- Emily McCowan
Part three in my Architect Soft Skills Series is about building trust. To see all of the other posts in this series, click on the soft skills tag.
Architects usually don't have a lot of concrete authority, or sign-off on a project - which means to succeed in your architect role, especially as a consultant or contractor, you need to build influence with your client and the team. To influence people you need to first gain their trust.
With all of the variety and constant change that comes with consulting, I'm regularly having to position myself with a new client, and earn their trust - something that can be hard to get right, but when you do, that is when magic happens.
When a client trusts you, and you deliver on that trust - *chef's kiss*
Obstacles to Trust
There are many things that might stop someone from trusting you - I want to call out a couple that are outside of your locus of control, but that will get in your way nonetheless.
Once Bitten, Twice Shy
You're probably not the first consultant that your client has worked with, nor will you be the last. Sometimes - fairly often, actually - engagements go wrong, to varying levels of "wrong". That's not always the fault of the consultant/s, but that doesn't really matter - ultimately it can leave clients wary of putting trust in consultants again in future.
From day one on an engagement, I'm conscious that the client is paying for my time, and you can bet they are conscious of it, too. Establishing an open, trusting relationship with your client takes time and shared experiences - that's tricky when your time is limited and you want to be going at 100km/hr straight out of the gate!
So how do you gain your client's trust, quickly - when they might not actually want to trust you, and time is ticking?
The Trust Equation
Now let's talk about what is within your locus of control.
The Trusted Advisor has a Trust Equation which I think breaks down the components of building trustworthiness really well. I'm going to explain this equation in my own words here, but please click this link to read the original as well!
The Trust Equation from The Trusted Advisor
Credibility is the measure of how well equipped you are to do the work you're assigned to do.
One quick way to establish credibility is through industry certification. For example, Salesforce CTAs are automatically viewed as highly credible - by those in the Salesforce ecosystem who know what that certification means, at least. So get those certs and display them proudly on your professional-social profiles, and in your client-facing resume.
Another way to establish credibility is prior experience. Being able to call on projects you've worked on in the past, with similar product sets, and ideally for a similar industry or even a direct competitor of your current client. Don't be shy to talk about this prior experience in meetings and workshops with your client, when it naturally arises, of course - don't be awkward.
Reliability is a simple one. You need to demonstrate that you will do what you say you will do, when you say you will do it. The little things add up - be on time to meetings, come prepared, and follow up on actions promptly.
I can also recommend generally taking a humble, always-moving-things-forward approach to client work. I might be the lead architect on a multi-million dollar Salesforce implementation - and that might sound impressive put in those words, I'm really just another person on the team helping to deliver on the engagement outcomes.
I'm not afraid to help everyone on the team with their actions, from meeting minutes to getting hands on with build. Keep an eye on your own priorities, but if you can see someone else on the project team is struggling - be they the client, or your fellow consultants - and you have some capacity, jump in and help get things done. People will notice, and your whole team looks good.
Intimacy is about building those open, honest relationships with your clients. It's more than just asking them about their weekend, or having a beer with them on a Friday arvo. It's about understanding what drives them as a person - what their goals are, what scares them, and what excites them.
Building an intimate relationship with someone takes vulnerability. To get vulnerability, you have to give vulnerability. Go first and prove that you are trustworthy by being honest and vulnerable with your client. Tell them your goals, your fears, and what excites you. Keep it professional but don't mistake professionalism for being cold or walled off.
Does your client think you're putting your own interests ahead of theirs? No matter how credible or reliable you are, nor how intimate your relationship is with them, being seen to act in your own self-interest before the interest of your client will carve away at your trustworthiness "score".
People can sniff this one out instinctively, which makes sense, because I guess in caveman times this would have been a real survival trait.
Put simply - you must authentically put your clients interests before your own. This doesn't mean you put your interests dead last, though. In a roundabout way, by putting your client's interests first - and almost as importantly, being seen by your client as doing so - is actually acting in your own, long-term self-interest.
An example is if your client asks you about implementing a product for them, when you can see the product they have requested is not the best fit, or you are not able to implement it. You will lose an easy sale in the short term, but in the long term you will earn trust, which is so much more valuable. Next time you do recommend a product and say you can implement it, your client will trust that, because they know you'll tell them honestly when it's not right or your team does not have the right capability.
It's not enough to be technically brilliant to build trust, which is fundamental to your success as an architect - that's just the first part of the equation. You must be credible, and you must be reliable, and you must forge open & deep relationships with people, and ensure your client knows you're not putting your own interests ahead of theirs. It's not easy, but with practice it becomes second nature.
If you have any questions, or comments, as always feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @heyemilyhay.