished).
  7. Frame the context of situations to help shape and narrow the decisions/actions under consideration.
  8. Use compelling stories, metaphors, and imagery to convey instructive points.
  9. Promote new and sometimes uncomfortable behavior patterns.
  10. Provide frank, unvarnished feedback (including candid observations, tough interpretations, and compassionate but direct delivery).
  11. Endorse delving into the connection between the sponsor’s head and heart as change unfolds.
  12. Encourage examining the emotional aspects of deep commitment.
  13. Help the sponsor differentiate between dilemmas (to be managed, not eliminated) and problems (to be avoided or solved).
  14. Coach the sponsor to articulate change-related communications with accurate, crisp, and compelling language.
  15. Underscore the importance of the sponsor maintaining “laser beam” focus on initiatives that meet the Degrees of Difficulty criteria.
  16. Model mindset and behaviors the sponsor needs to adopt.

How Long Should It Take to Build a Trusted Advisor Relationship?

This kind of relationship isn’t usually quick to materialize…it typically takes some time to unfold. It’s possible to have a fast “connection” occur between sponsor and practitioner (liking each other, being impressed with the initial exchange, etc.) but developing deep trust is another matter. It begins with earning trust based on meeting or exceeding expectations, and evolves further as mutual commitments are realized.

The establishment of such an affiliation requires sufficient sponsor exposure to allow the proper dynamics to mature. First, the relationship is initiated and the early manifestations of “chemistry” become apparent. Then there is a period of concentrated activity, where results produced are consistent with expectations. It is only after these two phases have been completed, which may take months, that the full value of the trusted advisor role can be realized.

It Doesn’t Always Happen

The trusted advisor relationship is a powerful vehicle for supporting sponsors. Sometimes, however, it just doesn’t materialize. We should not assume that this kind of connection will always form with sponsors, yet we should remain vigilant for signs of the possibility (e.g., the sponsor values your frankness, seeks guidance from you when the stakes are high, is eager to learn from you, is willing to expose vulnerabilities during candid conversations).

The existence of a trusted advisor partnership ultimately hinges on whether the right chemistry evolves. Despite all the advantages for both us and our sponsors, such a relationship can only be encouraged; it can never be mandated or contrived. We need to nurture whatever signs emerge that point toward a tighter bond with our sponsors, being careful not to force anything past its natural boundaries. We should focus on earning the right to become trusted advisors by cultivating value in as many of the currencies as is appropriate, and appreciate and celebrate those trusted advisor relationships that we are privileged to be a part of.

What are your views on the nature and importance of the trusted advisor role? How important do you consider such a role to be in your sponsor relationships? What challenges have you faced when attempting this sort of sponsor affiliation? What aspects to establishing and maintaining this kind of connection to sponsors would you add to what I have shared

Assess Your Personal Trustworthiness

Charles Green, author of Trust-Based Selling, has developed an online self-assessment tool, the Trust Quotient, that profiles one’s trustworthiness along four dimensions, and reveals your “TQ” compared with a database of 13,000 others’ scores. Detailed implications, profiles, and action steps are included, based on your scores. Click here to access the tool, or here to learn more about Mr. Green's work.

This concludes my series on the trusted advisor. Next, I’ll begin what I hope will be a thought-provoking series on how we sometimes disrespect others' implementation methodologies.

Posted on: April 26, 2010 10:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

How Much Is A Trusted Advisor Worth?

Categories: Trusted Advisor

We’ve been talking in this series about becoming trusted advisors to our sponsors. An important exchange takes place between sponsors and practitioners when advanced trust is explored. We want to earn trusted advisor status, but sponsors want to be sure they grant this rare level of confidence to someone who is truly worthy. In effect, we want to purchase (earn) the sponsor’s trust while they want to sell (grant) it only if paid the right price. What sponsors want in exchange for their trust is to be “paid’ with the proper currency. There are several types of currencies that could help us attain the credibility we seek. Here are five that I think are particularly important.

Essential Trust Currencies

1. Bottom-Line Results

Above all else, the sponsor must see the connection between our efforts to influence and the realization of the intended results—that we contribute significantly to sustainable conclusions, enduring commitment, measurable outcomes, and achievement of the ROI that the change was designed to accomplish.

2. Expertise

It’s essential for us to demonstrate deep knowledge and experience around the human aspects of implementing change. Our judgment and proficiency must exceed anything that could be provided by SMEs, valued sources, and influential resources. Otherwise, a trusted advisor relationship cannot be justified. The sponsor must recognize that we deliver not just useful guidance but wisdom (e.g., discerning, insightful, penetrating, and valuable change-related perspectives/recommendations).

3. Sponsor Focus

All our efforts must be fully in support of the sponsor’s fundamental goals. This means understanding and remaining true to the intended outcomes of the initiatives we work on, evaluating our success based on the sponsor’s success, and subjugating our ego (agenda, personal preferences, etc.) to what will be most helpful to him or her.

4. Integrity

We must display an extremely high level of candor at all times. Among other things, this means:

  • Being honest with ourselves and the sponsor
  • Speaking the truth with:

-  Directness: straightforward, unequivocal, crisp, and unambiguous

-  Understanding: empathetic, considerate, sensitive, and compassionate

    -  Accuracy: correct, proper, just, and meticulous
  • Openly declaring our biases, intentions, motives, etc.
  • Being authentic

-  “Embodying” what we promote (being a model for what we suggest the sponsor does)

    -  Maintaining congruency between what we think/feel and what is expressed/done
  • Standing firm despite adverse circumstances
  • Maintaining confidentiality (whether it is overtly requested or we apply discretionary  judgment)

Trusted advisors are expected to tell the truth regardless of the circumstances. Agents who are subject matter experts, valued sources, or even those who operate as influential resources may inadvertently (sometimes even intentionally) be less than candid. Although the motives for doing so may be based on caring for, or being protective of, the sponsor, nothing short of complete honesty will allow us to fulfill our prime directive—to help the sponsor make informed decisions. Truth telling should always be expressed with respect and kindness but never at the expense of failing to convey our genuine perspective on a situation.

This means we can’t stop with being “merely accurate” in our exchanges (This includes making statements that can later be defended as correct but that clearly lead the sponsor to a different conclusion than what full candor dictates.) Sponsors will grant trusted advisor status only to practitioners who consistently convey the truth of situations, not just accurate information.

5. Relationship Orientation

We must be willing and prepared to invest a significant amount of energy into the relationship. This kind of partnership calls for more than simply engaging in a pleasant collaboration with a likable client. It requires genuine caring, manifested in attentive listening, responsiveness, and availability when access to us is needed. It also requires a willingness to stay emotionally connected even when it is difficult to do so. The trusted advisor relationship represents a major mental, emotional, and physical investment on our part and should not be entered into lightly. Such expenditure must be from a commitment of the heart as well as the head. This will only happen if we are drawn to, and believe in, the sponsor and what he or she hopes to accomplish.

Which of these types of “currencies” is most difficult to earn? What other currencies can you think of that can help you gain trust with your sponsor?

Next: How Does a Trusted Advisor Act?

Posted on: April 21, 2010 08:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

How Influential Can a Change Agent Be?

Categories: Trusted Advisor


“Our distrust is very expensive.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

The sponsor-agent relationship is so important that just about everything we can hope to accomplish hinges on it. Without that relationship, our knowledge and skills are underutilized, poorly allocated, or worse, not called on at all.

It’s true that we work with and support the targets of change initiatives. We also work with advocates who want change but don’t have the ability to make it happen on their own, as well as with other internal or external agents. While our relationships with people in these roles are necessary and valuable, our key function is to serve the sponsor.

I recently wrote about the relationship challenges that change agents can experience with sponsors. In one post, I drew a distinction between being seen by sponsors as a partner, versus merely a vendor. Here, I want to say more about partnerships. Specifically, I want to talk about the upper end of the partnership scale—the trusted advisor.

As practitioners, we can relate to and partner with a sponsor at many different levels. There are five that I feel represent the least to the most influential. Each level adds to and builds on the level beneath it.

  • At the very bottom of the partnership scale are the opinion providerschange agents who offer a view based on their knowledge and experience, but without being given credence from the sponsor. The practitioner means well, but doesn’t have much influence, so his or her opinions aren’t very valuable to the sponsor.
  • At level two are the subject matter experts (SMEs), who offer “technical” perspectives and recommendations related to change facilitation. As long as SMEs focus primarily on technical issues (processes/procedures to follow, tools to use, techniques to apply, etc.), their opinions typically carry some weight with sponsors. SMEs offering guidance outside their narrow domain of expertise, however, usually find a cool reception. 
  • Next come the valued sourcespractitioners with more reputation and prestige than SMEs. They are respected for their change expertise to the point that they can exercise a great deal of impact with sponsors. Inside their sweet spot, they are routinely deferred to by even experienced sponsors. Their influence is more persuasive than that of a person just offering an opinion, or someone serving as a technical SME. However, if their perspectives or recommendations are too far from the ordinary, sponsors often want additional confirmation from other sources before their ideas are acted on.
  • Above valued sources are influential resources. These practitioners raise the persuasive bar yet again by fostering such respect and admiration for their opinions that their counsel is highly sought after. Their views are considered the standard by which others are measured. It is common for these practitioners to be referred to as masters of their craft, and as such, their advice is often acted on by sponsors without much deliberation or debate. Here, the power to persuade reaches heightened proportions. Because of this degree of credibility, sponsors seek out and highly value their evaluations and conclusions when there is significant risk to a change endeavor and the price for a misstep is costly.
  • At the top of the partnership scale are trusted advisors. These practitioners reach the pinnacle of credibility and reliability in their sponsor relationships. They incorporate all the respect and confidence granted to an influential resource, and they are also considered an integral part of the sponsor’s ongoing decision-making process. Both their proficiency in change facilitation and the practitioners themselves are viewed as essential to the sponsor’s future success. As such, the sponsor typically maintains an ongoing dialogue with the practitioner (frequency varies widely) rather than waiting until a change-related problem arises to call in the expert. In addition, this kind of access is often associated with a personal chemistry and comfort that adds a coaching/mentoring aspect to the relationship.

Every level provides value, if applied appropriately, with the exception of opinion provider, which falls below the threshold of influence necessary to offer meaningful advantages to a sponsor. At each new level, the practitioner’s ability to be persuasive with a sponsor increases significantly, with the trusted advisor relationship representing the highest level.

In this series, I am focusing on what’s entailed in being a trusted advisor to the sponsor, but this type of relationship is also appropriate with select change agents, and maybe even with a few targets and advocates. Trusted advisor relationships are powerful ways of connecting with clients, but they are also resource-consuming (for us and those we work with). It is impossible to have this kind of association with everyone, so we must be choosy about who we extend ourselves to. For this reason, most trusted advisor relationships are limited to sponsors and a few key agents.

Because this kind of relationship is rare, it’s important to exchange as much as possible with each other about our experiences as trusted advisors. I invite you to share what you have learned here so we can further our individual development and advance our craft in general. I am sure the collective wisdom of this blog community can help all of us raise our game to new heights. 

Next: Are You a Trusted Advisor?

Posted on: March 31, 2010 03:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

"A good composer is slowly discovered. A bad composer is slowly found out."

- Sir Ernest Newman