Summer 2019 Strategic IT Partner Forum – Findings and Recommendations
On Thursday 27th of June the eighth Strategic IT Partner forum took place at the impressive Great Hall within King’s College in central London. This was our biggest event yet and offered those in the IT Partnering community an opportunity to network and attend various talks.
After a brief introduction by Jon Baxter (https://www.linkedin.com/in/jonbaxter/) we kicked off with our keynote “In Pursuit of Strategy” by Paul Bratcher (https://www.linkedin.com/in/paul-bratcher/). Here Paul shared his digital and IT experience at board level and discussed some of the challenges in broaching the strategy topic with board members.
Our next presentation was led by Meghana Garg (https://www.linkedin.com/in/meghana-garg-7a56b65/) who covered “Digital, The Need of Today”. Meghana talked about the current phenomenon of digital transformation; how digital, technology and data are pushing the boundaries of organisations to respond to the changing needs and expectations of the customers; and the challenges it brings to the Business Partner role.
The third presentation was conducted by Dafydd Moore (https://www.linkedin.com/in/dafydd-moore-395aa238/) on the “Perspectives on Partnering, Green Fields”. Here Dafydd reviewed his time to date at Dyson and explained how the global IT Business Partnering function was built from the ground up. He looked at aspects which worked and which didn’t, followed up with advice about how he evolved established techniques and best practice in a fast-moving global technology business.
Our final session of the morning was a panel discussion where we were re-joined on stage by Paul, Meghana and Dafydd, with delegates asking various questions. This session was hosted by James O’Driscoll (https://www.linkedin.com/in/jamesodriscoll/) who has summarised his key takeaways from all of the morning events below.
- Quick wins are still important, but be careful. IT BRMs/IT BPs must still drive to operate at a strategic level but should remember quick wins (despite being seen as quite tactical) remain part of the IT BRM/IT BP tool kit. Quick wins can be very useful to improve the IT BRM/IT BP and wider IT department “brands”, especially if their perception is poor. However, on the flip side, IT BRMs/IT BPs need to be conscious not to become the “go to” person to sort out all problems. It is a balancing act based on many factors, including the maturity of the relationship with your stakeholder, the behaviours of the stakeholder, the business you work in etc.
- You don’t always need to change the world. If the perception of IT is poor, consider not reinventing the wheel in the first instance. For example, rather than implementing an entirely new solution (where there is a higher risk of not delivering on time and in budget), consider re-engineering an existing solution which minimises that risk and assuming all goes well, starts building the confidence of the organisation around ITs abilities.
- The wider business partnering community. IT BRMs/IT BPs should never neglect business partnering colleagues in other departments of the organisation (for example HR, Marketing, Finance etc.). IT BRMs/IT BPs should build relationships with those colleagues, learn how they operate, who their key stakeholders are, what their key challenges are, share ideas etc. A more inclusive business partnering function, working together on shared objectives and goals will be to the benefit of all.
- The power of coffee. IT BRMs/IT BPs should never under estimate the power of a quick chat, whether by the water cooler, a coffee or drink after work. Use this time to build trust. With that trust you can become bolder with that particular stakeholder. But remember, if you get that time ensure you make a difference. Don’t just report back what that stakeholder already knows. IT BRMs/IT BPs should also always consider how they can incentivise people and find messages they want to follow rather than those they’re being told to follow.
- Networking. You’ve identified a key stakeholder you wish to build a relationship with. Remember not to focus just on that individual but also those around him/her. IT BRMs/IT BPs should use these people to build your brand with the ultimate target.
- Keep it simple. When dealing with senior stakeholders, the message needs to be simple. It should entail a visual metaphor and call to action (remember unicorns). If it’s a strategy it should be simple and easy to explain. If it’s not, it is not a strategy.
- Avoid technology chat. IT BRM/IT BPs should start any conversation with a stakeholder focusing on business capabilities and business needs. This will open up a new avenue of conversation and drive it away from just the end solution and shiny new kit.
- IT needs to play by their own rules. IT BRM/IT BPs and the IT department as a whole need to follow the same processes that the rest of the business are made to observe. This will provide IT with a far greater insight of the pain points and frustrations that are experienced by the rest of the organisation. Perhaps an IT Business Partner for IT would help here?
- Where should IT BRMs/IT BPs sit? In the business or in IT? Neither is perfect but the best fit is likely to be on a case by case basis decided via various internal and external factors (stakeholder maturity, organisational structure, markets covered, perception of IT etc.). Is the nirvana perhaps an entirely separate business partnering function, covering all departments (IT, HR, Marketing, Finance etc.) reporting into the executive?
- Value/benefits realisation. IT BRM/IT BPs are, in the main, still not doing this despite it being key element of the role. Despite the daily pressures, IT BRMs/IT BPs need to find the time to undertake this key area of the role as it will ensure continuous improvement, which ultimately will help you become more strategic.
Our thanks again to the presenters and panel members Paul Bratcher, Meghana Garg and Dafydd Moore for sharing their expertise and thoughts on a variety of topics and questions. The IT BRM/IT BP role continues to be very challenging one, where many factors (both internal and external) need to be juggled to ensure its effectiveness. Whilst more and more organisations are understanding the value such a position can bring, the IT BRM/IT BP role cannot be fixed in its duties and required outcomes. One size does not fit all.
For the afternoon the organising committee chose three themes that ran as separate tracks. The three themes were:
- Influence and Collaboration –Led by Gavin Berman (https://www.linkedin.com/in/gavin-berman/)
- Strategic Thinking – Led by Paul Kirkham (https://www.linkedin.com/in/paul-kirkham-2a601813/)
- Challenge and Change – Led by Jon Baxter (https://www.linkedin.com/in/jonbaxter/)
We’d like to thank all our panellists and delegates for their input in these sessions, which is summarised below.
Influence and Collaboration
This track looked at our ability to make things happen through people and the techniques we can use. Gavin Berman’s summary and key takeaways are as follows:
At the Strategic IT Partner Forum in June, I had the pleasure of hosting The Influence and Collaboration track. My guests were Robina Chatham, who spoke about how to become personally powerful, followed by Judy Rees and Steve McCann explaining how we could improve the experience of online meetings
How to become personally powerful by Robina Chatham (https://www.linkedin.com/in/robinachatham/)
The concept of personal power can be quite difficult to comprehend – how is it achieved? What does it look like? Robina presented the pyramid model, which shared the four areas of capability that make up personal power, this was a really useful way of breaking the concept down into something more relatable and achievable.
There are four levels of the pyramid, from the bottom-up:
- Triple deep-skills (Digital IQ; Business IQ; Emotional IQ)
- Drive, initiative and outside-in curiosity – Be curious like a child – use the 5-year-old mentality approach by asking the daft questions and ‘why’
- Courage and confidence – be prepared to challenge authority and expected wisdom, even to those more senior
- Personal power – recognising “you’re on stage” and how you present yourself, and being able to make things happen
As a colleague put it, the pyramid model approach helps you realise that many of us are operating with personal power, but also shows what can be done to continue building on that.
Some of the other things that I took from the session:
- For a Business Partner to thrive and survive they need a supportive organisational culture
- More strategic, trusting collaborative organisations rely on qualitative rather quantitative measures of success for their BRMs.
- Unhelpful quantitative measures can be viewed in the same way as Prenup agreement, with its key message ‘I don’t trust you’.
- There are a range of different types of question: analytical / probing / reflective / affective / explorative / fresh. Some of these are likely to illicit negative excuses, while others make people think and take ownership. I need to consider if I am using the appropriate type of question for the situation.
Following a short break, the track’s second session kicked off with some initial definitions to ensure we were all speaking about the same thing. A remote meeting was one where all participants were online, while people dialling in to a physical meeting was defined as hybrid. I found this to be a useful distinction to have in my head as the conversation progressed.
Judy asked the group to highlight some of the issues experienced when we used technology to participate in meetings. Little encouragement was needed for the for group to start sharing and the nodding heads around the room made it clear that these concerns were widespread.
To improve the effectiveness of remote and hybrid meetings we were given a number of tips such as:
- Ensure there is a clear purpose for you attending the meeting
- Technology and setting matters, so implement a ‘one remote – all remote’ rule to ensure a level playing field for participants
- Engagement and divergent thinking is more difficult online, so actively encourage divergent thinking questions:
- Who’s got something different (or similar) to add?
- Who’s not like that?
It struck me during the session that although this was billed as improving online meetings the tips were equally relevant for all types of meeting.
This track looked at more advanced techniques to help elicit opportunities beyond the next 18 months. Paul Kirkham’s summary and key takeaways are as follows:
Following an insightful morning at the Strategic IT Partner forum, and an excellent lunch in the superb surrounding of Kings College we kicked off the afternoon in the Strategic Thinking track with Thierry Ackermann (https://www.linkedin.com/in/thierryackermann/) looking at the Business Model Canvas.
In a well-attended session, Thierry delivered an entertaining and informative view on this concept. Thierry built on the session he delivered at last year’s Strategic IT Partner forum, taking us into more detail and using easily relatable examples to bring the concept to life. This included an opportunity to start building a relevant canvas of our own.
A key insight is that a Business Model Canvas can be used for looking at ourselves as an individual business model.
It was great to hear the interaction with the group and Thierry capped this off with an enjoyable quiz. Makes you think when you get the question “what colour is blood” wrong!!
After a break for refreshments and a chance to chat with fellow delegates, we completed the Strategic Thinking track with Ian Huke (https://www.linkedin.com/in/ianhuke-throughideas/) and an insight in to ‘what is the question”? Ian did a great job of creating the imagery of a campfire – not easy in a college classroom on a sunny Thursday afternoon! The subject was something close to the hearts of many of us IT BP’s – why is it that projects don’t deliver what was expected?
To help explain this, Ian suggested that we lose sight of a simple but powerful concept – projects are done by people, for people. To help recapture the essence of the project, Ian explained how we can tell a story to give meaning to what we are doing – to our customers and also people working on the project.
Ian also introduced the thinking behind an ideas map. This struck a chord with me as it will be a useful way of generating ideas in the future and a different way of describing projects.
We concluded with a good Q&A session with some thoughtful questions and insightful experiences shared by the group. The health check assessment to take home was a useful conclusion to a thought-provoking session.
Challenge and Change
Jon Baxter led a session to help attendees describe change in their organisation. To do this he applied the concept of Target Operating Model design to the role of ITBP / BRM. The session was split in two – one part discussing the top three key challenges raised by attendees on the online polling system and then the second part where that challenge had been solved and what the future would look like.
The idea behind this is that going through this discussion, we’re able to start refocusing our thinking on the solution rather than the problem, and being able to articulate what a VISION could be. When discussing this, it also has the added benefit of sometimes being able see a path forward from something that is often seen as a problem that is too difficult to solve.
Our shortened session looked at three challenges:
- In an environment where resources are limited, trying to meet the needs of the business generally leads to expectations not being met. Strategies to avoid this?
- How do you propose overcoming a position where BRMs enjoys senior and strategic engagement with the business but does not have the same relationship within IT?
- How do I build and evaluate the networks, support and insight that help me carve out a Business Partner niche in leadership
The delegates were split into three teams and each tackled one challenge. Despite being a short session, the exercise revealed from the delegates themselves actionable insight on how to solve the above challenges. The output from the sessions are here:
This technique is from Baxter Thompson’s Organisational Change workshop that forms part of the public Convergence Accelerator® course, whose aim is to equip the delegate with the skill and mindset of a Strategic Partner. The next one is being held on the 15th October in London. For a 50% discount, please use code 50%connaccghtj at the checkout
Link here http://bta.news/h6n
Further details of all presentations and videos of the day can be found here – http://bit.ly/2l7eumo. You’ll need to be a member of our online community to have access and please ensure you are logged into your account before clinking on the link.
If you are not a member of our online community yet, you’re more welcome to join an event. To register online click here – http://bit.ly/2Qy4oEB.
Due to the continued success of the sessions more are planned, with the next event scheduled to take place on Thursday 16th of July 2020, returning to the King’s College in central London. Further specifics of the day are still to be confirmed and we’re very keen to have input from the community to ensure this and subsequent forums are as relevant as possible. With that in mind Jon Baxter has set up a survey on his website (http://bit.ly/2lTGIBc) and we’d be very grateful for any input.
If you are interested in joining future sessions, want to contribute or have something to share, please get in touch with James O’Driscoll from Gilbert Scott Associates or Jon Baxter from Baxter Thompson Associates.
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