Communications: “Job Number One” for Alliance Managers
Communication is important for any relationship or job, but one might say it’s doubly important when the relationship is the job.
“Communications might just be job number one for partner managers. Understanding what needs to be communicated to whom, when, and with what context is crucial to maintain operations,” said Greg Burge, CSAP, principal of Collaborative Partnering Services.
Burge was providing the intro to the latest Collaborative Connection Monthly webinar and roundtable session, “A Two-Way Street: Better Communication for Partner Managers,” held earlier this month on a topic that, for many new to the profession, may seem basic or inherent in any job but which in fact requires structure and careful thought and planning in the context of an alliance.
Ann Trampas, CSAP, professional development practice lead at Phoenix Consulting Group and senior lecturer at the University of Illinois–Chicago (UIC), agreed with Burge’s assessment that communications is “job number one,” and she delivered a host of tools and ideas for beginning and maintaining strong communication throughout the entire life of an alliance.
On Patrol at “Communications Central”
Trampas referred to the alliance manager as a “communications cop” whose role is to function as “communications central,” making sure that people inside the organization, many of whom are often used to working in silos and might have rarely had to work closely with other internal groups, let alone stakeholders from another company, receive and deliver critical information pertaining to the partnership in a timely manner—in other words, as Trampas summarized, “make sure that everyone who needs to be informed is informed.”
“Know who needs to know what. Make sure that communications process is in place. Not only do we need to make sure that communications are flowing between organizations and within the organizations, we also have to watch out for miscommunications,” said Trampas. “I used to refer to myself as a ‘corporate busybody’ because I wanted to be in the middle of everyone’s communication.”
“Informal Communications Feed Formal Communications”
Alliances require a dedicated communications plan, one that spells out the frequency (e.g., weekly, monthly, ad hoc), format (status report, videoconference, or face-to-face meeting), and audience (who receives reports and/or attends meetings) for communication, and identifies who is responsible for pre- and post-communications activities, such as reports, meeting agendas, and post-meeting notes. Communications channels must be built into the alliance governance structure as well; in particular, it must detail how decisions will be rendered in order to resolve conflicts over important issues.
“Who do those escalations go to? How frequently do they happen?” said Trampas. “[The communications channel and governance structure] are very closely intertwined.”
Although the formal plan is undoubtedly indispensable, the informal communication that occurs the rest of the time throughout a collaboration is even more important. Some of it directly supports the formal communication channels; informal gatherings prior to formal sessions help “make [stakeholders] aware of what they might hear at the meeting. I want to get their feedback before, so that the formal communications can be more productive,” said Trampas.
But it’s those casual conversations between alliance managers, salespeople, product development folks, analysts, and clients that serve as the conduit for exchanging observations, ideas, and perhaps even sensitive information that keeps the collaboration rolling. Trampas shared a story of how she used to get lunch with her company’s M&A group every other week to discuss which companies the latter was evaluating and whether it might make sense to partner with them first.
“Informal communications actually feed the formal communications. They work hand in hand,” said Trampas.
Communication Can’t Fall on Deaf Ears
Of course, the flip side to communication is listening, and there are formal and informal methods for this as well. Alliance health checks, formal surveys of partner stakeholders, can shed light on problems with alliance managers, the partner organizations, and other facets of the alliance itself. Partner advisory councils, open forums that are “not supposed to be a complaining session,” according to Trampas, provide a structured way for people from all divisions to put forth ideas for improving alliance strategy and operations.
Informal listening tools can include alerts for press releases detailing major developments within the partner organization. They also encompass social media platforms like Slack and Microsoft Teams that ground troops use to connect with each other regularly. Clients also talk about your partners on social media networks like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.
“Customers might be telling you something you can help [the partner] with,” Trampas noted.
Registrants can access a recording of “A Two-Way Street: Better Communication for Partner Managers” at any time to learn more about how to communicate more effectively in a partnership, including Trampas’s take on who might need the “CliffsNotes” versions of meeting recaps and why we might not need to meet face to face as much after the initial alliance kickoff.