Title: The Trusted Advisor
Authors: David Maister, Charles Green and Robert Galford
Reviewed by Alan Warner, MTP plc
This is not a new book but thirteen years after publication, it is still to be found in book stores. Also the wonders of Kindle and iBooks mean that we now have far easier access to works like this that pass the test of time. My reason for choosing this book for review is that Maister’s ideas have seen a revival because of the increased development of the Business Partnering concept in major companies. In MTP’s dealings with clients and other contacts with interest in this area, we have come across a number of favourable references to Maister’s concept of the Trusted Advisor, which is the title and central theme of the book.
It is true that the authors regard their main focus as professional selling but the content fits surprisingly well into the context of Business Partnering, including those operating within the Finance and IT Functions. Indeed the messages seem just as relevant as the work of David Ulrich who specialises in Business Partnering though, in fairness, Ulrich has never claimed that his frameworks apply outside the specific HR context.
As might be gathered from the title, the authors regard trust as the essential ingredient in any successful business interaction, the ultimate goal for anyone who wants to be listened to. Maister and his co-authors are very much into frameworks that can easily be recognised and applied. Early on he refers to the four stages of a business relationship, moving through different bases as the partnership matures, from service to needs to relationship and finally to the ultimate goal of mutual trust.
We had already seen this four stage framework in our work on Finance Business Partnering but had not come across his other powerful framework – the ‘Trust Equation’ – before. This seems to be both ingenious and insightful, containing the four essential factors in the establishment of trust – Credibility, Reliability, Intimacy and Self-orientation. As you read the last of these four factors you feel that you want to challenge the framework because surely self-orientation is the last thing you need in a trusting relationship. But this is where the ingenuity comes in; the equation requires the first three elements – C, R and I – to be divided by S for self-orientation so that the lower the S, the higher the T for Trust. So the message is to think of the needs of others rather than self, an obvious point but one that is well made.
I was less keen on his five stage sequential process for trust building – engage, listen, frame, envision, commit – because it implies that there is a logical progression in building relationships, when clearly each one will be different and may require flexible approaches. It also implies that the other parties are passively waiting for you to go through the five stages at your order and pace, when in reality they may have their own agenda and process.
The book is also strong on practical tips to apply content. The chapter on listening skills is excellent and ends with 23 tips for good listening and 10 pitfalls to avoid. This may seem over the top but it is all good common sense stuff. The book is also easy to read and of reasonable length, about 200 pages. Indeed most of the useful content for those interested in Business Partnering is in the first 120 pages. After this point there is a closer link to the selling process though the reader should not miss the final chapter which contains more practical guidance via a ‘quick impact list to gain trust’. Some of this content is cheesy and blindingly obvious but there are also some memorable pieces of advice that any sales person or business partner should follow. I particularly liked ‘never over-deliver or under-deliver, just deliver’ and ‘assigning blame will entrap me, taking responsibility will empower me’.
This book is highly recommended for those who want to improve their business relationships with partners and customers, internal and external. It is perhaps a strength that Maister adopts a client selling orientation because that is what, to a large extent, business partnering is about. And many of those that we see in service functions like HR, Finance and IT are having to come to terms with this challenge. This book will help them along the way.