The demand for Business Partners to add value and enable their internal clients to succeed has never been higher. As margins reduce, and operating costs are squeezed further, Business Partners are required to deliver more and demonstrate outstanding value.
Adding value comes in many shapes and sizes, but the true success of value delivery is built on more than the technical expertise offered by the Business Partner.
Genuine Business Partnering success is defined by a number of factors, and in this article we will take a high level look two of the more critical:
1. Developing high quality relationships
2. Moving from ‘subject matter expert’ to ‘expert collaborator’
Developing high quality relationships
This goes without saying, however the sad reality is that many relationships remain transactional 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.
There is one more factor that impacts on the nature of your relationships. Trust.
The reality is that 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.
We will be exploring trust in business partnering in a future article; however what's important to know is that 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. You will also find that the level of discretionary behaviour will be relative to the level of trust.
Moving from ‘Subject Matter Expert’ to ‘Expert Collaborator’
This is a key input and outcome of the first point. Business Partners who take a collaborative approach to their dealings with the business (input) will find that it is reciprocated (output).
This is 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 you are proving your worth at the same time. But it doesn’t work the other way around.
The most successful Business Partners are those who 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 internal clients and build a genuine connection that allows you to identify real needs. When we are busy focusing on what we know, and ensuring our clients know that we know our stuff, there isn’t much room for ‘on the level’ connection and collaboration.
Irrespective of whether you are a Business Partner, Internal Auditor or an Internal Consultant, 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. Ultimately it is as much about technical ability as it is how you do it and why you are doing it. We will continue an exploration of business partnering over the coming weeks with a deeper dive into some of the points raised in this article, and taking a look at working with the hidden dynamics and politics that can stifle partnering success.
No matter how big or small the change initiative that you’ve just implemented, the real proof of your success will be the degree to which the new way of working sticks. And as exact as we try to be with whatever model of change we apply, the reality is that change management is not a perfect science. With this in mind, how can we create the opportunity for higher levels of change success and embedding of new behaviours?
Summarised below are four principles of change that can support the sustainability of your change initiative. These can either be treated as the lens through which you view your change model, or applied in parallel with your change initiative.
1. Leadership Alignment
The most successful change initiatives are ‘led’ with intent. This is because the leaders involved with the change (either directly or indirectly) acknowledge the potency that comes with their leadership role and understand that what they say and do as an individual and a group is being watched. There is a genuine leadership value held and acknowledged by the group around what they need to be doing to support and embed the change. One of the most common derailers of change can be traced back to how aligned the leadership group were around the change. The key question here is; does the leadership group have a goal or vision for how they need to ‘be’ throughout the change process, and is there an agreed way of operating? Another key factor to consider is whether there is an awareness of the parental influence held by the leadership group. When this awareness doesn’t exist, we see inhibiting games played out; just like children like playing one parent off the other, our people will play one manager off another if it means that it will help delay the inevitable!
The heart and soul of any change initiative is the fact that we are expanding the frame of reference of those affected by the change. When we think of change, we typically think of the steps involved with whatever model we are applying - the skeletal system of the change. Important; but perhaps not as important as the central nervous system that coordinates everything else in helping us get from Point A to Point B.
When we get the fact that we are providing our people with a chance to expand their frame of reference, and that their frame of reference is constructed of their belief and values system, then we start to really understand the importance of even the smallest changes. In fact this is what could be considered the central nervous system of your change initiative.
3. Save Face
In conjunction with the above point, what’s absolutely important to keep top of mind is that you cannot force an attitude or behaviour to change. Remember that many people define themselves by what they do, and if you have people who have been successful, based on how they’ve performed a task over a long period of time, then the ability to help them move from Point A to Point B whilst saving face will be vital.
You can do this by:
The last point is related to the ‘what’s in it for me’ factor. As with any change, unless we know (or at least perceive), that there is a gain to be had from changing our behaviour then we are probably less likely to change at all – or at least willingly! A few things to keep in mind when thinking about how to pitch the benefits include:
The last word...
This is really about bringing your change initiative back to the human element. If we do this, then change and its stickability, doesn’t seem quite as daunting. The greatest variable in change isn’t the change process you adopt. The greatest variable is the people you want to bring on the journey…and the best part is that when we strip back the layers we are all made of the same stuff, and develop and grow as humans in the same way. So consider your people the way you’d like to be considered, and perhaps your change will stick a little better than it has before!
Successful expats are those who are able to achieve in the face of adversity. They are able to roll with the punches, and deal with change; in fact you could say that they tend to have a level of resilience that is more robust than normal.
So what does resilience look like through the eyes of a successful expat; and equally important, what can we learn from these people about resilience?
There are five things that they tend to possess, or do quite well, that equally applies to the success of any role. They:
1. Have self-confidence
2. Are able to tolerate frustration and discomfort
3. Know how to moderate their lifestyle and avoid burnout
4. Take emotional and behavioural responsibility
5. Are flexible
The combination of these attributes enables access to key resilient behaviours, such as:
Conflict management. The ability to resolve conflict becomes more effective when the blocks to assertiveness are confronted.
Time management and Productivity. Is optimised by dealing with avoidance and low frustration-tolerance.
Communication skills. These are improved, irrespective of the language barrier, or the working environment , when you are able to deal with the tension and low frustration-tolerance that arises from normal beliefs like: ‘I must look good/perform well in front of my new colleagues’; or ‘I should be able to communicate better’.
Cultural assimilation. The ability to remain self-confident in the face of language and everyday cultural barriers experienced in the office, or at home… and in an increasingly globalised workforce this is becoming an increasingly important attribute.
Probably the most important characteristic, which in many respects is a combination of the above attributes, is the ability for the successful expat to feel comfortable in their own skin despite the ambiguity and heady mix of work and lifestyle changes that surrounds them. The ability to understand their limits, seek to know what they don’t know and be prepared to share and work on this is what truly sets the successful expat aside from the expat who merely survives.
If you are an aspiring expat take note...these points will get you off on the right foot. If you aren’t an expat and simply want to enhance your levels of resilience then you can’t go past these points.