In our business relationships, there are many positions and responsibilities that are traditionally considered “supporting” roles to the core parts of the business. They may provide financial services, IT services, technical training, talent acquisition and more. They may perform analyses and gather data insights as a foundation for key business decisions. They may be part of the internal team, or they may be an external professional services firm. When revenues are down and budgets are tight, these groups may also feel the pinch of cutbacks faster than other groups whose functions are considered more critical. In some respect, supporting functions continually strive to justify the added value they bring. But often, having a supporter relationship is not enough. Businesses need a partnership.
Supporter relationships are evidenced by business interactions that are more transactional. Supporters focus more on what they are getting, rather than what they are giving. Supporters emphasize the importance of clients’ understanding and valuing their expertise. They tend to receive more crisis calls as a reactionary response from the businesses because something hasn’t turned out as expected.
Partnership relationships are evidenced by a shared investment and mutual interest in business results. Partners are engaged with business leaders and contacts. They proactively take the pulse of the business to understand what’s working well and what isn’t. They place more focus more on how they’re helping the business than what they’re getting out of it.
Supporters and partners may show up in many different environments.
- When you need to staff up a new team from scratch you know you have a supporter when your talent acquisition contact begins by talking about all the processes you must follow and information you must provide for them to find candidates. A partner begins by asking you questions about your business, your objectives, the skill sets needed, your priorities and your operating style.
- When you need to update the systems used to run your business, you know you have a supporter when the sales representative tries to convince you that her system will meet your needs. A partner is a business consultant who tries to understand your business, identify your needs, help you improve your processes and results and then provides a system to align with that.
If you want to ensure that the services you provide form a partnership with your colleagues, there are five important principles to follow.
- Understand the business. Instead of focusing on how well colleagues understand the value you provide, focus on understanding their work. Learn their business processes, challenges and issues. Study their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Read their professional journals and articles. Interact with their stakeholders. Review their metrics and understand which levers drive improvement. Know the decision makers’ styles and preferences. Study the culture. When you can talk their language, they begin to consider you as one of them.
- Build trust. Understand the behaviors necessary to build their trust, and simultaneously how quickly it can be destroyed. Listen for topics that they’re passionate about to understand their motivations. Encourage them in their work. Use body language like leaning in, mirroring their physical positioning and appropriate facial expressions to demonstrate genuine interest as you discuss the business. Repeat what they’ve said to demonstrate listening skills and ensure you understand it.
- Build credibility. Continually build your suite of professional tools to be able to correctly identify and meet the needs of the business. Avoid the temptation to brag but share your past success stories with them as examples of the types of work you’ve performed. Then find problems and solve them. This is the fastest way to gain recognition.
- Practice collaboration. Work with them on a process to gain a desired result. This means you’re able to interact with a variety of personalities and leverage those differences for a greater good.
- Demonstrate accountability. A true partner holds a shared responsibility for outcomes. Your input is sought because you’ve already built a relationship that values your ideas. You clearly communicate your objectives and meet your agreed upon timetables. You deliver on promises made, celebrate wins with them and mourn losses when necessary.
Remember, even if you’re the only resource with your particular expertise available to your business colleagues, behaving like a partner will strengthen the relationship and lead to benefits in accomplishing your organizational objectives.