“Our IT department currently has a very bad reputation among its business partners. Unfortunately, this reputation has been long earned. As a BRM (business relationship manager, or IT Business Partner), I find it difficult to navigate these waters and struggle to connect relationships with results. I’m curious if any of you have had experience trying to fix or turn something like this around. I realize I’m just one person, but there has to be something I can do as a BRM to help, after all it’s all about relationships.”
This is a query I have received frequently during my career. As a technology director focused on business relationship management, many times we have to work very hard to restore and fix relationships between areas of the organization.
When we talk about relationships, we are not only referring to the interaction of people, but of the areas working in an organization. The “sum” of relationships gives us the result of the relationships between the areas. And relationships are strengthened when we demonstrate that what we say we are going to do is done, when we manage to gain the trust of our business partners because we work in such a way that we achieve the strategic objectives of the organization. When we understand that we all share ownership for the success or failure of the organization and we help each other to achieve our objectives.
On the contrary, relationships deteriorate when we do not deliver what we promised on time, when we look for excuses and blame to justify why we did not deliver on time, cost or scope; when we do not share information or are not transparent, when we are not willing to listen to our business partners, when we believe that we are right and “they” do not know what they are talking about.
When we are in a situation where the relationship has already deteriorated, where trust has been lost and, if the business partner could, they would work with someone different, it is necessary to take quick and effective actions to regain trust and demonstrate that, despite what has happened in the past, it is possible to rebuild the relationship and regain trust between the parties.
Here are some ideas on the subject. It is important to emphasize that there is no single recipe or formula that will automatically work, but that you need to know the culture of the organization, its values and purpose, as well as its operating and strategic model in order to select those actions that will really have a significant impact on rebuilding the relationship:
- Listen and understand concerns: It is important to find space to listen to business partners and understand their concerns and complaints. The focus is to listen and not to talk or justify, just to capture the partners’ point of view as openly as possible. This will allow for a clearer view of the specific issues and challenges faced by IT in its relationship with other departments.
- Transparent communication: Always seek to have transparent and effective communication. It is important to make sure that expectations are clear and that information flows properly between the IT department and business partners. Seek to have regular (and effective!) meetings, status reports and regular updates on projects.
- Foster empathy and mutual understanding: Help build bridges of empathy and foster mutual understanding of each other’s challenges and goals.
- Establish an improvement plan: Work with the IT department to identify specific areas that need improvement and develop an action plan with clear timelines. Ensure that the IT team is committed to improvement and is serious about implementing this plan.
- Show tangible results: Ensure that the established improvements are reflected in tangible and measurable results. For example: faster project delivery, increased efficiency in technical support, or a reduction in recurring problems.
- Solicit constant feedback: Ask for constant feedback from business partners to evaluate progress to ensure that improvements are working. Use this feedback to make adjustments.
- Promote training and development: Invest in skills development and training for both the IT team and business partners. This will help improve the quality and utilization of enabling capabilities.
- Recognize and celebrate progress: Publicly acknowledge the achievements and improvements made by the IT team and business partners. Remember that this is not just one-sided work, but a joint effort between the areas involved.
- Participate in strategic initiatives: Work closely with business partners on strategic projects. Seek convergence of strategy in ONE business strategy. Remember: all initiatives and projects are the need of the organization, not of one area or another. Review the purpose, mission and vision of the organization and make sure that everyone understands and identifies with them. Make sure that everyone understands and lives the core values of the organization. Identify people who have difficulties to help them and make the right decisions, if necessary.
- Maintain patience and be perseverant: Changing the perception of an area takes time. It is important to be patient and perseverant in efforts to improve the area’s relationships and reputation.
- Drive Value: Identify whether the current value management process is actually working and helping the organization. Proactively anticipate value leakage throughout the lifecycle of an initiative, from idea capture to live production, until the projects ends.
- Evolve the culture: Identify the words that foster silos in the organization (internal supplier, service provider, internal customer), etc., and work with all the high influencers to start using the right language.
By reviewing the situation and implementing some of the points mentioned above, we will be working effectively to rebuild a bad relationship.