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HT Community Review: How Leaders Build Successful Partnerships

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HT Community Review is an opportunity for leaders to comment on other leaders and share their personal insights.

This is the first issue of a very special column, HT Community Review. The main objective of this column is to go beyond the medium of video, and hark back to the olden days of keyboards and word processors. In each issue, we will be putting forward an excerpt from one of our thought-provoking roundtables, and will ask members of our HT community to comment and share their insights.

Back in October, four technology leaders (The Hut Group’s CIO Jonna Drake, Mars Pet Nutrition’s Digital Technology Director, Europe & Russia, Amitabh Apte, Former CIO of SSE Plc Philip Clayson and Outsystems’ Senior Director, Global Sales Acceleration, Prakash Vyas) joined our Editor Peter Stojanovic and discussed what was a summary of how these leaders navigated the stormy waters of 2020, but also released their own shipping forecast for 2021 and strategies they would be using to come out on the other side with their heads held high. The members of our C-level community were invited to watch a part of the video where Joanna talks about the importance of partnership with venders, clients and team members (you can watch the video above) and comment on her thoughts. We feel very privileged to be able to disseminate the opinion of these influential leaders for this issue: Phil Jordan, Sainsburys’ Group CIO, Mark Evans, Direct Line Group’s Managing Director and Greg Dakin, Interserve’s Chief Security Officer. We hope you find them as inspirational and educational as we do.

As Joanna eloquently outlines, strong relationships are at the heart of every successful business, project, investment, venture, friendship and marriage!

There is no secret there, whether you are forming a friendship, or a business partnership, you want to agree on why you are doing it, what you both want to get out of it, how will you know you have been successful and ultimately you want to trust one another to do the right thing.

Not all the 3rd parties in a CIO’s Sourcing Strategy have this partnership status, and nor should they, but it is important to select and nurture those that you need and will differentiate your business. When we can finally look back at 2020 and the Pandemic, I am sure we will see the businesses that have first survived and then flourished will be businesses that have a culture of strong relationships with their critical and core partners. It will be this relationship that will have underpinned the pace, proactivity and care it has taken to constantly adapt a business to continue to win despite all the challenges this year has thrown at us all.

It’s hard to disagree with anything Joanna says. Relationships between suppliers and clients really aren’t that different to personal relationships outside of a work environment. Indeed, any successful relationship requires mutual respect, honesty and a commitment to a shared benefit. I spent a decade at Mars at the beginning of my career and one of the founding principles of Mars centered around mutuality, emphasizing that a mutual benefit is an enduring one. Where any relationship descends into a transactional space it becomes more fragile and the likelihood that it becomes a win/lose increases.

In the case of supplier relationships this is heavily influenced by the underlying culture of the client. It’s too binary to say that companies have either a wholesome or unwholesome culture, but there are often clues about where the balance lies in terms of whether the culture has been clearly articulated and espoused or not. At Direct Line one of our core values is to “Do The Right Thing”. This relates to employees, customers and suppliers and it reminds us that suppliers aren’t there purely to be squeezed to the point of suffocation.

This has been particularly true through the pandemic where the usual flow of business has been so severely interrupted. Where some parts of our supply chain were facing a reduction in revenue, it didn’t take a genius to work out that in the long term it was in our own interests to work with and support our suppliers where we could. Similarly in terms of Marketing activity we have rapidly moved to new ways of working with out suppliers to accelerate the pace of change that we can deliver in order to help our customers. This has required understanding and flexibility on all sides where a more transactional approach that put all of the burden on others just wouldn’t have cut it.

greg dakin headshotFor technology leaders, it’s clearly very important to maintain close communication with at least one member of the Board. Nurturing effective relationships is key to success at any level within an organization, but during a crisis or pandemic, the alignment of the technology function with evolving business requirements becomes ever more critical.

Of equal importance is the need for absolute accuracy and concision within briefings and general communications. The time available, particularly to senior stakeholders, remains at an absolute premium and a ‘little but often’ approach to communications often generates most value.

Culturally, we now have a perception of the pandemic as a common enemy, and one against which we can all unify. In many cases this has served to soften formality, creating a stronger sense of collective responsibility and encouraging collegiate partnerships across many levels of the organization. It will become increasingly important to build upon these new dynamics as we move forward.

The relationship transaction that Joanna refers to is really interesting and feeds into something we have been calling ‘collaborative sense-making’ over the last 12 months. The idea being that instead of creating consumerized relationships with partners we come together to make sense of problems and strive to answer questions together for the better of all. The pandemic has brought this into even sharper focus as we try to work together more and more for the human good, as much as for our own profit and organizational goals.

We worked with the NHS in many ways during the early stages of the pandemic, bringing together our expertise and relationships to provide assistance wherever we could. I think that has set a new tone that has subsequently affected our culture; we look to collaborate more and more to solve problems with shared expertise.

You can watch the full roundtable here. This article and the corresponding roundtable are brought to you in partnership with Outsystems. If you have some insights on this discussion, I would like to hear from you. You can reach me at julia (at) hottopics (dot) ht.