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Collaboration: Easier Said Than Done

Posted By Jan Twombly, CSAP, President, The Rhythm of Business, Thursday, December 12, 2019

The following blog was originally posted by ASAP corporate member and Education Provider Partner,  The Rhythm of Business.

Collaboration is a business buzzword that everyone thinks they know what it means and how to do it, but few truly do; yet it has never been more important than it is today. In addition to the lack of collaborative skills and mindset would-be collaborators also face a Collaboration Paradox— the systems, processes, and policies that have enabled success in the past reinforce barriers impeding success in today’s ecosystem-based collaborative business models. Developing the necessary capability—the mindset, skillset, and toolset for intra- and inter-organizational collaboration—is a work in process for most organizations. This capability also needs a backbone to latch itself to—the culture, policies, and processes of a leadership system that enable and encourage collaborative ways of working.

As a business concept du jour, collaboration means everything from open office concepts to electronic documents that multiple people can work on simultaneously, to team work. These are all elements of collaboration, but they fail to adequately define it. Collaboration is a risk sharing and resource leveraging strategic behavior that necessitates coordinating activities and exchanging information for mutual benefit. It requires an environment of trust, transparency, and respect. It is a comprehensive way of thinking and acting that takes proficiency in multiple skills. It is not a single skill and certainly not a technology.

Companies that are successful in becoming digitally-enabled and customer-obsessed—and therefore prepared to compete as we enter the 2020s—are those best able to collaborate internally and externally. For example, MIT Sloan Management Review’s research finds that: “A focus on collaboration—both within organizations and with external partners and stakeholders—is central to how companies create business value and establish competitive advantage.”[1] According to a study by SAP, “Digital winners tend to have more managers with strong collaboration skills than lower performing companies. In addition, 74 percent of these top performing companies plan to actively nurture the concept of collaboration within their organizations over the next few years.”[2]

Despite collaborative skills becoming ever more the imperative, the reality of collaborative execution is far more challenging than the data would have you believe. In a study from Capgemini, approximately 85 percent of executives believe that their organizations easily collaborate across functions and business units, whereas only a little over 40 percent of their employees—who are actually on the front-lines of collaboration—agree.[3] A Harvard Business Review article on collaboration sheds light on this collaboration gap:

Leaders think about collaboration too narrowly: as a value to cultivate but not a skill to teach. Businesses have tried increasing it through various methods, from open offices to naming it an official corporate goal. While many of these approaches yield progress—mainly by creating opportunities for collaboration or demonstrating institutional support for it—they all try to influence employees through superficial or heavy-handed means, and research has shown that none of them reliably delivers truly robust collaboration.[4]

Does this mean that, while collaboration works in theory, it can’t be practically applied? Not at all. But the question does strike at the heart of the problem—collaboration is easier said than done.

Let’s look at a simple example. A company we were engaged with instituted a campaign to improve collaboration amongst sales teams. The company spent a lot of time, effort, and money on a program intended to promote collaboration within the teams. When the results were evaluated, the program’s sponsors found that level of collaboration hadn’t improved at all.

Our analysis quickly identified why that was the case. The teams’ performance was evaluated by rank-ordering each of the team members from best to worst. And, using the existing performance criteria, the individuals at the top received a number of “rewards” for their success, while the folks at the bottom of the rankings lost their jobs. Clearly, the evaluation process encouraged an “everyman for himself” approach that was exactly the opposite to the desired increase in team collaboration.

That’s the collaboration paradox at work—rewarding the traditional approach while investing to get the desired increase in collaboration. Despite focusing on collaborative skill building, the company neglected to adjust their employee evaluation and reward system—elements of the leadership system—to support collaboration. Leadership worked to change the evaluation system to reward collaboration and our subsequent analysis demonstrated both increases in collaboration and sales performance.

This is but one example of attempts to foster collaboration falling flat because the leadership system was built for competition among team members, not collaboration. Until companies evolve their leadership systems, collaboration as a strategic behavior will remain easier said than done.

[1] David Kiron, “Why Your Company Needs More Collaboration,” MIT Sloan Management Review, Fall 2017

[2] Virginia Backaitis, “Collaboration Leads to Success in Digital Workplaces,” SAP Survey, 2017

[3] “The Digital Culture Challenge: Closing the Employee-Leadership Gap,” Capgemini Digital Transformation Institute, 2018

[4] Francesca Gino, “Cracking the Code on Sustained Collaboration,” Harvard Business Review, November-December 2019.

Tags:  collaboration  collaboration paradox  collaborative skills  Jan Twombly  leadership system  The Rhythm of Business 

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Q4 Strategic Alliance Quarterly Sourcing Outtakes: The Power of the First Draft, Ever-Changing Tech Standards, Customers and the Cloud, Value vs. Discounts

Posted By Jon Lavietes, Wednesday, December 11, 2019

In our upcoming issues of Strategic Alliance Monthly and Strategic Alliance Quarterly, we will examine the changing nature of supplier collaborations in today’s business world. In a lengthy feature for Strategic Alliance Quarterly, we dive deep into how advanced digital technologies are transforming sourcing and procurement managers’ jobs such that they now need alliance management skills and practices to effectively carry out their responsibilities. Meanwhile, a feature in our next edition of Strategic Alliance Monthly explores how a company can become a preferred supplier in the eyes of its partner.

As is the case with just about every piece we put together for ASAP’s publications, there were plenty of great insights left over from our interviews with experts from the ASAP community that don’t appear in either article. Here are just a few of those nuggets.

Alliance Agreements and the Power of the Pen

Andrew Eibling, CSAP, vice president of business development and alliance management at Enable Injections, Inc., made it known several times during our conversation that he felt that, in pharma, the procurement division was generally a parking lot for nonstrategic partnerships. In other words, wind up with a procurement manager as your point of contact and odds are that you have almost zero chance of having any real influence over the partner organization’s affairs. In that discussion, Eibling noted that initial contract negotiations offered a sign of how a partner will view your organization and relationship. The goal is to agree on a contract that hews closer to the principles set forth in The ASAP Handbook of Alliance Management rather than a boilerplate supplier agreement, and the best way to ensure this is to compose the first draft for the partner’s review.

“Somebody has the power of the pen. Who drafts the agreement first? Everyone wants to take the first pass because that becomes the substrate you’re going to work from,” said Eibling. He added that an alliance agreement “tends to be more bidirectional versus what we would get from a monodirectional supplier agreement [where] you will do what’s on the schedule according to the terms we agreed to, and that’s that.”

Are We a “Standards Fit”?

An important element to assembling a tech alliance that we didn’t end up exploring in great depth in the feature was the layer of complexity added by the number of disparate standards for emerging technologies, such as cloud and IoT, competing in the marketplace. Companies putting together a smart tractor, for example, have to find partners that are not only a feature/function fit and a cultural fit but also a “standards fit,” so to speak—that is, they base their systems on technical protocols that align with your IT architecture.

“Things are moving so fast. You might get a standard out there and get everybody to adopt it, but then some new technology comes along that disrupts it all. You’ve spent all this money on standardization and it didn’t endure. That’s one of the reasons why, as a supplier, you need to know what your customers’ sourcing strategies are, and if you’re going to be compatible with the direction they are going in,” said Russ Buchanan, CSAP, vice president of strategic alliances at Xerox and ASAP’s chairman emeritus.

As an example, Buchanan talked about how companies that base their technology on proprietary standards want to be sure to avoid getting entwined with organizations that are placing their chips on open source models.

“OK Google: I’m Seeing Other Cloud Companies”

Subhojit Roye, CSAP, vice president and head of alliances at Tech Mahindra Business Services, singled out the three cloud Goliaths—Google, AWS, and Microsoft—as another potential source of complexity in constructing an alliance. One or more of those vendors may pressure the manufacturer to make it the exclusive cloud platform for the new product or service, but in many cases decent portions of the OEM’s customer base may be split among each of the three cloud leaders. The manufacturer can’t risk alienating a portion of its clients. Thus, the sourcing manager may need to stand up to a powerful market mover, something alliance managers have been doing for years.

“Suddenly, if you’re the procurement manager you have to explain to Google, ‘I’m sorry, but customers are demanding that we have to talk with all three companies,’” Roye said.

Don’t Nickel-and-Dime a Valuable Relationship

More than one interviewee stressed that lower prices are no longer the end game for sourcing and procurement managers. Overall value is the buyer’s main goal. Roye explained the situation in greater detail.

“The procurement function is becoming more and more strategic. The chief marketing officer is becoming critical. Chief customer service officer, the head of sales, and the CEO are suddenly banking on the procurement officer to say, ‘Listen, those days are gone. Don’t nickel-and-dime the vendor. Don’t ask him to give us a $10 item for $6. We’d rather get more value for $10. We’d rather pay him $12 to make sure he’s happy with us, he gives us our products on time—we don’t wind up with a screw-up on Thanksgiving or during the winter holidays—or he doesn’t switch at the last minute and go to a competitor.”

Remember, this is just what hit the cutting room floor. Be sure to check out the next issues of Strategic Alliance Monthly and Strategic Alliance Quarterly for more great insights into alliance management vis-à-vis the sourcing and procurement functions in today’s corporate landscape. 

Tags:  alliances  Andrew Eibling  AWS  Cloud  digital technologies  Enable Injections  Google  IoT  Microsoft  procurement  relationship  Russ Buchanan  Sourcing  Strategic Alliance Quarterly  Subhojit Roye  Tech Mahindra Business Services  Tech Standards  transforming sourcing  Value vs. Discounts  Xerox 

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Alignment, Agility, and ‘Leadership IQ’ | Alliance leaders always have driven alignment. But what do we do differently, as disruption accelerates?

Posted By Michael Leonetti, CSAP, Wednesday, November 27, 2019

As an alliance leader, I used to spend 70 percent of my time not working with partners, but working on aligning internally. The concept of creating value through partnering was brand new for our leaders. We’d never walk into a meeting without a pre-meeting. Building alignment stole time away from creating new value with partners—yet it was critically important to delivering the value intended when the alliance was created.

Much has changed in alliance management—but driving alignment remains a central task of alliance leaders.

Indeed, research indicates the highest performing alliance leaders are “ambassadors” who bridge boundaries both internally as well as externally. They focus “on dialoguing with superiors and other stakeholders, proactively putting themselves on the agenda of their leaders, and managing behaviors,” according to Dave Luvison, CSAP, PhD, professor at Loyola University Maryland.

That makes sense—but what about time for externally facing alliance management?

Applying agile principles to partnering reflects a broad understanding in our profession that alliance management cannot afford to accrete more bureaucracy and process. Instead, how can we simplify the activities and processes of driving alignment so that partnering can become more agile? That seems essential to proceed effectively in the ecosystem—where it’s just not possible for there to be 100 percent alignment.

Complex models once helped us describe, in comprehensive detail, the complicated work and rich value created in the alliance management function. Alliance leaders have always looked for simplified means to explain the complexity of partner value creation. Back in the day, we used our STAR model to define Situations, Tasks, Actions, and Results—simplifying our alignment discussions as much as possible.

Today, partnering leaders look to jettison complexity wherever they can, seeking shortcuts in the traditional alliance lifecycle and technologies to further streamline alliance activities. It is the embodiment of Albert Einstein’s famous admonishment: “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” At its roots, then, agility is about changing how we think.

“Growth is a thinking game,” said Salesforce evangelist Tiffani Bova, author of Growth IQ. I would add that alliance management is a thinker’s profession. As our profession both expands and evolves in direct response to pervasive disruption, our most critical and differentiating skill remains our “leadership IQ.” It defines how we understand the transformation of business and its implications for partnering practice.

“In the advancing era of artificial intelligence, companies need to create all the pieces—and alliances—necessary to make it easy to adapt for the advancement of products,” said Bruce Anderson, IBM’s general manager, high tech/electronics industry. “You need to ask how your company should be thinking about alliances in this accelerating business approach,” he emphasized. “Alliances have become fundamental to the idea of strategy.”

Anderson’s and Bova’s points reinforced each other in a powerful way, I thought. How we think, the choices (and sequence of choices) we make, and how quickly and efficiently we can make decisions all matter. Alliance managers must improve their “leadership IQ” to better understand the big picture of disruption, how it will create value or threaten loss of market share—and how, “in this accelerating business approach,” they will drive alignment accordingly.

Tags:  accelerating  agile  aligning creating value  alliance leader  alliance management  alliances  artificial intelligence  Bruce Anderson  Dave Luvison  drive alignment  Growth IQ  IBM  leadership IQ  Loyola University Maryland  partnering alliance  partners  strategy  Tiffani Bova 

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“We Need Partners—Fast!” Leveraging Partnerships to Respond to Paradigm Shifts

Posted By Michael J. Burke, Friday, November 15, 2019

For old established companies, responding and adapting to market changes and shifts in technology and consumer buying behavior can be especially difficult. When the old ways of doing business no longer bring in the revenue they once did and the once-revered firm struggles to maintain its top market position, entrenched internal processes and stagnant thinking can lead to a steady decline—or worse, an “extinction event” that topples the old behemoth.

            That might have been the case for Philips Lighting, which was spun off by Philips in 2016 with a new name, Signify (but still uses Philips branding for hardware products). Philips began its life in 1891 as Royal Philips, and was a market leader in lighting for at least a century thereafter. According to Ivo Rutten, vice president and head of global strategic alliances for Signify, the history of lighting amounted to approximately “110 years of tranquility followed by four major paradigm shifts in two decades.” He made these and other observations as part of his keynote address on the second and final day of the ASAP European Alliance Summit held Nov. 14–15 in Amsterdam.

            He even went so far as to compare these paradigm shifts to “the meteors that killed the dinosaurs.” The four paradigm shifts were the advent of LED lighting, lighting systems, services centered around lighting, and “light as a language,” involving the increasing use of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies.

            A company whose main business was ordinary consumer lighting found that this line of business was no longer so important. “Everything the company was based on was wiped away,” Rutten acknowledged. So in order to deal with these successive meteor strikes—and not to end up as dead as the poor dinosaurs—Signify realized that it “needed partners—fast.”

            And it was all very well to develop new lighting systems, services, and IoT applications and move into B2B. But to get businesses to buy and install them? IT managers at companies would say, “Philips? In my network? No way. I’ll be hacked.” Philips/Signify had no credibility in this area, so it had to seek out partners that would help it gain entry.

            A big one was and is Cisco, which could help with its own reputation in IT to pave the way. Now Signify could say, “You won’t be hacked—just ask Cisco,” Rutten said. Cisco’s credibility in network hardware and Signify’s lighting expertise combined to make a unique and appealing value proposition.

            But in order to partner effectively, Signify had to learn and develop a number of partnering best practices. Among the most important, according to Rutten:

  • Establishing clear objectives for the alliance—e.g., additional growth, alliance-attributable revenue, access to a channel, improved technology
  • Ensuring alignment in both companies, or as Rutten said, “Nail it tight”
  • Set up rigorous processes to run the alliance
  • Get “everyone on the bus” by incentivizing the sales force

Added to these must-haves, Rutten said, were a number of key insights, including:

  • An alliance is not necessarily a “regular business relationship” and may be relatively nontransactional
  • There should be a combined value proposition
  • Both companies must benefit beyond normal business returns
  • The financial impact—and the risk—may go well beyond normal business
  • Partners need to be continually aligned and realigned—which means explaining and re-explaining the what, why, and how of the alliance, internally and externally
  • The alliance should have similar importance to both parties
  • Local sales forces in both companies should become self-motivating

Although not purely transactional, it’s a reality that in an alliance each party must give and get, or as Rutten said, “Their contribution must match our needs.” He noted the importance of creating a balanced first-draft term sheet—“our end and your end”—and putting it in front of the partner before moving on to a dialogue and working out differences, aligning objectives, etc.

            As in other companies, the governance structure of significant alliances involves three tiers: day-to-day alliance management, decision making by a joint steering committee, and C-level interaction by the heads of both companies.

            Such principles and practices are important enough in a one-to-one alliance, such as with Cisco, but even more so when multiple partners are involved, as in the Philips HUE ecosystem, which blends security, lighting automation, the setting of events, tasks, and routines at home, a user-friendly interface that responds to voice or phone commands, and full integration into a smart home.

            To make HUE operational, an ecosystem was needed, involving many partners including Apple, Amazon, Nest, and Bosch, as well as more than 50,000 third-party developers who have so far put up over 900 apps on the Android and Apple platforms. As Signify and its many partners move forward, more use cases will be identified and the whole ecosystem will become an expanding universe—at least until the next meteor hits.

Tags:  alliance management  ASAP European Alliance Summit  B2B  c-level  ecosystem  integration  Internet of Things  IoT applications  Ivo Rutten  joint steering committee  one-to-one alliance  partners  Philips Lighting  platforms  Royal Philips  Signify  strategic alliances 

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“Conductor of the Orchestra”: How Alliance Managers Harmonize Organizational Complexity

Posted By Michael J. Burke, Thursday, November 14, 2019

In “matrix organizations”—those working on multiple, complex, often large-scale projects with at least two chains of command—building and maintaining the alliance function “all comes down to leadership.” That was one of the key observations made by Lucinda Warren, who delivered the opening day keynote address at the ASAP European Alliance Summit on Nov. 14 in Amsterdam.

            Warren, vice president of business development, neuroscience, Janssen Business Development at Johnson & Johnson Innovation and also an alliance management veteran, called her talk “Leadership and Skills in Managing an Alliance in a Matrix Organization.” In an enterprise running multiple projects across multiple functions—and with multiple partners—who will tie it all together? Who will serve as the voice of the alliance and be the advocate for the partner, as needed?

            The alliance manager, of course.

            Some of the challenges, issues, and important insights that come with matrix organizations and their increased partnering complexity, Warren said, include:

  • “Alliances are not projects,” and thus alliance managers are not project managers, although the roles are often confused.
  •  Alliance managers create value; project managers deliver value.
  • Alliance management is critical throughout the product or asset life cycle; project management is critical at certain specific points.
  • When resources are stretched, alliance functions don’t always solve for it.
  • Alliance management is one function, but real collaboration requires the coordination and participation of multiple experts from various functions.
  • Who are the decision makers going to be? This question must be looked at from both internal and external perspectives.
  • Alliance management proactively identifies potential risks and seeks to mitigate them.

Warren further noted that having an alliance creates a sort of alliance “tax” on organizations—since all decisions and most information must be shared with the partner, it can double or even triple the time it takes to perform many actions, which can increase costs. Alliance managers need to help navigate these activities and act as the “conductor of the orchestra”: being familiar with all the instruments that are playing and making sure that each one—and all of them together—is “tuned perfectly for the ear.” They don’t know how to do each job, but (to switch to an electrical metaphor) they know which circuits need to be reset.

            They need to navigate not only their own organization but also the partner’s—otherwise they (and others) will be operating in a “black box” in which the partner’s challenges and motivations may remain unknown and/or misunderstood. Communication is thus imperative—about timelines, how decisions are made, how governance is to be conducted, etc.

            Which brings us to the critical role of leadership. As Warren said, “The value of the alliance function needs to be woven into the fabric of the organization.” Thus alliances and alliance management must be integrated into business strategy and operations—with full senior leadership backing and engagement. With increasing reliance by matrix organizations on partnering, everything that is done influences future collaborations and thus should be tilted toward attracting more partners going forward. Benchmarks must be established, with the goal of being a more successful partner.

            Warren said that alliance management is “more important than ever before,” and that the alliance manager is often “the CEO’s right-hand man,” the one who knows everything that’s happening, internally across functions and at the partner organization. Since these functions—and partners—typically speak different languages, the alliance manager’s job is to bridge divides for a common goal, bring everyone together in an unbiased and objective way, and not take sides.

            Or not take sides, except as the advocate for and representative of the alliance itself. “If we’re successful, people forget there’s a collaboration,” Warren concluded. “No fires are burning, nobody’s getting sued. It’s a thankless job, but [when done well] people seek you out as an expert who can triage. You’re the driver of organizational capability enhancement.”

Tags:  Alliance manager  alliances  CEO  Cindy Warren  collaboration  creating value  leadership  life cycle  matrix organization  mitigate risk 

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