Vendor Relationships: TRUST must be EARNED and SUSTAINED

Vendor Relationship Critical Partnership Element #5: Demonstration of Trust and Integrity

I recently ran an informal poll on LinkedIn that asked a relatively simple question:

Today’s IT leaders depend on a plethora of new players to drive change. What should CXOs most look for in a partner?

Here are the results ….

Webster’s dictionary defines trust as the “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.” A favorite quote sums up the importance of this small word.

“Trust is like an eraser, it gets smaller and smaller after every mistake.”

Thus, it was no surprise to me that so many people in my poll rated this element as the most important trait to look for in a partner.

I’ve blogged on some of the elements that garnered the least votes but the most comments as being “table stakes”. To cover this important Trust element, which tied for first place, I’ve invited John Vincent, a founder of Broadgate Consultants Ltd based in London, to guest blog. In his post below, John speaks of an equation used in assessing trust and highlights a critical point that Trust is not easy to come by. Trust, he says, must be both earned and sustained. If you are a vendor or IT partner, I’m hoping his perspective will help you keep YOUR trust “eraser” nice and strong. If you are a CXO, I hope it helps you know what to look for in assessing and building relationships with your partners.

I pledge to listen harder.In Relationship,

Adam


“TRUST must be EARNED and SUSTAINED”

By John Vincent, Broadgate Consultants Ltd.

Recently Adam L. Stanley (@ALSWharton) ran a very interesting poll on LinkedIn around the theme of technology change with the question, “What should CXOs most look for in a partner?” (See above for results). Of the 5 categories, ranked equal first alongside Implementation and Execution was Demonstration of Trust and Integrity, with 43%. It is this theme that I’d like to explore.

To be truly considered a trusted advisor to clients and colleagues the status has be both earned and sustained. At the optimal level, it is a symbiotic relationship between CXO and partner i.e. “A relationship of mutual benefit or dependence”. So many times we see this relationship distorted or the balance skewed, such as contracts where the partner either “buys the deal” or has commercials tied down to a level to which they cannot deliver. Familiar? Or global partner agreements that are driven from a success in one business domain which is then “shoe-horned” into a non-fit for purpose world. Seen that?

The Trust EquationTrust

The Trust equation talks about it being the sum of Credibility, Reliability and Intimacy divided (or diluted) by Self Orientation. It is a good general measure. Without going into the mechanics and metrics, let’s look at the constituent parts.

Credibility

This area is most commonly achieved in a relatively moderate amount of time. The quantitative aspects, or believability, can be established through demonstrating technical capability and advice, or checked through references etc… The softer side, such as honesty, is more related to comfort and rapport. In the survey it is also strongly related to Integrity. In the CXO – Partner relationship this can be eroded through traits such as over exaggeration, anticipating needs rather than listening to the problems and promising, or over stating, capability which doesn’t exist. I saw a colleague a few months ago who had moved from the client to the supply side – she was very unhappy at the practice of claiming non-existent service capability and subsequently resigned.

Reliability

It is taken as given that partners should be reliable, demonstrate consistent behaviours and be dependable. Right? However, the CXO vocabulary is littered with anecdotes of partnership agreements gone bad. We hear a lot of talk of the “A Team” at the outset being swapped for the “C Team” during execution. Or surprise that the bread-and-butter services of some of the big partner firms turn out to be far from expectations or developed “on the job”. And remember it’s not uni-directional. Reliability also applies to the client side in the relationship. For an effective and efficient model there are obligations on both sides. Reliability applies all round in areas such as communications, timeliness, clarity and consistency.

Intimacy

Managing change in today’s climate has never been more difficult. CXO’s should seek trusted partners that they can engage with on a different level to drive often challenging agendas. In a true partnership, both sides should be open to explore solutions without keeping important information in the “back pocket”. This includes being clear in the blockers and issues on both sides – whether that is internal client constraints, desires, commercial goals etc – as well as limitations or short falls in delivery on the partner side. Difficult, yes? But if the personal things relating to the engagement get shared it can bring an emotional closeness to benefit all. Of course, this takes more time in terms of the trust equation.

Self Orientation

This is the main source of dilution in demonstrating trust. Partners who have a tendency to jump straight to a solution without listening, claim the higher intellectual ground, fail to grasp a CXO’s motivations, or are openly more interested in themselves or “the deal” will quickly destroy any of the good parts of the equation. We’ve all sat in front of partners where it is clear that they are “winging” an answer on the basis that time back at the office will allow for a veneer of credibility to be placed over the proposal. Also, an over willingness to drop in a catalogue of high profile names or organisations where they have had market leading proposition or success can be another example of excessive self-orientation. Really…Let’s take a look at some of those in more detail…can we see the Case Studies ?…talk to the CIO ?

The demonstration of Trust and Integrity in the CXO – Partner relationship is very important. The old “safety net” practice doesn’t stand up to scrutiny anymore. I am not surprised by the results of the survey and hope that we at Broadgate can continue to keep at the forefront.

JV

John Vincent
Broadgate Consultants Ltd
21 New Street
London EC2M 4HR

http://www.broadgateconsultants.com
twitter.com/broadgateview
Linkedin/broadly speaking

Which is Most Important?

So, which would YOU put FIRST? Subscribe to this blog or come back for discussions on all five of the vendor relationship characteristics. Meanwhile, send me a tweet or post your comments below.

Vendor Relationship Series

“Trust – Guest blog by John Vincent of Broadgate Consultants” | “Have you MET the CFO? | “Experts or Frauds?”

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