This article continues our exploration of business partnering, focusing on one of the key pillars of being a successful Business Partner; Trust.
There are two words that clearly define what it means to be a Trusted Business Partner; intensity and involvement.
Intensity and Involvement
You know you are achieving trust in the partnering relationship when you are experiencing a higher degree of discretionary involvement in key decisions, and mostly ahead of time. Discretionary because there is a willingness by the business to pull you into the conversations rather than you having to find ways to push your way in. The conversations are more intimate by nature and tend to be of greater intensity. In other words, moving away from the more ritualistic and transactional conversations to those that are more creative and strategic.
So where is the link with trust?
Quite simply, whilst ever your relationship is transactional and reactive, neither party is giving or receiving a great deal. You could say that it is a safe relationship, but not necessarily engaging for either party. The other end of the scale is a higher risk place for both parties; but the potential return for the relationship and the business is far greater. Rather than being reactive and pulled in at the last minute, or after the fact, and put in a position to make the most of the decisions that have been made around you, you are in the middle of the those decisions. A trusted relationship will see you invited to contribute to key decisions or to make recommendations ahead of time. The risk is greater because you are working to a certain extent with the unknown, and providing guidance that may not come off the way you plan. In other words you are putting yourself out there; laying your professional self bare by sharing what you think about something that quite possibly hasn’t happened yet. That’s a scary proposition in many respects for most people; and that’s what makes this a higher risk place to be. But anyone who has operated from this position will tell you the rewards are much higher – especially when things go to plan. And in those moments when things don’t go plan? You will find that the failure will be offset by the fact that you came from a place of experience and credibility.
So how do we reach the position of trusted in a partnering relationship? There are two dimensions of activity to be considered; above the line behaviours, and below the line thinking.
Above the Line Behaviours
Above the line behaviours are the things we do or say that impact everything from creating first impressions, through to role modelling and reinforcing outcomes we are hoping to achieve. To move to a position of trust, there are a few key behavioural considerations to take into account:
How you ‘turn up’. Remember that first impressions count, and whilst you don’t want to be giving up who you are, there is an element of alignment that needs to occur between who you are, and who your client is (and where they are), to establish the first non-verbal elements of rapport. Really good business partners know that building trust and a relationship commences before they’ve even opened their mouth. An important element of your first impression is the ‘pre-first impression’. You may be meeting an internal client for the first time; but what reputation are you bringing with you? Are you known for a solid, dependable level of delivery or a hit and miss track record. Your reputation, and pre-first impression should be top of mind and this is especially true for internal business partners where the ability for your internal clients to connect, gossip and share experiences is much easier than it is if you were dealing with external clients. This all forms part of the package that will walk through the office door of your new client.
What you do. This is about the things we do to maintain a surface level of connection and credibility despite the way we may be feeling or what we think about a situation. There are many times when we may feel anxious about a situation, be highly excited or be strongly against a proposed course of action. However it is our ability to connect with what we think and feel, make sense of it, and then choose a credible behaviour that allows a constructive dialogue to continue that makes the difference. Too often I’ve seen business partners shoot from the hip with how they feel or what they think, only to see a situation sour, rather than taking a moment to acknowledge what’s going on for them internally and then decide a healthy course of action. Part of this element is about the consistency with which you do what you do; which feeds into the pre-first impression mentioned in the above point. There is a kind of relativity that exists between consistency and trust that we’ve all experienced. The higher the consistency in performance over time the higher the trust. The cumulative effect of consistent performance also means that when you have dips in performance, as we all do from time to time, they are just that…dips that are understood and more easily recovered from.
Below the Line Thinking
This element drives ‘how’ you do what you do. Do you partner from a place of cynicism and suspicion or from a place of openness and transparency? Is your approach about one upmanship and always knowing better, or do you come from a position of collaboration and shared learning? Are you solutions-focused and proactive in your thinking and behaviour or do you wait until an issue arises to be pulled into a situation? These are all different ways in which Business Partners can be perceived, and they are all directly impacted by 'how' you partner.
How you do what you do is critical in building trust; you want to be pulling people towards you and not pushing them away. Whilst your above the line behaviours certainly have a role to play in this, the core driver comes from your below the line thinking. For this reason, it’s really no surprise that one of the best ways to develop yourself professionally as a Business Partner is to develop yourself personally; in particular developing your self-esteem and emotional intelligence. These two aspects of ‘self’ are fundamental to how you connect and work with others. As you develop these areas you will find it easier to drop your guard enough to trust that those around you don’t want to pick holes in your ideas or recommendations (and if they do that’s ok too because you can keep it about the task and not make it personal).
Role modelling is another aspect of below the line thinking that builds trust in your relationship, and impacts your pre-first impression. The outcomes we achieve in business are often the result of how the transaction occurred rather than the fact that it did. If you have internal clients who are struggling to achieve the results they want in other parts of their role, your ability to role model different ways of thinking and behaviour to achieve a result in your relationship may open their eyes to how they can create healthier relationships in other parts of their life. You then represent much more than a subject matter expert; you are a trusted partner - they have taken the risk of trying something different based on what you have brought to the relationship. That takes trust.
It Starts with You
The journey towards being a trusted Business Partner is one of growth and development in and of itself. The experiences you will encounter, both good and bad, are opportunities to be learned from and folded into your partnering tool kit. There will be times when the journey is tough; but they will pale against the moments of enjoyment and fulfillment that you will experience as a trusted partner. Above all, it starts with you; if you don't believe in what you are doing, your clients won't either. Trust yourself that you can make a difference - and your journey towards becoming a Trusted Business Partner has commenced.
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.