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.