Becoming the Trusted Business Partner

Business Partners play a critical role in many organisations, and some of the best I’ve experienced are those who are invited to the important discussions ahead of time to contribute to decisions.  They aren’t left out until it’s too late…and then need to clean up the mess whilst thinking ‘why wasn’t I included in this conversation in the first place?’ 

Do those partners do anything special. Anything different?  Well, yes, they do. 

Let your experience and knowledge be your safety net

Firstly, they are competent in the area they specialise.  That may seem like a no-brainer; but the role of a Business Partner is first and foremost about bringing specialised knowledge to the parts of the business that they support.  Being knowledgeable and experienced also plays a special role in countries considered to be Individualist where the door to trust is opened through competence and delivering on what is expected of us.  Those countries include the Anglo, Scandinavian and Germanic clusters of countries.  But that’s only part of the equation.  That’s the ‘what’. The ‘content’.  What about the ‘how’…the means by which we deliver our knowledge and experience?  This is where the difference lies between good and great Business Partners. 

The difference between good and great Business Partners – curiosity

The ‘how’ has a couple of elements to it, but if we are talking about how we build trust to the point that we are actively engaging, and being engaged, in the business, then we really want to be focusing on the idea of building a rapport that, over time, creates a resilience in your relationship.  Our safety net is our technical expertise, so relax on that front and take the time to get to know your stakeholders and their part of the business. Listen to their stories.  Be interested without feeling the need to be interesting.  And that right there can be one of the early mistakes of a Business Partner.  We feel the need to push our knowledge, rather than seeing it as our safety net. The business, and your stakeholders know why you are there; so invest in being curious.  Let your stakeholders talk, and leverage off their contributions.  Listen for what is being said and what’s not being said.  Often, it’s what’s not said that allows us to address a hidden need, or something that is bubbling away below the surface.  And of course, as we hear their stories, we can be taking mental notes on how we can be aligning and suggesting how we can engage with the business.  If we lead with interest, more often than not, that interest is returned; and the process of rapport naturally occurs.  But there will be those we partner with who just aren’t interested in establishing a rapport and just want a service provider.   

Or that’s how it seems on the surface. 

Becoming a highly effective Business Partner

Highly effective Business Partners don’t assume that the business knows ‘how’ to work with them.  And that is an important thing to understand. Sometimes we need to lead a little on that front and create some experiences that allow your stakeholders to see how the partnership can work.  Even better, when you are first assigned to partner with a leader and their function, arrange an up-front meeting where you can iron out some of the ‘working together’ details.  Share your expectations on how you see working together, including what good collaboration looks like and when you expect to be included in conversations.  It’s better to create this shared awareness right from the start and eliminate as many of the surprises, and disappointments, right from the outset. 

Play for the long game

Finally, play for the long game.  Trust builds over time.  In fact it needs time. It doesn’t mean you aren’t delivering, but it also doesn’t mean you aren’t creating any pressure for a relationship to build ahead of its time. In fact the more we try to force the development of trust over a short time (or just expect it to be there!) the more likely we are to push our stakeholders away from us and no one wins. 

  • Let your experience and knowledge be your safety net. 
  • Be curious. 
  • Don’t assume you know how to work together. 
  • Play the long game.

Ponte Valle Insight: Becoming the Trusted Business Partner

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