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Managing Organizational Upheaval: Summit Session Teaches Alliance Managers How to Ease the Pain of Blistering Change

Posted By Jon Lavietes, Friday, July 10, 2020

The 2020 ASAP Global Alliance Summit may have officially concluded last Thursday, but registrants will have the opportunity to fill their brains with knowledge for several more weeks through additional sessions that are on demand via the Summit portal.

One of those presentations came courtesy of a pair of partnering pros from legal, tax, and accounting information services firm Thomson Reuters, who weighed in on a predicament which many are finding themselves in, given the current state of the global economy, “Absorbing and Facilitating Change: Managing Your Partner Program Through Organizational Upheaval”

Although the original inspiration for this session was the aftermath of the sale of more than half of Thomson Reuters’ assets to private equity firm Blackstone in 2018, much of what Ben Anderson, CA-AM, JD, Esq., partner asset and licensing program manager at Thomson Reuters, and Susan Cleveland, JD, global strategic alliances manager at Thomson Reuters, shared could be applied to situations that many are facing today thanks to COVID-19.

Anderson and Cleveland explained that they have had their hands full adjusting to their new post-acquisition reality. They have had to change partner agreements, separate domain names, and untangle joint products and services that were embedded into the business. A simple method for gaining approvals—sign-off from the vice president of sales—has been supplanted by a new protocol that entails navigating a labyrinthine org chart and multiple stakeholders. Although Cleveland said the alliance management practice has been buoyed by the buy-in they have received as a result of this face time with officials from all reaches of the company, she acknowledged that the process has forced the group to be less nimble. 

Hit Change Head on

After a brief background on the corporate changes to Thomson Reuters, the presenters put up a slide summarizing advice gleaned from many works of literature about dealing with change in a corporate or professional setting. The common thread among these sources is “hitting change head on. Don’t try to avoid it,” according to Anderson. “You need to prepare and you need to have a positive attitude about it, and you need to be an advocate for change in your organization.” Otherwise, “that valuable time is going to be squandered.”

Employees dodge change for many reasons. Cleveland and Anderson listed fear, incomplete information, inconsistent transparency, project organization, alignment, uncertainty, educating new people, and challenges in communication as some of the reasons why many choose not to deal with it.

The plus for alliance managers is that they are used to dealing with everything mentioned on that slide, Anderson noted. Cleveland recommended tackling fear first. In her company’s case, “People [were] afraid of losing their jobs” after the acquisition. She counseled viewers who may be dealing with similar situations in the current pandemic to “acknowledge the fear and say, ‘Hey, I’m not here to take your job. Yes, things are going to have to change, but I’m here to make this a positive change that helps our organization and helps you do your job better.”

Keep Technology, Org Changes, and Alliance Portfolio Info up to Date 

How do you prepare for change? Start with your technology. Make sure internal database and workflow applications are updated to reflect forthcoming organizational changes, so that contract amendments and terminations can be inputted quickly, for example. It is crucial to update partner portals during these times as well, as many people often miss emails, memos, and other pertinent communication because they are buried in work and moving at a blazing speed in the midst of a crisis.

Next, keep up with structural changes being made in yours and your partner’s organizations that result from major transactions, personnel moves, and the like.

“We’re going to see a lot of organizations change as a result of these changes that are happening to our economy,” said Cleveland. “You need to know who the right people are.”

If you can graphically illustrate a gap in a reconfigured chain of command, it will help corporate powers-that-be make quick adjustments to improve workflow. Otherwise, leaders might be tempted to overreact to a bump in the road and take more drastic measures than necessary.

“People are able to quickly grasp that information and focus on solving a problem, rather than saying— and I always hated hearing this—‘We need to look at this with a fresh lens and completely redo it from scratch.’ That’s how that precious time component can be lost,” said Anderson.

Org charts aren’t the only visuals alliance management needs to prepare as change swirls around a company. Alliance pros should always have illustrations of win-win scenarios; quick wins that partnering can bring in lead generation, marketing, or speed-to-market; and “Negotiating 101” for partner contracts on hand in the event they need to educate employees in other parts of the company who will work on or oversee alliances in some capacity or prove the alliance practice’s value at a moment’s notice. The presenters have also found that it always helps to have materials at the ready that explain the differences between a partner and a vendor.

Punctuating this information with ASAP knowledge has boosted the credibility of the Thomson Reuters alliance group’s educational information.

“I love saying that there’s an organization that dedicates its time just to this subject,” said Anderson.

“Best practices are critical, but back it up with data. It’s a 1-2 punch,” added Cleveland. These presentations should be tailored around your company’s preferred success metrics, whether that be revenue, margins, or other statistics.  

“Radical Transparency,” Joint Clients Help Hammer Home Messaging

When communicating internally during organizational upheaval, both presenters endorsed a policy of “radical transparency,” which entails keeping critical information related to partner agreements and initiatives up to date and accessible to everyone in the company—Cleveland leans on a “smart sheet” that tracks every single phase of onboarding a new partner, for example. She also noted that this approach flies in the face of the perception that hoarding information helps retain power.   

Communicating externally to partners is slightly more nuanced. Alliance managers often know about developments that haven’t been publicly disclosed. They must be mindful not to share sensitive information, and know at all times what has already been put in writing. However, don’t waste a minute in getting details to partners once information has been approved for external consumption, and be careful in phrasing your updates.

“Words matter,” reminded Cleveland.

Anderson urged listeners to “become best friends with your external communications team” more than once during the presentation. The communications department can, and should, inform partners about major company transformations just as they would other key constituents, such as employees, investors, and the general public.

It also essential to align partner and client communication. It is understandable if clients need to get information first. However, too much lag time between informing clients and partners often makes the latter “feel out of the loop,” in Anderson’s observation.

And make sure to communicate through multiple channels—email, phone, portal, Slack, etc. Different people rely on different media for primary communication.

Cleveland urged virtual Summit attendees to recruit joint clients to share their endorsement of company developments, wherever possible, to boost credibility of the message.

“Joint clients talk,” she said. “They can help us evangelize when there are these changes.”

Either way, Anderson advised session viewers to “continue to advocate for your partners,” regardless of what is going on internally.

The presenters concluded the session with their key takeaways. Cleveland stressed that change isn’t new, and it’s inevitable.

“Have a positive attitude around change,” she urged, adding that a negative attitude can hamper the morale of those in your orbit. “We’ve all been in those meetings where that one person brings it all down.”

Anderson suggested that alliance pros look at change as an opportunity. They might get to try new things that could benefit them in the long run.

“If things are going to be done in a new way, then look at the positive,” he said. “If you start early, if you are prepared for that transition, you will come out on top.”

Again, this session is available to Summit registrants in the 2020 ASAP Global Alliance Summit portal, along with more than a dozen other prerecorded presentations and video of all three days of the live event itself. Summit content will be accessible until August 18. 

Tags:  accounting information services  alliance management  Ben Anderson  communications team  COVID-19  legal  onboarding  partner agreements  Partner Program  partnering  partners  radical transparency  Susan Cleveland  tax  Thomson Reuters 

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