Finally, GBS organizations have woken up to the reality that it’s not what you deliver, it’s how your stakeholders feel about what you are delivering. Yet because it’s considered “soft stuff,” too difficult to manage, or better yet, left to the vagaries of individual GBS managers to sort out, GBS organizations suboptimize the relationships they have with the business. And that negatively impacts brand, the ability to scale, and even the sustainability of the GBS model itself. How many GBS organizations met their deconstruction, or even their demise, because business relationship management got short shrift?
Today, many of my conversations center around the quality of GBS’s relationship with the businesses they partner with. They go something like this: why doesn’t the business “get” GBS? How do we change the tenor of the relationship in order to scale? This business (or function) doesn’t line up.
Why is good business relationship management or BRM elusive for the majority of GBS organizations? I think there are a number of causes:
- Seeing BRM as a role, not a way of working: Often, GBS organizations think anointing team members to manage relationships is the right way to approach what is a vital component of the model. It’s a flawed construct; in a model that is very much an ensemble act, everyone takes some level of responsibility for BRM. It’s a process that underpins everything GBS does.
- Ill-defined responsibility: What is the goal? Defining customer strategy? Preparation of quarterly business reviews? Tracking stakeholder health? Playing postman? Who does what? For many, BRM’s responsibility is not clear.
- Poor definition of the customer: Now, this may seem elementary, but if the GBS organization can’t define with whom they must forge effective relationships, how can they possibly manage them? Is it the leaders of the functions? The business? Both? Everyone with equal weight?
- Too many customers: In a multi-function GBS, the customer map is complex. However, we tend to over-index on quantity rather than impact. A slot on an org chart does not automatically merit a tight, ongoing relationship with GBS.
- No success measures: How do GBS organizations accurately gauge the outcomes of a full-on BRM program? Is it down to noise reduction? High net promoter scores, which have their own biases? A “feeling” that a relationship is supportive? And what’s the economic value of the investment?
- Siloed GBS organization structures: When GBS is a collection of functional shared services that more or less operate independently, the focus of relationship health is on the parts, not the sum. When finance thinks that only finance stakeholders matter, or HR works for the CHRO and their henchmen, it is difficult to design and implement a program that considers enterprise—as opposed to functional—stakeholders.
- Assignment to junior staff: Business relationship management requires a deep knowledge of the business, some level of functional knowledge, an ability to determine cause and effect, and finely honed relationship skills. When junior staff are anointed to manage relationships (all too often as a side hustle in enabling processes such as program management or solution development), they become nothing but letter carriers.
- Lack of trust: Telling a leadership team that another, usually more junior team will take primacy in business relationship management is a sure recipe for dysfunction. It’s impossible to isolate BRM from the responsibilities of top management.
- Belief that it can be fixed with a silver bullet: Suddenly putting on a temporary full-court press of love and attention by assigning someone to play point with or over-communicating with the business never works. Relationships take time to nurture or repair.
What should GBS leaders do to implement a more effective business relationship management program?
- Be clear about what the GBS business relationship is, does, and should achieve and how it works with and within other GBS functions. Is the prime focus managing day-to-day relationships? Effective escalations? Providing input to strategy or solutions? How does it collaborate with the transformation team? The vendor management team? The change management team? Top leadership? Remember that BRM is not a standalone endeavor. Set the guidelines and the guardrails.
- Ask the business! We usually design our interaction models in a vacuum, for the convenience of GBS, or because one of our peers says their model is a best practice, so we adopt it. Why not ask the business how they’d like to approach governance? How best to work within their existing communication channels? Which routines would be most valuable to them? Co-creation will go a long way to developing more effective relationships.
- Decide who matters. If your GBS is designed to support the functions, your primary relationship, like it or not, is the function. If you directly serve the business, you still have to liaise with the function. Enough said. However, neither can be ignored nor can the GBS team develop constructive relationships with everyone. Take the time to examine GBS’s relationships, segmenting them into primary, secondary, and tertiary along such factors as scale of relationship, risk, potential for growth, influence, and others.
- Focus on process first. Refrain from slotting business relationship management roles into your operating model until BRM as a process is established. Identify the relationship lifecycle. Determine who within GBS interacts at any given time. Deploy journey map methodology to identify the most common relationship scenarios. Design for dynamism as the business goes in and out of transformation, transition, and silent running. Tie escalation management into a relationship management regime. Document, document, document. And don’t forget to socialize within your GBS team and the business to get buy-in.
- Determine what the interaction model should be—before you develop job descriptions. If BRM is seen as a process as opposed to a function, the implications on the org chart will change from role to responsibility. While defined roles may be effective, they should result from a thoughtful process. Play with the org chart and JDs last to fill gaps in BRM.
- Add B-sat (business relationship satisfaction) to your performance evaluation criteria. Rarely are satisfaction measures part of the GBS team’s evaluation criteria. Work to align satisfaction measures to individual job performance.
- Consider making business relationship management the prime task of site for regional leaders. All too often, these folks’ roles are relegated to managing the delivery team, not playing a vital role in engaging with the business. Take the opportunity to rethink how GBS can harness its proximity to create better business intimacy.
- Decide who is on first, second, and third. Thoughtfully assign responsibility to your leadership team and their direct reports. Develop decision rights and implement communication regimes. Drive to develop trust amongst team members.
- Align communications and change. Too often, they focus on parallel universes without the same priorities. Comms and change management are vital components of BRM; they work together as a unit.
Implementing BRM as a process. Aligning the team. Making it a component of performance. Identifying business journeys. All of these—and more—are critical to improving GBS’s relationships with the business.
However, one change underpins all this hard work—disabusing team members that they “personally” own business relationships. GBS has a relationship with the business; individuals collectively foster and nurture the relationships by interacting with individual stakeholders. When we realize that it’s a team effort, GBS’s success and sustainability are definitely within reach.