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:

  • Being a good listener.  It’s the best way to hear what is needed.
  • Reading between the lines. It’s the best way to ‘really’ hear what’s needed.
  • Being an exceptional connector and networker.  It’s how we bring exponential value.

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.

Ponte Valle Insight: The VUCA Business Partner

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