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School of Thought: Three Case Studies Illustrate How to Train Your Alliance Pros

Posted By Jon Lavietes, Thursday, July 23, 2020

Training is still a priority to corporations around the world, according to research from Vantage Partners. More than $80 billion was spent on all forms of coursework in 2019, but how much of that was dedicated to teaching formal alliance best practices? Not much, according to Ben Siddall, partner at Vantage Partners, who revealed that the same research found almost half of companies invested zero or few resources in teaching collaboration skills.

Siddall and his fellow partner at Vantage Jessica Wadd took some of their time to talk about the benefits of making this investment in their on-demand 2020 ASAP Global Alliance Summit session “Alliance Management Skill Building: Case Studies Across Industries,” where they presented a trio of case studies showing that successful collaborative training can take many forms.

Before delving into the actual use cases, Wadd shared that organizations that are best-in-class in executing collaborations have devoted resources—usually on a large scale—to fostering the following skills within their employees: creative joint problem solving, managing emotions, collaboration, communication, influence, conflict management, change management, and facilitation. She outlined three broad categories of skills to help companies tailor training to the needs of their troops: 1) analytical (i.e., technical knowledge), 2) behavioral (i.e., mindset-oriented), and 3) blended—talents that require a mix of the first two skills. As Wadd and Siddall would subsequently reveal, the organization’s overall training objectives, as well as the company and department culture, often dictate which format and skill-development exercises are best for a given situation. 

Come Together: Salespeople Gather to Network, Share, and Learn

Wadd outlined the first case study, which saw a $3 billion tech company design a certification program to ensure that its sales-oriented alliance team developed the talents needed to manage a large stockpile of go-to-market partnerships. This organization was at “level 2” on a four-point scale rating organizational collaborative capability, where level 1 signified a low alliance proficiency and a propensity to engage in partnerships on an ad hoc basis and level 4 indicated that collaboration was coded in an organization’s DNA. The organization envisioned moving up two levels by teaching a variety of executives from within and outside of the alliance practice the basic tenets of “Alliance 101,” including partner value creation, coopetition, multiparty problem solving, collaboration and influence, negotiation, matrix usage, and account planning.

This organization determined that in-person training would best fit its sales-centric culture—its charges “craved interpersonal interaction,” Wadd said. Training sessions served as a reunion of sorts where the largely dispersed employee base could gather to experience firsthand “the value of getting together with their colleagues, sharing experiences, networking with each other, and building a knowledge of what others had done,” as Wadd recounted. The actual sessions were organized into four broader tracks:

  1. Alliance concepts and best practices: Alliance management basics, change management, and coopetition
  2. Understanding partner business models and alliance business plans: Customer value creation and value chain analysis, and account planning and strategy development
  3. Advanced collaboration and influence: Multiparty problem solving, negotiation, and general collaboration and influence skills
  4. Roles and responsibilities (in the organization and within the alliance itself): Working in a matrix, coaching, and talent development

Learners were officially certified when they demonstrated competency in these skills, not upon completion of the courses. They were evaluated based on a three-part assessment: 1) a qualitative review by the trainee’s manager or sales leader, 2) a 34-question multiple-choice test, and 3) a presentation of two case studies demonstrating the application of alliance principles in real-life scenarios.

Biopharma AMs Ease into Self-Guided Alliance Journeys

On the other side of the spectrum of training methods was the largely customizable, self-service program architected by a level-3 $30 billion global pharma company that relied on partnering for growth. These alliance managers were proficient in the basics of alliance management, but they were increasingly engaging in early-stage partnerships, a departure from the largely late-stage collaborations the team was used to. With a decentralized team scattered in multiple geographies, this pharmaceutical giant took the opposite tack of the previous use case and created a library of prerecorded webinars and an accessible central alliance toolkit that provided a “baseline and discipline in how they engaged in alliance relationships,” according to Siddall.

Prospective students could assess their training needs through surveys and self-assessment tools. Employees had different needs depending on the types of alliances they worked on and the particular skills required for their respective engagements. Each individual could mine this central repository of virtual real-time learning sessions, classroom sessions, self-guided learning, one-on-one coaching, and community-based learning to create “their own learning journey out of that landscape,” said Siddall. “Folks were able to tailor what they needed and how they got it to their specific constraints, all within the construct of the core alliance management tools, processes, and playbook.”

Pharma Company “Layers” AM, Leadership, and Governance Training on Thick

Another biopharma company was looking to advance its alliance practice from a level-2 standing and become the coveted “partner of choice” in its market. With most of the employees engaged in its partnerships centrally located in a few offices, the company opted for a classroom style and a syllabus designed for alliance professionals. It decided to “layer” leadership training on top of the basic alliance curriculum, and then codeliver the entire offering to the rest of the organization in an “open enrollment” format, in Wadd’s retelling.

Within a few years, the course was heavily attended by alliance first-timers and other employees whose managers felt that they could benefit from learning core collaborative competencies. These classes were eventually complemented with online learning resources, as well. The program evolved to cater to specific governance needs across the alliance portfolio. Although they were not required, executives who were appointed to committees were urged to take courses that were conceived specifically for these roles, as well as half-day sessions that took place a few times a year where committee appointees could network, share ideas, learn from each other, and enhance their skills.

Integrating alliance training for all levels and roles in this fashion “makes sense when you have a limited budget,” in Wadd’s estimation.

Three Different Ways to the Next Level

Each of these three use cases relied on very different means to train alliance managers and non-alliance personnel in the core tenets of alliance management, yet they each molded stronger alliance managers and elicited better results from their collaborations. The certification program expanded the number of tools in the team’s arsenal, engaged employees from other departments, and increased the value of the portfolio to the point where alliances now contribute 40 to 50 percent of the company’s domestic revenue growth. The biopharma giant’s self-administered training similarly expanded the role and visibility of alliance management within the organization. More important, the efficient use of resources ensured that the practice could “optimize the use of [its] scarce central alliance expert time and apply [it] only to the highest-value challenges [it] faced,” said Siddall. The last training helped the alliance management team better defuse potentially volatile situations, reduced the number of escalations to senior governance committees, and produced better resolutions of the issues that were brought to senior management. The alliance practices of the first two organizations have reached level-4 status, while the latter pharmaceutical company has moved from level 2 to 3.

Although these case studies make it crystal clear that there is no “single silver bullet” for alliance training, Siddall outlined a few common principles in achieving collaborative training goals among them:

  1. Think about the learning journey as a process, not an event. “You can’t create collaboration, influence, [and] the kinds of complex skills alliance managers need at a one-time event with no prework, no follow-up, [and] no action learning,” said Siddall.
  2. Make sure all subject matter is contextualized. “Generic content will not be as impactful. Folks won’t develop the skills, and they won’t be as engaged,” counseled Siddall.
  3. Instructors should have real-world expertise and speak the same language as attendees.
  4. Emphasize practical application. Siddall recommended a “learning laboratory” format where students apply concepts to real-world scenarios.
  5. Think carefully about format,” Siddall exhorted, hypothesizing that analytical-category learning outlined by Wadd earlier in the presentation might lend itself to self-guided tools, while behavioral and blended training may necessitate live, interactive sessions.

“Alliance Management Skill Building: Case Studies Across Industries” is one of about two dozen 2020 ASAP Global Alliance Summit sessions available on demand to Summit registrants. ASAP members and Summit registrants can access great knowledge like this that applies to all industries and all phases of the alliance life cycle.

Because in the world of alliance management, the learning never stops. 

Tags:  alliance best practices  Alliance Management  Alliance Pros  alliances  Ben Siddall  biopharma  case studies  certification  collaboration skills  Jessica Wadd  partner  portfolio  resources  Skill Building  Vantage Partners 

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Cross-Industry Panel Imparts Insights for Executing David-Goliath Partnerships

Posted By Jon Lavietes, Thursday, June 25, 2020

Big company–small company alliances are a fact of life in some industries. You see them in tech when Global 1,000 technology vendors integrate innovative functionality from smaller startups that fill gaps in their offerings, or when Big Pharma organizations team up with biotechs to develop promising compounds into marketable drugs. Also known as “David-Goliath” alliances, these relationships can contain many hidden land mines if people aren’t careful. Just ask ASAP president and CEO Michael Leonetti, who has led alliance groups in Big Pharma organizations in his career.

“Quite honestly, I’ve seen [this dynamic] kill many an alliance in my time,” said Leonetti in the lead-up to a panel session titled “Managing Power Imbalances: How to Navigate Partnerships Between Large and Small Organizations,” one of the highlights of the second day of this year’s ASAP Global Alliance Summit. 

Moderated by Jessica Wadd, partner at Vantage Partners, this well-rounded panel of seasoned alliance professionals from multiple industries brought a wealth of past and present perspectives from both ends of these types of collaborations:

  • Steve Pessagno, Alliance director and head of global alliance management operations, at GSK
  • Amy Walraven, founder, president, and chief strategy officer at Turnkey Risk Solutions
  • Joy Wilder Lybeer, senior vice president of enterprise alliances at Equifax
  • Troy M. Windt, associate vice president of global alliances and external relations at Reata Pharmaceuticals

“Cultural Diagnosis” Reveals What Might Ail a Collaboration of Big and Small

In kicking off the discussion with an overview of each panelist’s alliance portfolio, Lybeer noted that Equifax relies on smaller outfits to supplement its offerings in ways the company can’t do on its own, She added that the exercise of evaluating a variety of big and small partners “allows us to develop our understanding of potential coopetition, areas where we can supplement our capabilities, or find new routes to market.”

Walraven agreed with Lybeer that smaller companies have plenty of opportunities to complement larger organizations’ offerings with niche “cohesive enhancements.” 

Pessagno, who works with a number of GSK’s R&D-centric alliances with small entities, extolled the virtues of conducting a “cultural diagnosis” at the outset of the relationship to determine how the organizations are and aren’t aligned. This process usually unearths what truly matters to the collaboration as a whole, and these priorities that emerge are eventually woven into the governance and operational elements of the partnership, including the periodic health checks.

Asked what her organization looks for in a larger partner, Walraven cited domain expertise, a strong reputation, and a shared vision of where the fraud, risk, and credit markets, areas in which Humaitrix competes, are heading.

When do you know when you as a smaller organization might have trouble coping with the power imbalance? Windt said to pay attention to the latter’s adaptability right from the start. Since a large firm has lots of processes, can it tailor an alliance structure to fit a partner that might only have two points of contact? He recounted instances where an alternative structure was inserted into the contractual language only to see the large company “migrate back to one way of doing things.”    

Dealing with Outsized Expectations

At one point, Wadd wondered if the panelists ever got excited about a David-Goliath partnership, only to be disappointed when it didn’t fulfill its promise. The panel had no shortage of stories. Walraven spoke of a past partner that showed tremendous enthusiasm about her organization when it was brought in at a late stage of negotiation, but ultimately revealed itself to have little grasp of her company’s value proposition and business model as the collaboration unfolded. The parties tried retooling their joint client deliverables multiple times only to pull the plug on the project after a succession of misfires.

“You really want to make sure that you align ahead of time and that everyone has the same understanding before you set expectations about deliverables with the client,” she said.

Lybeer counseled viewers to identify “pink flags” quickly and abandon an initiative early if the team’s gut feeling is that it will never get onto the right course. She did, however, remind viewers that “the first idea is rarely ever the best idea,” and that oftentimes you don’t necessarily have to walk away from the partner altogether after one failed joint venture.

“As long as we are able and willing to learn and work together, we will find that next innovative idea together,” she said.

Plodding Behemoths Test Nimbler Smaller Companies’ Patience

What should small companies understand about their larger counterparts when evaluating a potential collaboration? Pessagno warned startup and SME alliance professionals that there is a good possibility some of the people in the negotiation stage will disappear after the launch of the partnership. He urged larger corporations to “deal with this transparently” and make some effort to guard against an “asymmetry in the governance.”

Even after some of the initial negotiators drift away, Pessagno acknowledged later in the panel discussion that the larger company’s team might still be four times the size of the smaller counterpart’s, and that the latter will have to endure cumbersome governance and operational processes at times. He recommended that the “Goliath” in the relationship assign a single contact person to the small company’s alliance manager and let the former liaison with the rest of the team and manage the bureaucracy.

In addition, Pessagno implored smaller collaborators to dispel the idea that their larger counterparts have tons of resources to dedicate to their activities. All alliances are competing for a finite amount of resources, even in big companies.

Tech Teams Need Alliance Management Principles

Walraven and Lybeer were asked specifically about analytics-based David-Goliath alliances. The big takeaway: remember that technology partnerships entail more than just technology. Lybeer once handed a technology alliance to the tech team and said, “Good luck to you.”   

“Mistake, mistake, mistake,” she lamented. “Alliance management competencies are a thing.”

The tech team didn’t understand escalation processes and collaboration models, which ended up delaying the activities of the partnership considerably.

Walraven exhorted alliance teams to look at everything through the technical, strategic, solution, and practitioner lenses. Also, take into account that each client and prospect will similarly imagine a joint solution differently.

“Everybody will see it through a different perspective,” she said.  

Alliance Skills Will Help Small-Company Personnel for Life

As the panel concluded, the panelists offered some final takeaways. Walraven reiterated that rigorous work aligning stakeholders on execution strategy up front would ultimately make it “easier to deliver to the client.”

Lybeer urged virtual attendees to strike that balance of being tough without compromising a collaborative mindset.  

“Let’s make sure we’re hard on the hard issues, but not so hard on each other,” she advised.

She echoed her earlier sentiments that you can always walk away from a project that isn’t meeting KPIs without abandoning the partnership entirely.

Most important, according to Windt, work with your HR department to teach collaborative skills and alliance management principles to everyone working on the partnership who may not have an alliance management background. In fact, lobby to make it a permanent part of employee training programs, wherever possible.

“They will serve you well as a person and an employee for the rest of your life,” he said.

Remember, Summit registrants can find this panel, a plethora of sessions from the first two days of the conference, and several prerecorded presentations on demand in the 2020 ASAP Global Alliance Summit portal.  

Tags:  Alliance  alliance management  alliance professionals  alliance skills  Amy Walraven  collaborations  Cultural Diagnosis  enterprise  GSK  Jessica Wadd  Joy Wilder Lybeer  operations  partnership  Reata Pharmaceuticals  skills  Steve Pessagno  Troy M. Windt  Turnkey Risk Solutions  Vantage Partners 

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