Become a trusted finance business partner

This article was originally co-authored by

7 August 2020

The trusted finance business partner

As a finance business partner, a key task is to transform data into insights and use this knowledge to influence decision-making to drive positive business impact. However, moving from data analysis to the realm of decision support and choice facilitation requires the ability to engage with critical stakeholders and build successful partnerships. Such partnerships require trust – an elusive feeling that doesn't always come easy.

The trust equation

Since finance people generally have an inclination to think in numbers, it is convenient that former Harvard Business School professor, writer and expert on business management practices David Maister has developed an equation that outlines the basics of trust.

The equation is a division with the sum of credibility, reliability and intimacy in the numerator and self-interest in the denominator. The underlying idea is that to increase your trustworthiness, you need to increase the three former factors and decrease the latter. Let us have a quick look at each element of the equation.

Trust can be expressed as the sum of credibility, reliability and intimacy divided by self-interest.

David Maister 

Credibility (+)

Credibility covers the extent to which the other party believes you have the necessary knowledge and expertise to make you capable of giving sound advice. In other words, the receiver of your message needs to believe that you know what you are talking about for them to trust your advice.

Credibility is established through the words you speak. You must be able to communicate your message clearly to come across as knowledgeable and thereby increase your level of trustworthiness.

Reliability (+)

Reliability is all about keeping your promises. That is, reliability is established when you deliver what you say you will and when you say you will. It is also about being informative and honest about what you are up to.

Reliability is established through your actions. It is not enough to have good intentions if you do not deliver on your promises. Actions speak louder than words, which in turn increases your level of trustworthiness.

Intimacy (+)

Intimacy covers your ability to leverage your EQ (emotional intelligence) to nurture your relationships. Humans are not entirely rational beings, and we tend to rely on our gut feeling about the people we meet. It is an inherently human trait to make emotional judgements even when emotions ought to be disregarded.

If you fail to establish a proper social bond, you can provide an abundance of clever and concise advice while the receiver disregards all of it due to his/her emotional judgement.

Intimacy is established when you can make people feel safe in your presence, which in turn increases your level of trustworthiness.

Self-interest (-)

Self-interest or self-orientation covers the extent to which people believe that you are acting out of egocentric/selfish motives. However credible, reliable and sociable (intimacy-creating) you are, it will all vanish if the other party believes that you are only trying to strengthen your own agenda. It is not enough to say the right things if the receiver believes you are saying it for the wrong reasons.

Perceived self-interest is diminished when you have the right focus. Your focus should be on the other person and how you can collaborate to ensure a mutually beneficial outcome – not solely on your personal agenda. Decreasing your self-interest will increase your level of trustworthiness.

Practical use of the trust equation

Most of us might agree to the logic of the trust equation on a theoretical level. However, like so many other theoretical concepts, applying the logic in practice can be difficult.

Considering these four questions before meeting new clients/stakeholders might help you get on the right track to building trust in your new relationship:

  • How can I introduce my credentials, references, experience and professional training without sounding condescending? (+Credibility)

  • How can I convey a realistic plan that allows the receiver to trust that we can deliver on time and within budget? (+Reliable)

  • How can I establish a common ground by engaging in a dialogue about common interests, beliefs or relations/friends? (+Intimacy)

  • How can I ensure that the receiver understands that I truly believe that I can help them reach their desired future state/outcome/result? (-Self-interest)

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