When Alliances Appreciate in Values
We hear the words “North Star” plenty in partnering communities, and for good reason; partnerships would be rudderless ships without a defined objective. In fact, the title of the latest Collaborative Connection Monthly webinar and roundtable—“True North: Shared Vision and Values Are the Keys to Partnering Success”—sums it up pretty succinctly.
“The collaborative North Star is a beacon that guides stakeholders on the behaviors that they should adopt and the decisions they need to make. The results are smoother operations, faster achievement of goals, and higher partnership and ecosystem performance,” noted Greg Burge, CSAP, principal of Collaborative Partnering Services, the moderator of the event.
The webinar portion of this month’s installment featured a returning guest, Adam McNair, GovCon advisor at FedTrends, a firm that observes and analyzes the world of federal contracting. Over the course of his career, McNair has applied the ISO 44001 standard for collaborative business practices to complex public-sector technology implementations on behalf of just about every cabinet-level agency in the federal government. He has dedicated a good portion of his career to bringing innovation and collaboration management, shaping offerings, and developing brands in a government setting. Today, he is also the host of the YouTube program The FedTrends Show.
A Values Statement That Speaks Volumes—and a Team That Can Internalize It
The first step in crystallizing that North Star is to create a values statement that truly resonates with employees across all departments and levels, something that is easier said than done.
“There can be vision and values documents—we’ve all seen them—that don’t say a whole lot,” said McNair. “If you write them down and you don’t follow them, it’s actually a negative practice.”
McNair credited the ISO 44001 process for providing a detailed framework that helps alliance participants articulate a vision that is actionable, important to stakeholders, and consistent with what organizations want to accomplish.
“It draws the values into the business plan and puts them in front of everybody and says, ‘It’s okay to make business decisions that are informed by values,’” said McNair.
These values statements help guide all team members across a partnership in the hundreds of “microdecisions” individuals make in their roles each week around who and what to prioritize, how to communicate with different stakeholders, and how to go about the tasks at hand. No procedural manual can cover “every aspect of what [employees] do,” McNair noted. If done right, values statements help team members internalize what an organization would want them to do in any given situation and give them an “innate understanding” of how to “naturally carry forward their daily activities under that framework.”
What a Drag: It's Okay to Say No to Some Partners
What happens when values are misaligned between two (or more) partners? The classic example is the alliance between a company that emphasizes customer-centricity and a company that is more bottom line–driven. McNair himself experienced this dynamic firsthand in a past partnership, and he relayed some of the challenges he faced. He recalled that the partner team members carried themselves as if their only job was to meet the client’s technical requirements. This attitude showed in their responsiveness to the client contact’s follow-up questions—or lack thereof.
“‘I don’t need to answer their question because it was already in the document we sent them,’” said McNair, recounting one partner employee’s excuse for lack of communication, before adding another example of that partner failing to notify the client of a delay in the shipping of hardware that was needed for the implementation.
In the world of government professional services, value alignment is particularly critical. McNair estimated that his firm might have anywhere from five to 20 engagements worth $20 to $50 million going concurrently.
“Getting into a non-optimal situation with one of them can drag an entire organization down,” he said. That’s one reason that “it’s okay to say no to a partnership” if the headache won’t be worth the profit.
Out of Our Heads: Documenting Similarities Makes a Difference
Of course, sometimes that isn’t an option, especially when you enter a high-profile partnership or your organization needs to collaborate with a partner that brings a unique technology or expertise that could catapult it to new heights. McNair recommended being proactive, assigning your best leaders and alliance managers to the initiative, and monitoring activity closely with the assumption that the relationship will need lots of ongoing maintenance.
“You know you’re going into a high-risk situation, and you’re not going to be passively assuming everything is okay until you find out eight months later that [there’s] a big problem,” he said.
McNair also lauded the ISO 44001’s process for “identifying stakeholders and documenting interests,” and stressed the importance of recording and sharing instances “where everybody feels they have gotten something out of the engagement.” Compile several of those scenarios and suddenly you start to earn credibility with the other organization, despite the differences between the two parties. This is particularly important when dealing with large partnerships involving hundreds of people and perhaps even networks of government agencies—McNair listed interagency communities around citizenship processing and health and welfare benefits as examples of the latter.
“You have to start documenting and finding commonalities,” he reiterated. “It’s important to have that as a guidance document. There are too many people and too much complexity for anyone to internalize that and operate it out of your head.”