In this article we look at the skills a business partner in today’s leading companies requires to have the appropriate impact. It will provide you with an opportunity to reflect and assess how you measure up. What do you do well and what might you need to develop or add to your skill set?
Nowadays all support function professionals are expected to think with the total business in mind and act to put things in place to make goal achievement easier, save cost or make a significant contribution to increasing profit. They are also expected to work as a corporate team in the interests of the company guided by the corporate strategic intent and objectives. They should lay aside in the process any functional interests. This is making a significant demand for many HR, Finance, IT, Supply Chain, Communications, and Marketing professionals to maintain their technical professional competence and add additional skills to be able to operate and make the right impact in this environment.
What are those skills that make a professional functional specialist a business partner?
Strategic Thinking. A critical skill is the ability to see the business holistically and to be able to have a clear line of sight on how the work you are doing impacts the business. How does the company make money and what is critical to it being a healthy business? How will it sustain and grow over time? What is the contribution of your function to making that happen? Mark Thomas and another colleague John Leach have been involved for many years in helping functional professionals expand their strategic knowledge and thinking through providing a Mini MBA with inputs on Strategy, Finance and Marketing. Functional professionals require being armed with this level of understanding to be taken seriously by their senior line colleagues and need to pitch their projects and interventions in business and strategic terms to be listened to.
Internal Change Agent and Consulting Skills. Functional professionals provide a service function to enable their organisation to deliver superior performance and gain a competitive advantage. Functional professionals are typically technical experts in their field. That is why they have been hired. However new business pressures mean that the traditional functional role has changed in many organisations. It is no longer sufficient to provide a narrow functional perspective. Today’s support professionals are expected to add more value to the process of organizational change. Typically they are required to not only challenge existing organisational processes but to also lead integrated change initiatives. This role demands the use of high performance advisory and consulting skills. Making the transition from what we term “colleague to client” is a key success factor. The ability of a support function to see the rest of the organisation as a client brings many new powerful insights into the traditional support role. This new perspective helps many professionals understand why past change plans and initiatives have often suffered flawed implementation. Operating as a Change Agent and Business Adviser demands a specific approach towards managing the internal client or customer. It requires an understanding of some core client management processes such as contracting, information gathering, problem solving and stakeholder management. This approach to managing the internal client or customer is often a missing link for many support specialists.
Influence and Persuasion. How persuasive are you? It starts with your credibility. Have you a reputation for making things happen? Are you starting with a good base of credibility in the organisation that you deliver what you promise? Do you use the right tactics with your internal clients and senior managers? Do you have a grasp on their mental models and pictures and do you adjust how you relate with them to accommodate and build on that? A very useful tool for getting a good grip on influence style and impact is the “Saville Wave”. This is a psychometric developed by one of the leading British Psychologists, Professor Peter Saville. It is designed to provide feedback on personal preferences in layman’s language for managers in today’s organisations. However it is also a very valuable way of gaining feedback on how you prefer to influence and persuade. There is also one dimension which looks in particular at what you do and get done. This will have a significant bearing on your perceived credibility within the organisation.
Negotiation. This skill set is very closely allied to influence and persuasion and there are many elements in common. You could lump them all together but I am choosing to highlight negotiation. The reason is that I am very persuaded by the approach of Stuart Diamond who is a Business Professor at the Wharton School in the US. He outlines and explains his approach in his book “Getting More – You’re always negotiating. Get what you want every day.” Don’t let the title mislead you his approach is very principled and it is not about getting more to the detriment of others. And a lot of what he recommends is also very applicable to influencing and persuading. Having a good negotiation skill set is very important for business partners and increases their effectiveness.
Facilitation. In managing an important process your role may be that of facilitator rather than decision maker. Effective facilitation requires knowledge, experience and practice. It is very much about helping the client or group get to the right solution. It means stepping out of our expert role and asking the right questions to trigger the right discussion and solution finding as well as managing the discussion process so that all people and all points of view are heard.
Team working. How much do you facilitate effective team working? Not just in your functional area but across the organisation? How easy do you find it to adjust to the styles and preferences of others? How much do you foster and insist on common goals and facilitate role clarity for all involved? Being able to fluidly step into and work effectively with others in performing effectively as teams is a very important skill.
Change Leadership. Much of what business partners do these days involves a change of some sort or other. Big or small. Therefore a solid understanding of how people react to change and some key tools for launching and sustaining successful change are important to have in the tool box.
Personal Discipline. Personal organisation is easier for some personality types than for others. But as a business partner you need to be organised. Your credibility can depend on it. The ability to maintain a focus on your key result areas is very important and to be able to avoid getting overloaded as this will hamper or hinder your ability to deliver and that has implications for your credibility. So the abilities to focus, say no and negotiate are very important here.
So how are you doing? It is not about being expert in all these skills but having a sufficient level to get the things done that you need to get done.