trust

My Soapbox: Trust, Accountability, Empowerment: All that matters

Building relationships based on respect

People who have worked with me before have heard me on this particular soapbox quite a bit and for those I will suggest maybe they don’t need to read this particular blog. There will be nothing new here. That said, it is perhaps because I continue to hear stories from great talent I have met around the world that are working with people that still do not get it.

It is for these people that I write this blog.

Executives get busy and they get stressed. Markets start to squeeze and pressure mounts, causing many to revert to the old command and control techniques they used in prior decades. When the kitchen heats up, they forget the basics. I believe some need to be reminded of a basic principle that should be obvious to all: Organizations are successful when there is a strong relationship of respect among leaders at all levels.

Now, before I go further, let me be absolutely clear: effective leadership requires adapting your style from time to time to appropriately handle a given challenge. There are times for diplomacy, inclusion, and democracy (e.g., complex problem), and there are times for command and control (e.g., during an urgent crisis). However, underlying your leadership style, and regardless of the type of problem, the relationship of respect must prevail.

A relationship of respect requires three key elements: trust, accountability, and empowerment.

Every team that has worked with me over the past decade will have heard me speak explicitly of the three simple things that I feel are the most important elements of effective, increasingly global, teams. I sincerely hope that those that worked with me before that will see in this blog some of the elements of our team work that worked best even if we never put it to words.

Trust. Accountability. Empowerment.

You will notice that none of them involve bureaucracy, centralization, or added layers without added value! It also does not require being “nice”.


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Trust: We must build and maintain levels of trust across borders and business units, recognizing the unique strengths and backgrounds of each individual. In companies that are complex, especially with multiple business units and geographies, the absence of trust can cause money, time, and valuable resources to be wasted on duplicated efforts.

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Accountability: We must be a respectful organization and a collegiate one, but all of us must be held accountable as well. Accountability goes hand in hand with trust. When we all understand each other’s respective areas of responsibility and accountability, we create a culture of trust, and we can focus on the services and solutions we deliver and the goals we want to achieve without distraction.

It is important to note that accountability is as much about what is accomplished as it is about how it is accomplished. If you’re an a-hole, regardless of your delivery skills, people will find it hard to trust you and the relationship of respect will be difficult.

Empowerment-Zone.jpg.728x520_q85Empowerment: People must be allowed to make decisions and drive change without being micromanaged and without needing to get multiple approvals; they must be allowed to be leaders. Just as importantly, we must enable those whom we empower. Power without training is not a formula for success. Empowerment is about giving a person the ability to manage something tangible that adds value, but also about working with that individual to help him or her succeed.

Leadership is not easy, and successful teams are elusive to many people. But, with some basic focus on respect and these key principles, you will at minimum have the right foundation for success.

Be Well. Lead On.

Adam

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Top Traits: Fun to Work With

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Defining the perfect employees

Let’s face it, for most people work is a means to an end. You work so that you can eat, keep your brain active, connect with other people, learn, or reach some apex in your ambitious plan to take over the world…. Whatever the reason, for very few people work is about finding intense joy and personal satisfaction every hour of every day. That is simply not reality. But, like any other required part of our lives, we can choose how we want to handle work. We can come in every day, do what is required, talk to nobody, and leave. Or we can bring a smile into the office, do our jobs and encourage others to do theirs, and try to bring fun into what can be otherwise mundane or stressful.

I worked with someone for years that was by far the very best at a particular function. This individual was 1)Both talented and hard working, and 2)showed a true pride in the products he created…..good so far, right? If you’ve read my two preceding “Top Traits” blogs, you’d say he is a perfect employee. But wait! This person was so depressing, so negative, and so, well, just not fun! There were days where despite the value I could get out of a conversation, I could simply not do it. It would drag me down into a depression instead of inspiring me to be better. Like the Dementor guards of the Azkaban prison in the Harry Potter movies, this kind of person can simply suck the soul out of a team, an office, or a company. Which brings me to my third top trait ….

… Trait # 3 – Fun to Work WithFun People

If you’ve done interviews, you’ve perhaps been asked to assess “fit” with the culture of your particular company. When I started my career, I thought those interviews were inappropriate. Fit translated into Golf Club network, family connections, and politics. But as I advanced, I realised more and more that fit can make or break a leader. A leader whose style is perfect at one place will bomb elsewhere. So, to be clear, being fun isn’t always going to make you successful. You still must deliver. This is my personal opinion and what I personally look for. I want employees that are fun to work with. Period.

What I like

There are some people that simply bring joy to the office. They bring smiles, jokes, the occasional cupcake or brownie …. They bring personality and just enough of themselves to break down barriers and create a culture of openness that makes work more rewarding.

I’m not talking about class clown, chronic joking, or distraction. I’m talking about balancing the “what” with the “how”. Say you have a complex team challenge that must get done in 24 hours. You have to work pretty hard to get it done and, especially as a leader, you can be a humourless tyrant and slave driver. Or you can be an inspirational and personable motivator. I’m choosing to be the latter.

I recently spent time with some of our colleagues managing technology in Europe. During the evening, we had a team dinner and drinks and I had the opportunity to get to know the Poland, Spain and Italy leaders. We laughed, joked, and had a really great time but occasionally someone would bring up a problem facing our firm and I would ask for a recommended solution. What amazed me is how smart the team was at coming up with ideas but at the same time they were having fun and enjoying being together. That’s the kind of team I want!

In short:

Don’t be a dud.

What I need to do as a manager to enable

Smile.

When I’m having a funk of a day, I either stay home or avoid meetings. Smiles are contagious, I truly believe that. So if I can’t bring a genuine smile to the office, I try desperately to avoid contact with people! We can’t expect everyone to be happy all the time, but as a manager I need to both set an example and reward those that also bring fun to the office.

Last week, I woke to yet another rainy London day and, frankly, I was disgusted. I was so sick of rainy weather that I knew I would be in a bad mood. I went back into my kitchen, made a huge breakfast with a large strong cup of java and read a low intelligence required novel. Then, I went to the office. I was later than intended but by the time I got to the office I was refreshed and able to deal with another grey day.

Solicit feedback from team.

Talk to your teams on a regular basis to determine what makes them happy. What motivates them and when they smile, ask them why they are happy. Find something that brings them joy and do that.

Support and understand that some people just have bad days.

Recognise that some people will have bad days. Support them. Make sure they feel comfortable detaching if necessary. Make them leave if you must. If they need help, try to get it for them. And reward those that bring joy to the office and perform with a positive attitude.

In short:

Don’t be a dud.

Let me know what you think. What do you view as top employee traits? How do you build the best teams around different types of team members? Are you working hard on something worth doing?

Be Well. Lead On.

Adam

Be sure to view all of the Top Traits:
Trait 1: Hard working AND talented

Trait 2: Pride in work product

Trait 3: Fun to work with

Follow me on twitter http://www.twitter.com/alswharton

Adam L. Stanley | ALSWharton Connections

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Top Traits: Pride in Work Product

Pride

Defining the perfect employees

I had a whole home audio system installed in my Chicago home a few years ago. I spent more than I have ever spent on audio equipment and hired a team of twenty somethings to install it for me. I remember when they came for the install and opened all the boxes. You honestly would have thought they were installing for themselves. They were so excited about the install, and kept telling me how I really got the coolest equipment out there. Their excitement was contagious. I truly felt like I was “the man” and could not wait until my first party. When done with the install, they beamed with pride and showed me the system, how to use it and some of the fun stuff. They also discussed potential upgrades coming down the road and ways I might consider expanding.

… Trait # 2 – Pride in Work Product

How often do employees show this kind of pride in the work they do? When you shop at a mall, or work with your local telephone company, do you get the sense that the people working with you are actually proud of the services they are providing? I’m doubting it! Definitely not the case with BT given my recent experiences with them, but I digress …. Shouldn’t you be proud of what you do? Pleased with your work and the value you bring? Nurses comfort people. Teachers change lives and prepare our futures. Your particular job may not be as obviously impactful but you’re driving value by helping clients either directly or indirectly. And if you have chosen to work at a particular place, you should have pride in what you do. My maternal grandfather was a garbage truck operator for almost 30 years. My paternal grandfather worked at the US Post Office for 25 years after serving his first five adult years in the army. Neither of them ever made very much money. But each had a pride in their work that was inspirational.

What I like

Steve Jobs - pride of productI want employees to show a sense of pride in what they do. In what they create. The best recent example of a leader that exuded pride in the products he offered was Steve Jobs. You just knew he thought that every product he allowed out the door was AWESOME! In my current role, I have a principle that I call “pretty red bow” that is based on pride of product and service. In short, I demand that my teams think about the entire package when building a new service. Not just the technology, which may be cool as ever, but the service, the support, the way it is sold and the training provided for users. You can build the very best mousetrap but if everyone thinks it is an appetiser with crackers and cheese …. Well, you get the picture. I want them to build a service, package it well and tie it up with a pretty red bow. Get it?

My favorite employees are the ones that call or email me to tell me when a client is really pleased, or even better, when no client has said anything but they know the service they have built will excite clients. The emails that show progress on solving a complex problem, the random drop by to my office to show me a prototype of a new collaboration tool, or the demo of a new “awesome” iOS application, this is what excites me.

If you do not feel pride in the work you do, why would your boss, your team, or your client?! If you don’t feel you can be proud of your work, perhaps you aren’t in the right field. Or perhaps you are simply not working hard enough to deliver something with which you can be proud.

What I need to do as a manager to enable

Provide. Praise. Promote.

  • PROVIDE. If you hire an employee and ask them to build a Bentley, then only give them a thousand bucks, a Bentley you will not get. Set guidelines that are achievable and provide your teams with the resources needed to be successful. The greatest morale killer in most technology shops today is the constant badgering on costs. We must provide opportunities for employees to shine. A great example of this within Aviva is our mobile apps competition. We’re encouraging people around the world to create prototypes of great new app concepts in friendly competition. We encourage all of the contributors and it is FANTASTIC seeing the pride of ownership among the teams that is evident in their submissions.
  • PRAISE. Give credit. Give credit. Give credit. Employees, especially those in service industries, operations functions, and technology, get PLENTY of complaints and abuse. When someone creates something amazing, you MUST acknowledge it. I have seen so many managers take credit for their team members work without adequately praising them. It is shameful. As I said with respect to all hard working and talented employees (prior blog), ensure those who show pride in their work and deliver excellence get the recognition they deserve.
  • PROMOTE. This should be easy for those of you with children as well as for those who remember when you were a child. Think about how proud a kid is when their artwork is displayed on the refrigerator or on the school bulletin board. Create THAT environment. Showcase the amazing products and services your teams have created. If they have pride, and it is deserved, their leaders should also be proud. And showcasing their products will encourage others to create great things as well. Be a “proud mama” or “proud papa”. You will encourage more people to take pride in their work. And when you take pride in your work, you do better work. Simple, right?

I’m proud of the folks working with me now and proud of the things we accomplished while I was in my prior roles. I will continue to seek out, provide for, praise and promote those around me who take pride in what they do. It takes all kinds to make a great team but the perfect employees demonstrate pride in work product. And I want the perfect employees along on the journey with me.

Let me know what you think. What do you view as top employee traits? How do you build the best teams around different types of team members? Are you working hard on something worth doing?

Be Well. Lead On.

Adam

Be sure to view all of the Top Traits:
Trait 1: Hard working AND talented
Trait 2: Pride in work product
Trait 3: Fun to work with

Follow me on twitter http://www.twitter.com/alswharton

Adam L. Stanley | ALSWharton Connections

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Connect with me on Linked In http://www.linkedin.com/in/adamstanley
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Service Desk and Support teams everywhere … YOU MATTER!

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This week, I had a very unique opportunity to be “on-boarded” twice. My new role is based in the UK however I have a base in Chicago and, at the end of the day, a US contract. Thus, my first day was in Chicago and my second day was here in London. As I reflected on my first two days, something struck me that I thought was worthy of mentioning here. Both days, my first significant contact was with Technology team members. Not the strategy or planning sessions, or beginning the challenging work with which I have been tasked. Those start tomorrow. Specifically, I am referring to the service desk and support guys that actually helped get me setup with my “kit”.

Think about it: the last job you started likely involved use of some end user technology, be it a phone, laptop, iPad, or otherwise. Before you began to work your first deal, draft your first work plan, or respond to your first company email, you were likely setup by someone in Technology at your company. And that experience may very well have established your impression of technology at your firm overall. Regardless of how small a portion of the technology budget is actually spent on end user support, this is sometimes the only part of IT to which the majority of your teams are exposed. And I have seen AWFUL on-boarding and support processes, including from large outsourcing vendors that claim to have expertise.

And as I reflected on this fact, I also considered the age old question of whether business and technology have an effective relationship and whether technology can actually drive and influence decision making. And I say “absolutely”. And, frankly, it starts Day 1. And thus, service desk and support teams everywhere must take note: you matter much more than you may ever think. Yes, you deal with some of THOSE clients whose major problem is that shortly after they learned to pose their thumbs they were given a computer with a plug and no instructions. But you also deal with the closet techies that yearned to be the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs before becoming actuaries. The one that built a program in DOS years ago before she decided to go back to law school. She was so proud of that program! The HR leader who admits to not knowing much about technology that simply begs for it to be as easy and user friendly as possible so she can help her clients recruit, train and retain talent so critical for the success of the firm. And yes, also that Finance major and banking strategist that spent 10 years in consulting before taking technology leadership roles and finding out how much he loved working with tech teams. For all of these users, you have the opportunity to frame their experience from day 1. And what a difference you can make!

Every five minutes you have with a CFO, you have the opportunity to represent your technology organization to an extent few others will ever have with that leader. You can listen to complaints and offer solutions. You can share their excitement talking about a new technology then work with the rest of the Tech org in finding ways to leverage that excitement for new solutions and services. You can make executives “happy” enough that perhaps the day we have a major sev 1 outage, they are stressed and concerned but not on the warpath. Because they know we care and that we realize the roll technology plays in generating revenue and sustaining profitability. You might just get them smiling right before they go to that special funding review meeting!

Like police officers in many urban centers, you don’t always get the glory. You are typically understaffed and insufficiently empowered. You get yelled at more than you get praised, and sometimes it may just seem that you have the most thankless job in Technology. But, goodness, YOU MATTER! And for me personally, you mattered this week. To Carey, Neel and Tom, a hearty thanks. You made my two days of on boarding easy and I can be productive from day 1 thanks to your help. You may never know just what that added productivity enabled for me, or for others. But you should know that it made a difference. You made a difference. And every call you take, every desk you visit, whether your clients say it or not, you continue to make a difference. And for those who do not, I say thanks.

Be Well. Lead On.

Adam

Adam L. Stanley | ALSWharton Connections
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Vendor Relationships: Experts or Frauds?”

Vendor Relationship Critical Partnership Element #1: Expertise in new technologies

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 ….

Aiming to cover each element in a separate post, I started with cost, which recieved a whopping ZERO in the poll as everyone said it was critical but not differentiating. John Vincent of Broadgate Consultants LTD guest blogged on Trust and Integrity.  The second lowest vote getter, “Expertise in new technologies”, is my focus today and I will call this blog post “Experts or Frauds?”

Two Key Initial Thoughts

1. We don’t always care if you’re an expert if we don’t know you

I receive hundreds of emails from vendors asking for a bit of my time to tell me how their ground breaking technology can enhance productivity, reduce costs, increase flexibility, and otherwise demonstrate value through an era where technology changes daily. But, how important is “expertise” when selecting a vendor partner? Do you really want the BEST person in a particular area of technology even if they know nothing about your business? According to my poll respondents, and several people with whom I spoke, the answer is ABSOLUTELY NOT. Thus, this was a very low vote getter in the poll.

2. It’s hard to validate who the true “experts” are

Even if you could get beyond the fact that someone you’ve never met wants you to spend millions, tech expertise is frankly hard to prove BEFORE an implementation. As Peter Shankmen noted in his 2009 article in the early days of Social Media, for most new technologies, “there is no endorsement or accreditation to set apart legitimate industry leaders from bandwagon opportunists.”[1] The fact is, technology changes so frequently expertise is hard to quantify, and therefore its hard to separate the experts from the pretenders.

At Aon, we implemented the Microsoft BPOS suite of collaboration tools for colleagues around the world. When we began to consider the initiative early in 2009, there were few companies of our scale and size that had completed a migration to the full suite. None of our vendors could clearly demonstrate they had roadmaps nor tried and tested strategies for implementing BPOS.

Vendor Relationship Tips for CIO/CTO – Expertise

I sought out a few experts who have been on both the provider and client side and asked their opinions. With their input, I’ve generated this list of tips on how to manage vendor relationships based on expertise.

1. Focus on relationships

The pace of change in technology is so great that experts are harder to find and harder to prove. When in doubt, I ALWAYS try to work with trusted partners first. If a firm has consistently proven trustworthy and competent, they are more likely to perform well again. While every problem is different, core aspects of problem solving are repeatable. A focus on relationships of trust and integrity takes away some of the risk before the first day of the project. That said, your “regular” firm may not have skills in the area in which they are needed.

A good partner firm will “buy” and “build” new expertise but admit when they should opt-out.

Slalom Consulting Managing Directors Nate Roberts explains that “There are times when you need to go external and ‘buy’ expertise to respond to a trend or regulation, but, as a growing organization, we want to develop / ‘build’ our own talent. What makes our organization attractive are the career development opportunities and the investment we make in our employees. We like to build internally, but will look externally when necessary.”

A trusted partner is willing to admit when they lack a certain skill. You as the client have the opportunity to either continue to work with the partner and find ways to augment their skillset or find a different partner with whom you are less familiar. If there is expertise within the firm, go for it. Law firms, for example, frequently have junior lawyers cover cases with “supervision” of senior attorneys. But you need to know that the expertise is strong enough to be a foundation.

“In today’s business climate,” Slalom’s Director – Organization Effectiveness Brian Tacik said, you need to hit the ground at cruising speed with the support necessary to be efficient, effective and more importantly without mistakes!” Several missteps in one of our major projects last year were caused by a vendor that frankly tried too hard to “learn on the job”. In the end, neither party of the relationship wins when there is no honest assessment of expertise, friend or not.

“If that mutual understanding isn’t there, more often than not, it will not be positive for the partnership or lead to success for the client,” said Tacik.

2. Make sure you understand what expertise you actually need

In hiring a consultant a consultant the key word is “hiring”, said Scott Abbey, Senior Advisor at Eleven Canterbury, LLC and former CTO at UBS AG. “The fact that it’s short term or project based really shouldn’t matter and I would expect to use similar criteria,” he said. Depending on the project, Abbey might value direct experience and expertise more or less than other criteria. For example, he referred to a benchmarking exercise where benchmarking expertise was critical but when hiring for an organizational strategy role, general management experience and a track record mattered more than specific organizational strategy expertise.

In planning a major implementation, ask yourself do you need expertise in the technology domain, knowledge of how to use that technology in your particular industry, general knowledge of the vendors that provide the technology or all of the above? Is it critical they know the base code or just how it has been used to solve business problems? Do you need them to be a “Gold Partner” of the relevant software firm or is it better they be independent?

Most importantly, you must know your particular strengths as a good partner will be complimentary to skills you have on-site. We had great technical and architecture resources on our team when we built our new global network, but we needed a partner that knew local country providers, emerging security concerns, and had the ability to implement global change programs. Choosing a partner that is only good at the things you are good at is a recipe for failure. Picture both of you eventually having to do a lot of “on the job training”.

According to Slalom’s Roberts, “Success is not driven only by technology implementation, but with the holistic solution.” Thus, companies should remember that expertise in a particular domain without sound fundamental skills simply does not work.

3. Do your research

The Slalom Perspective: To be an ‘expert’ requires years of practical experience that creates knowledge and skills that can be demonstrated readily to clients. Expertise also needs to include both tales of success and tales of overcoming adversity. Credentials and certifications only validate that someone has studied for and passed a test, frankly. Our clients are less interested in hearing about what someone read in a book or what cert exam was passed and more interested in hearing about similar experiences.

If you are using a reputable firm with a myriad of available resources, review the qualifications of the team put together specifically for your initiative. Have they published any articles or studies on the subject matter of your business? Have they completed similar projects of a like scale and complexity. Are there other people in the industry that regular cite them as experts? Do they offer personnel with the necessary certifications? The right person and firm will not only understand their domain but also have the ability to relate to you, at least at a high level, how your business problems can be solved using their particular technology.

I have worked with one large consulting firm before and had to swap out multiple resources. While the firm had strong resources in house, none of the true experts were assigned full time to our initiative and thus we got the “rookies.” Ask the firms for explicit commitments on resources. Who will be assigned to the project and how much of their time will be committed? Get a chance to meet a few of them face-to-face and test their individual knowledge.

Every project requires a mix of skills and balancing the strengths and weaknesses of the team members, according to Abbey. However, Abbey disdains dictating team members or subcontractors once you’ve qualified the vendor. “I never want to be in a situation where there is a problem and the consultant or vendor has an easy out by blaming my choice, “Abbey explained.

If the firm is not a known quantity, expect to do a little more due diligence. Expertise is best determined using a variety of means: credentials, focused interviews, reference checks, and general market research. All of these methods must be used as someone may be fantastic at selling you on their expertise despite having no real track record of success. Which leads me to the next point, very important today …

4. Look for obvious signs of fraud

In his article, Shankmen provided a list of ways to tell your social media expert was not really an expert. The first two are applicable to ANY new technology in my opinion.

– They call themselves an evangelist, guru or expert, and no one else does.

– They use “expert” or “evangelist” or “guru” or our personal favorite, “influencer” as any of their user names

“Calling yourself ‘visionary’ is akin to saying, ‘I’m so attractive!’, tweeted Lew Cirne of New Relic, as it “may be best left to others to say.”

I am truly amazed at how many self-appointed gurus abound on Twitter, FaceBook, LinkedIn and other such sites. There are THOUSANDS of social-media experts on Twitter that have relatively few followers. Can they truly be called experts if they can’t build their own following? What is even more interesting is when you click through to their bio and see they really have no practical experience succeeding (or failing) in the space. An expert in BPOS (nee Office 365) that has never experienced the joys and pains of a global implementation is really not an expert.

Robert Caruso, CEO/Founder of Bundle Post, responded to my questions about expertise and suggested that within social media, there is really no such thing as an expert. “The medium is moving so fast and changing every single second,” Caruso said, and thus “it is impossible to be an expert.” Furthermore, he added, “Credentials do not matter. What have you done, what are your results are all that matter. If they can’t do it for themselves, how can anyone reasonably expect they can do it for or consult you to do it for [your firm]?”

You should check out Robert’s blog on what he calls Faux Experts and the resulting attention it got.

5. Ask the vendor to “invest” in and take on risk within the initiative

How can a vendor convince me to work with them in the implementation of something that is so new that few people actually have experience? They can absorb some (or most) of the implementation risk. If they have other skills that are valuable and more known quantities, they can include those resources at a reduced charge. New technology should be an investment for both the client and the partner and firms such as Slalom are willing to price programs in such a way as to demonstrate this shared investment.

My experience both on the client side and provider side of major projects is that getting the vendor partner to take risk will be somewhat limited but critical. The newer the technology and the smaller the firm, the more difficult it will be for them to take risk. On the flipside, your bargaining power is greater with the smaller guys that depend more on each dollar of revenue. It’s usually impossible to get vendors to commit to any risk beyond their billings, according to Abbey. At a minimum, a strong incentive for performance to commitments is a payment schedule tied to successful completion of specific, defined deliverables with pre-agreed acceptance criteria.

Which is Most Important?

All five of the characteristics are important!! Critical!! The perfect vendor should have all five of the characteristics, but in the era where there is a new technology, a new tool, some new social media outlet popping up every day, which would YOU put FIRST? I would love to hear from you! Send me a tweet or post your comments below.

In relationship,

Adam

Vendor Relationship Series –

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


[1] Is your social media expert really an expert? | Peter Shankman – http://bit.ly/mVFXCZ

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?”

Vendor Relationships: Have you MET the CFO?

Vendor Relationship Critical Partnership Element #4: Ability to invest / Low Cost Providor

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 ….

My next several blog posts will focus on each of the possible answers and share my thoughts, along with those of my respondents (public and otherwise), on why each of them are in fact critical.

I start with the one that not surprisingly received NO VOTES from my vendor-heavy polling group, “Ability to invest / low cost provider” and I will call this blog post “Have you MET the CFO?”

Why Cost Matters

  • The IT department has become a crucial partner with the business units to achieve greater ROI (return on investment). With IT costs being a significant chunk of shared services costs for the typical corporation, there is tremendous visibility on effectively managing these costs.
  • According to a 2010 survey from Gartner and the Financial Executives’ Research Foundation (FERF), The CFO is increasingly becoming the top technology investment decision maker in many organizations. The study concluded that “CIOs must understand the impact their CFOs have on technology decisions in their organizations and ensure that they are providing the CFO with the appropriate understanding of technology, as well as communicating the business value that can be achieved.”
  • Every CTO or CIO has had at least one conversation in the last 24 months where he or she was asked to “discuss our objective to reduce overall IT costs by X% while maintaining or improving service quality and supporting our business growth.”
  • While there are MANY CFOs out there that have significant experience in technology, all too often CFOs view IT as a cost-center only, a shared service that is ripe for chronic annual reductions with or without regard for quality of service or innovation.
  • According to a 2011 Gartner/FEI study, only about a quarter of the CFOs surveyed had confidence that their own IT organization “has the organizational and technical flexibility to respond to changing business priorities,” or “is able to deliver against the enterprise/business unit strategy.”
    • The survey showed that CFOs “are inclined to invest in technologies where competitive advantage can be demonstrated, analysis and decision-making is assisted, or efficiencies and cost reduction are achieved.” See more

The fact is, no matter how much you want to pick vendors that have the coolest tools and the most trustworthy teams, each technology investment MUST generate positive return for our company. And, while there are SEVERAL factors in ROI, cost remains one of the most visible, even if not the most impactful. To get the attention of your CFO and thus your top management overall, you must be prepared with a cost effective value driving solution. So, a vendor that wants to bring something new to the table will often be asked to invest in the relationship by significantly reducing cost of entry for the client.

Vendor Relationship Tips for CIO/CTO

Yes, cost is critical, and yes vendors must realize this and be prepared to make an investment in a new relationship. That said, here are my thoughts on how the CIO/CTO should work with vendors to create win-win relationships.

1. Think about the marathon. Is this vendor someone that you want to work with in the future? Remember that a buyer’s market will ALWAYS become a seller’s market.  Payback is a …. Bummer.  The recession may give you the upper hand now but when markets rebound, memories are long and you may be on the other end of the negotiating table. Think about the relationship as long-term and act accordingly. Negotiate in good faith, with integrity, and with fairness.

2. Remember tradeoffs. As you’ve often told your CEO/CFO, cost and quality are inversely relational.  Do you really want to negotiate so hard your vendor has no ability to make any profit, thus forcing them to cut corners, bring junior resources, or otherwise fail? We signed a deal recently that we estimated would save us “an insane amount” in a particular area of our infrastructure. We squeezed the vendor so hard that the project was, frankly, a nightmare. The disruption to the business, the rework and errors, and the added costs to bring in additional resources took away much of the savings. Neither our team nor the vendors were happy in the end.

Mark Church, who was my Account Manager at Cisco when we awarded them “Vendor of the Year 2010”, said it best in his response to the poll:

“I think one must evaluate both sides of the equation: Is it better to be the lowest initial cost, or the solution with highest return? Whenever possible, partners must strive for both but should be rewarded for driving transformation through innovation.”

Amen!

3. Be authentic and honest. If you have trust in this vendor (and given this was in the top two responses in my survey I’m guessing you agree this is important), you should openly discuss cost challenges and ways the vendor may help your business. For years, I have had a practice of writing my annual cost reduction target in large numbers at the top of my office white board. Every vendor partner that meets with me can see the target. Vendors that are part of my strategic partner circle actively and regularly come prepared with ideas for helping me achieve the target.

I am proud of the relationships I have built with my vendors over the years and very much appreciative of the investments they have made to help me drive value for our clients. Most importantly, I hope they would all work with me again in the future based on the relationship we have built. While no one voted for “Ability to invest / low cost provider”, I would argue that perhaps that is because this more than the others could be considered “table stakes”.  If you are so expensive I could not even begin to bring your technology to our executives – especially the CFOs of the world – trust, execution skills, and business knowledge just will not matter.

Which is Most Important?

Founder and CEO of New Relic Lew Cirne (twitter @sweetlew), said he was torn in making a selection. “Great list of options, nearly all are critically important,” he wrote in his comments after voting. I agree completely! All five of the characteristics are important. Frankly, the perfect vendor should have all, but in the era where there is a new technology, a new tool, some new social media outlet popping up every day, which would YOU put FIRST?

I would love to hear from you!

In relationship,

Adam

Vendor Relationship Series

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

Resources:

  1. How To Squeeze Top Value From Your Technology Vendors – Investors.com – http://bit.ly/rjXNDM
  2. Vendor Negotiation: Squeeze Now, Pay Later CIO.com –  http://t.co/KpMfCen (horrible, short-term strategy that was popular in early 2000s after the first tech bust)
  3. Forrester: How to squeeze your vendors | ITworld – http://bit.ly/nZRuBn (more balanced approach in worst days of recession – late 2008)
  4. CFOs Lack Faith in CIOs and IT Teams, Survey Shows CIO.com – http://bit.ly/ovklhQ
  5. The role of the CFO in cost reduction – http://bit.ly/oPrZsl