Monday, June 01, 2009

Strategic Partnering In Corporate Administration from the "Ground Up"

Despite all the promise for more democratic, collaborative organizations predicted in much of the management literature today, stove pipes / silos still exist, often deeply ingrained in the fabric of corporate culture. Internal service groups (ISGs), such as human resources, IT, audit, communications, facilities, finance and so on genuinely look for ways to improve how they collaborate with their partners, but efforts often fall short. Pressures to focus on narrow departmental work group outcomes/objectives, affinities aligned with technical expertise, difficulty communicating due to lack of common language, mismatched workflow and planning processes, and vertical rather than horizontal / group rewards and recognition are only some of the barriers to effective internal service partnerships.

ISGs exist to enable business / management processes / practices, and support managers and staff in fulfiling their roles and responsibilities in these areas. But because of partnership and collaboration challenges across the service groups, staff and manager workloads are often added to rather than reduced, and the value ISGs deliver to their customers, and to each other as partners and customers, is less than desired.

There is a lot of good literature about stratetic planning processes, but there is one necessary element I would like to point out - the definition of "we."

It's no surprise that ISGs need to be part of the strategy development process, and not just recipients of the final strategy document, to have a clear understanding of where their customers are heading and why, along with current needs and challenges they face.

Each ISG does their best to be "at the planning table" and engage in strategic conversations with their customers. The challenge is that ISGs often compete for that valuable chair at the table. They compete for attention to sell their solutions and /or draw attention to services, for funding the projects that are sold and the services they deliver, for more attention during the projects and associated change management initiatives, and for validation of benefitis realization after the projects are complete.

Imagine, instead, redefining "we," how people refer to the group that they belong to / have affinity with, to be larger than their specific ISG or discipline.

Imagine, in over simplified terms, a planning process that looks a bit like this.

The ISGs assemble integrated / multi-discipline planning teams (an new "we") who participate directly in customer planning processes and workshops. The IGS team hears first hand about the trends / external forces the customers are considering, challenges and opportunities in the current state discussed, and strategic direction decided.

In the context of the workshops the cross-discipline ISG team has the opportunity of asking clarifying questions and building collective understanding of the customers' position - and of course everyone hears the question and participates in the ensuing discussion. The ISG team then works together as a group to create, test and position draft joined-up solutions in the workshops as part of the customers' strategic plan.

Then all the ISG teams come together with their leadership teams to form a larger "we" and blend their commitments and findings from the different workshops into a set of operational and strategic plans that establish clear linkages of collaboration, cooperation and partnership and joined-up accountability for management, acitivies, results and performance measures across the ISGs. (A colleague of mine calls this part "dukeing it out for the customer.")

In this approach, synergies of group work are leveraged in developing shared understanding and making common sense of the customers' views, developing innovative collaborative solutions and proposals, respecting customers' scarcity of time and attention, serving mutual customers efficiently and effectively through partnership based on process and practices and not lip-service, and making best use of available corporate funding.

Some organizations I know of are taking a participative/collaborative approach to internal service planning and delivery, and I'm sure there are lots more out there. With increasing complexity of the world we work in, I think that horizontal / collaborative sense-making, planning, delivery, reflection and action are the keys to ISG success.


Lachelle Hayes said...

I am interested in the processes which surrounds these situations and the amount of time spent attempting to find common ground and finally implementing strategies.

The only way for any team to survive today is to seek out the latest and best tools which can best serve their needs, specifically aiding in streamlining so much of what becomes a bottle neck of meetings, opinions, updates, and upgrades.

What if we could capture each individuals knowledge or intelligence that they bring to their management table, manipulate it based on what variables we needed massaged, then kick out the most relevant, current and targeted information to the right individuals within our team?

Interactive Intelligence added to strategic partnering in Corporate Administration may be just the prescribed solution for a very tedious and time consuming pre-requisite for success.

Anonymous said...

Lachelle, thanks for the comments!

"What if we could capture... ".. it would be AMAZING if we could. The problem is input to provide the data you're implying. In order for knowledge to be communicated/demonstrated, context is required - you can't really say to someone "tell me / write down everything you know about x." They'll just look at you like you're from another planet.

People will say more than they'll ever write down/type in - because it's too much work. People are also very reluctant to be recorded / verbatim transcribed in many circumstances. And if they agree to be recorded, they'll be very cautious about what they say.

And the situation is further complicated by the notion that knowledge is the result of a human learning process, and that each individual speaks and listens through his/her own frame of reference, experiences, cognitive biases etc. The sense you make / learning derived from what someone is saying is possibly not what the speaker is intending. There is no question that analyzing and inferring based on analysis of business data is very valuable input for decision making.

I think we're a long way from "capturing each individuals knowledge."

Lachelle Hayes said...

Granted, assimilating "all" of someone's knowledge would be next to impossible at this stage, but the stuff that one thinks about or does repeatedly without much change or variance which can be updated, is right now possible with certain "Intelligence Tools". For example, is in the process of launching a beta version hosted platform model which would actually apply brilliantly to any kind of Management Organizational Implementation Plan or Vision. Logic based intelligence tools are a real way for any team within a company to streamline not only their own internal communications and tasks, but also allow those same teams to integrate that intelligence with their bigger goals of attaining and sustaining clients and revenue.

Anonymous said...

I'm certainly all in favour of tehnologies that automate repetitive processes and make resulting information readily available to decision makers. ;-)

It frees up valuable time so they can thurn their attention towards non-repetitive, difficult to predict, complex shocks, changes and impacts that organizations of all types are facing more and more.