Business Partnering: The Secret to Influence in the Workplace
What is Business Partnering?
To understand business partnering we’ll start by identifying who are Business Partners. This may help you determine whether you are one or should become one.
Here’s a start:
Business Partners are practitioners of critical business functions like HR, Finance, IT, Legal, Project Management, and others. They’re internal consultants. These professionals act as a bridge, linking their critical functions to other business units, clients, managers, and even C-suite executives.
Business partners seek to operate in partnership with other stakeholders to effectively address the real and current concerns of the business. Their purpose is to create a space of shared ownership for generating positive results.
These are professionals who have the potential to greatly improve the power of integration within the organization…when given the space and opportunity to do so, of course.
They maximize the effective and efficient deployment of their skills and expertise within a shared understanding of business priorities.
If this describes you, then continue reading because you’re about to uncover some keys to unlock some doors that lead to greater influence in the workplace.
What Business Partnering (done well) Requires
Business Partnering requires the consistent application of TECHNICAL EXPERTISE and TRUSTING RELATIONSHIPS.
Please read those two virtues again. Refuse to ignore them at all costs. I learned about their powerful combination at a Flawless Consulting workshop. They’re simple but mighty.
If you want to become a valued partner, then the sole use of your technical expertise and experience will be insufficient. You may give excellent advice and even create stunning slide decks that can mesmerize executives. But if they don’t have a trusting relationship with you, then your power to generate desirable change is a mere illusion…a dandelion in a windstorm.
To avoid this miserable situation, you must multiply your technical expertise with an unrelenting persistence to build trust.
CAUTION: Without the power of relationship and relatedness, your technical expertise may become a disposable commodity.
Trust is likely the missing secret ingredient in many previous failed attempts at strategic partnership because without trust there is no influence.
Some necessary skills
What follows are some skills that you can incorporate to keep from becoming a commodity. Imagine the benefits of leaping measurably closer to being a trusted business partner when you develop consulting, communication, and negotiation skills.
At the heart of consulting is the ability to have conversations that matter most. It’s about creating meaningful connections with others while moving the business forward in the face of mounting complexities.
This is contrary to the common misconception that consultants impose an elevated business acumen, impressive credentials, and vast experience to give credibility to their own opinions, above anyone else.
Consulting is not something you do to and for someone, it’s a service you offer to do with someone.
The adaptive ability to speak clearly about ideas, issues, and opportunities. If you’re going to generate agreements and coordinate actions with others, then being specific, descriptive, and measurable about what you want is essential.
For example, when requesting a report from someone, avoid saying: “Hey, I know you’re busy, but it would be great to have that report when you get a chance.” This is too vague to make an agreement. Instead, be specific, descriptive, and measurable by saying: “Hey, I know you’re busy, but can you get me the finalized report tomorrow by 4:00 pm?” This is a minor detail, but a major difference.
Speaking with precision is critical to communication, but deep listening is the often neglected part of communication skills building.
If you want to be more influential, then listening beyond the words into the spaces of silence, and listening without judgment, is necessary. You can achieve this by not jumping to conclusions and into advice-giving. Just listen with compassionate curiosity. This non-superficial type of listening will position you to discover what’s going unsaid, and explore what’s possible.
The ability to create a social contract with people by offering them a psychologically safe space to explore risks, share control, and commit to shared action. This opposes the common view of negotiation. Negotiation does not have to be an adversarial exchange where two parties struggle with one another until they ultimately agree to “split the difference.”
There’s a better way.
Instead of preparing for battle, prepare to explore what you and your “client” want from one another in order to achieve success. As risks and concerns emerge during those discussions, give your support to one another, and model the behavior you want to promote in your partnership. You can do this all while seeking mutual benefit. This is how to be successful in being useful and valuable.
Why Business Partnering Matters Today
The role of HR, Finance, IT, Legal, Project Management, and other internal consultants has changed. These functions used to be about managing employees, managing resources, and providing compliance services. Today, it’s about building relationships with clients, navigating challenges, and creating value with them.
Business Partnering is about leveraging your ability to:
- Develop trusted connections with authenticity by putting your experience into words.
- Handle resistance with compassion and diligence.
- Be willing to sit with ambiguity for longer than many feel comfortable with.
- Slow down to truly “sense” the situation without a need for a fast resolution of issues.
Your business and professional influence will grow as you increase the effective use of business partnering on a consistent basis.