...the ideal of the ‘authentic’ relationship that we hear so much about in the Anglo leadership space is always relative to the willingness and ability of the people involved to be vulnerable.
Trust gained through being vulnerable is not a natural preference for those of us in the Anglo world, but it is probably the door through which we can stand to gain the most in our business and personal relationships.
Based on the national culture research of Prof Geert Hofstede, we know that close to three quarters of the world is Collectivist. In other words…it’s about ‘we’ instead of ‘me’. Group harmony is a central theme, and trust is built based on ‘who’ you are as much (if not more than) ‘what’ you do. There is a level of implicit vulnerability in this way of being as it means sharing who you are, spending time ‘being’ with others, listening, and putting your own wants, needs and desires to one side whilst you consider and value the wants, needs and desires of the group. Based on this description, you can probably guess that Asia, the Middle East and pockets of Eastern Europe and South America fall into this dimension of culture. It is also said that how you are introduced to a work group in Asia or the Middle East, is critical, because the work group is seen as an extension of the family group. You aren’t just being introduced to any other team, you are being introduced to ‘my’ team; my ‘family’.
This is not a natural way of being for Individualist cultures such as Australia, New Zealand, the US, Canada or the UK. In an Individualist culture ‘it’s about me not we’! It’s about me being acknowledged for my needs, wants and desires. Alongside this is the focus we have on the task and achieving the task, often at the expense (or in spite of) the relationship. It’s little wonder that most money made in team building is probably made in Individualist countries!
However, it’s also important to note that neither the Collectivist or Individualist way is better than the other. They are what they are and work still gets done; but when the cultures come together in a highly multi-cultural society or in global teams, understanding this concept, and knowing how to adapt your approach, can be a career-saver!
Beyond this though, in the Anglo business world we also know that vulnerability is a concept, and practice, that can help bind a team and lift performance in a mono-culture environment. How do we know this? Look at the focus on helping leaders learn how to engage with their people through development programs and executive/leadership coaching. Consider the metrics we see in engagement surveys that focus on trust and the way leaders create environments conducive to trust and engagement. Are we in effect asking our leaders to consider some Collectivist practices and create the feeling of family? A place where we may not always like each other, but we have a relationship built over time that allows us to relax our individual boundaries, share what we really think, what really motivates us or scares us?
The heart of genuine engagement is about being able to move beyond being on task with each other. It’s about being able to relax our boundaries, and to experience connection and true collaboration based on a platform of professional intimacy.
And therein lies both the dilemma and the opportunity...the ideal of the ‘authentic’ relationship that we hear so much about in the Anglo leadership space is always relative to the willingness and ability of the people involved to be vulnerable.
The VUCA Business Partner
Business Partners exist right throughout an organisation. Some roles are explicitly named a Business Partner, whilst other roles carry the implicit expectation that they are partners. HR, Talent Acquisition, Procurement, Finance, IT and many more; the larger and more complex an organisation the more partners exist. And the demand for Business Partners to add value and enable their internal clients to succeed has never been higher. Under normal circumstances, we know that as margins reduce, and operating costs are squeezed, Business Partners are required to deliver more and demonstrate outstanding value for the business.
But what about today, in the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world of Covid-19? Where teams are dispersed and managers are leading in new ways and ways that they may not even want to be leading. Where dealing with your supply chain has just become a little harder due to no access to raw materials or small suppliers closing down. When the requirements of your existing labour agreements don't quite fit the 'new normal'.
This is when the true value of a Business Partner is seen. And this can only be realised if the Business Partner understands that high value delivery is built on more than just their technical expertise.
Genuine Business Partnering success is defined by a number of factors, and in the fast moving pace that we are in today, there are two that stand out and play a vital role:
1. Developing high quality relationships
2. Moving from ‘subject matter expert’ to ‘expert collaborator’
Your technical expertise as a Business Partner is your safety net. That's what you are there for. What's more important though is how you deliver that expertise in a fast moving, uncertain and ambiguous setting. Below we explore the idea of quality relationships and being an expert collaborator in more detail.
Develop high quality relationships
This goes without saying, and unfortunately we know there are relationships that remain transactional at best allowing only a fraction of the potential value to be realised by both parties. You could say that a quality relationship is one where there is discretionary thinking and behaviour seen from both the Business Partner and the groups that they support. For example, a tendering team ‘wanting’ the Procurement Partner being involved at the very start of discussions regarding a possible bid to allow early planning, exploration and anticipation of possible solutions, rather than waiting until the tendering process actually commences.
In today's environment you will need to work smarter to build a quality relationship. That's a fact. It doesn't need to be harder, as there are many tools available for collaborating online and plenty of development opportunities available to help you pick up those skills if you don't have them. But you will need to be more disciplined and structured than previously, and not just rely on your technical expertise to get you through. Remember, you aren't meeting in an office environment free of distraction. You are working with colleagues who may be home-schooling their kids, dealing with reduced family income, fighting for space in a small home environment. Now more than ever, you are having to take the 'whole' person into account when developing a relationship that can deliver value.
There is one more factor that impacts on the quality of your relationships. Trust.
As mentioned above, in most cases there is no question about the technical expertise of a Business Partner. However if trust doesn’t exist, then the credibility of the technical message is diluted from the outset, which in turn erodes the quality of the relationship.
Trust in business partnering can be considered a bundle of many items. What and how you communicate, the intent of your relationship (see the next point), how you respect and build the relationship, your presence (looks, demeanour) and your track record for delivery. So think about all of these factors through a virtual trust-building lens. Your physical presence is limited, so should you increase the frequency of small touch points? And if you weren't a strong communicator before, then you will need find ways to work with this now. Explore the different mediums available to you. Be in touch with your own feelings and mindset to ensure you are communicating in the most effective way possible. If you are feeling down or frustrated, be aware of this and know that this will impact your communication. If you are not a morning person then don't schedule things for the morning unless you have to. Play to your strengths...and go out of your way to learn more about the 'whole' person you are partnering with to ensure you are aligning as much as possible.
Moving from ‘Subject Matter Expert’ to ‘Expert Collaborator’
In a VUCA environment like today, collaboration needs to be a central pillar to our way of operating. It is the most optimal way of getting things done when resources are as spread out as our perceptions on how things need to happen. Key capabilities that support this are:
This is also about how you approach your role as a Business Partner. Do you come from the ‘one up’ expert position, or are you ‘on the level’ with your internal stakeholders? A key question here is ‘why’ are you business partnering? Are you doing it to prove your worth (or show how much you know), or to add value to your client? Once you get that it is about adding value to your client (from an ‘on the level’ position), you will quickly see that your worth is being felt - whether it is remotely, or beyond today, in whatever form the future of work takes.
The most successful Business Partners are those who draw on the above factors and are able to transition from being a ‘subject matter expert' to 'expert collaborator'. This is about being confident in your technical knowledge to the extent that you can relax with your clients and build a genuine connection that allows you to identify real needs. Part of this relaxation also extends to being comfortable with who you are as a partner, and therefore being comfortable with the fact that you may not always get it right the first time. If we are completely hung up on those times when we make mistakes we fail to to the most important thing...learn from them. Really good collaborators are as tolerant of others as they are of themselves. If you aren't good at this, start learning how to do this sooner rather than later!
Now is the Time for Business Partners to Stand Up and Shine
Irrespective of whether you are a Procurement, HR, Legal, Talent or Audit partner, the role of the Business Partner (and its many variations), isn’t always easy and at times it can be frustrating for both the partner and the business. At the same time, the value offered by Business Partners who can build quality relationships is remarkable, and considered highly productive by both the Business Partner and their internal clients. And that was under 'normal' circumstances.
Today that value is needed even more. The Business Partner in a VUCA environment is a key contributor to decisions that are being made for the first time. And whilst they too are experiencing these conditions for the first time at speed, Business Partners are expected to be one step ahead and shaping the path for their client and bringing advice that makes a difference. Now is the time that Business Partners will shine. Now is the time of the VUCA Business Partner.
Click here to learn more about our VUCA Business Partner course.
Over the past couple of weeks, despite the Covid-19 impact on our world, many organisations are still going ahead with plans to build engaged and winning teams using virtual means rather than face to face.
And that is great news! What this means is that there is still a mindset in organisations and amongst leaders that getting your team on the same page, connected and engaged is still a priority.
In fact, I’d go one step further and suggest that these activities are more important today for the most obvious reason that we are forced to be physically distant. But just because you can’t be physically in the same space doesn’t mean you can’t go a good way down the track to building an engaged team. The quality of online sharing technology is such that there is almost no excuse for not being able to check-in on each other or share and create rituals that are good for you and the team.
However if you are looking for something that operates at a deeper level, that you would normally get from an in-person event where there is the ability to be in the same place to workshop your rules of engagement and shared values over a couple of days, you may come up a little short. The reality is that part of our decision making when it comes to building trust and closeness is driven by our ability to see, hear and experience each other in a group context. We only get part of that picture when we are seeking to do this virtually; we get it in snapshots from the waist up and in individual contexts without being able to see and experience the interplay and dynamic between people. As we know it’s the dynamic that we are working with to create the foundation for resilient and sustainable relationships.
So, what can we do to build engaging teams in this era of remote working?
The good news is that we can still build fantastic rapport in the team. We can still lay the groundwork for resilient relationships and an engaged team. And if your team has been together for a while before having to work remotely, then there’s a pretty good chance with the right guidance that you can maintain the momentum and levels of engagement that exist in your team.
Below are three principles to apply when thinking about your next virtual teaming event. They are principles I apply and that I’ve seen others apply to good effect:
Accept that it’s just going to look and feel different.
-This may be more targeted towards facilitators and those who lean towards being perfectionists, who love an event that looks and feels a certain way and delivers a known outcome. Accepting that it will be virtual and still yield good outcomes is a perceptual hurdle to get over, but once you do you will be glad you continued down this path.
Put time into your planning and communications for the event.
-You will need to plan more than you do for a face to face event. Contrary to popular belief, virtual does not mean less effort. Put the time aside to thoroughly plan your event and to rethink your event through a virtual lens. Once you have your agenda and the activities, a great idea is to visualise how you see the event playing out. Run through the agenda and activities with a colleague – test them out – do they work in a virtual sense? Do they deliver what they are designed to achieve?
-You will also need to communicate more than usual. For many people, teaming events can be uncomfortable under normal circumstances, coupled with the fact that you are doing this in a different way which represents change. Think through how you communicate this event, how you engage your participants before, during and after the event. You may even need to apply some of the principles of change communication given that we are not only asking people to do something they may not be comfortable with, but they may also be resistant towards as well.
Apply the Formula: 2 Days F2F = 2 Months PTT
-As mentioned above, we don’t expect that a virtual activity will deliver the depth of connection that a day or two in person will. But it can if you reframe it and apply the following formula:
1 day F2F = 1 months PTT (Planned Teaming Touchpoints).
For every day you would spend in a face to face teaming event, plan one month of team touch points beyond your virtual teaming activity. Design them so they link back to the initial teaming event, and so they build on from each other.
I hope this has been a useful piece of guidance for those who are designing or facilitating virtual teaming events for the first time. I will also leave you with a personal mantra of my own that I find very useful in these circumstances:
In January I wrote about the importance of taking the time to engage with your people. And that was just before our world was tipped upside down by Covid-19!
Upon reflection, the suggestions for taking the time to engage with your people are probably more relevant today, even though it feels as though one hand is tied behind your back in terms of freedom to connect. But it is still very possible to maintain the quality of your relationships despite the enforced distance; in fact ask any leader who has successfully led a high performing virtual team and they will gladly tell you it's possible.
Now, we know that not everyone signed up for being a remote leader, and I'm sure there are some who find it difficult enough being a leader of people when you are in the same place! We've all been there at some point, so you aren't alone. But the reality is you're not alone now either, because we are here, only a phone call or email away for a chat and the opportunity to pick our brains. You have the experience of the Ponte Valle team at your fingertips to help guide you through this interesting leadership time.
But there are some things you can be doing right now that are reflective of that article I wrote back in January. They are:
Value your 1:1’s with your team and what they represent. You can still have meaningful 1:1's with your team even though there is distance. In fact right now, your ability to maintain your 1:1's and to have meaningful conversations may be a lifesaver for your team members as much as it is for you.
Be interested in your team members. Not everyone will be coping well with social-isolation, and we know that for some people the ability to connect with others is critical; not just because they may be a 'people-person' and more extroverted, but because they may also be prone to depression when they are cut off from social connection. At our very core all of us like to be acknowledged for for 'who' we are and not just 'what' we are doing. So make your 1:1's or team member touch points frequent, and really do check in on them - ask how they are doing - don't just ask what they are doing.
Create opportunities for connection in the team. This point remains the same. Create those opportunities that allow the team to come together and share on a values level. Most people are comfortable sharing about the things that give them enjoyment; and this is the level of sharing that removes the superficial layers and boundaries and opens the door to genuine connection.
If you’d like to know more about the ways in which you can build a more engaging 'remote' leadership style, view our Engaging Leadership Resources, or join our next Lead 2 'Remotely' Engage leadership course.