Wanted: Seeking a business partner who has performance needs

Alan Weiss in his book, Organizational Consulting: How to be an effective internal change agent, recommends that internal consultants avoid what he calls the IRS syndrome – “I’m from the IRS and I’m here to help you”.  Just because you may be an expert in training and are “schooled” in HPI/HPT (Human Performance Technology); you don’t need to alienate your internal customers. 

You want to gain credibility in order to be accepted as a peer and earn their trust.  It’s easy to play it safe and agree with their current point of view when seeking acceptance with a new internal customer.  Contrary to how to win and keep friends, you may need to take an unpopular viewpoint on an issue you feel strongly about.  But don’t just show up only when there is a problem and declare “gotcha” or “I told you so”. 

10 Ways to Earn Trust with Your Client

First You Need To Make Friends With Line Management

One of the best ways to establish a business partner working relationship is to start with line management while you are waiting for your first HPI (Human Performance Improvement) project or during project downtimes.  Spend some time getting to know the folks you are most likely to be engaging with for a future project.   

While the relationship is forming, both parties can begin to share information about each other’s area of responsibilities.  The Performance Consultant (PC) learns more about the manager’s department: work processes that are not robust; performance needs that are both urgent and ongoing and tied to “important” performance requirements.  These could be ideas for improvement. 

During the dialogue, listen for internal challenges such as:

  • supplier snafus,
  • resource-constrained hick-ups,
  • conflicting policies and procedures and
  • other projects that are resulting in more to-do’s. 

Find out if they are also managing regulatory commitments and working on closing out CAPAs and deviations related to training, performance issues, or “Operator Error” mistakes.  These are possible sources of entry points that can move the relationship to potential partner status.  However, be mindful of finding the right balance between suggesting ideas and showcasing your “brilliant” concepts.

Partnering Implies A Two Way Exchange

The PC also shares information about HPI/ HPT (Human Performance Improvement/Technology) at a level of depth that matches the individual’s interest and needs at the time.  Remember, while your goal is to educate them about HPI, you don’t want to lecture to them or overwhelm them with even more tasks for their workload.  According to Mary Board, author of Beyond Transfer of Training: Engaging Systems to Improve Performance; the PC is striving to build a close working relationship that over time can lead to more strategic performance improvement work.  It is not only about getting projects. 

Moving the Relationship to Partner Status

Requests for help/support are bound to surface. To demonstrate support and strengthen the desire to partner, a PC can follow up on discussions by sending additional literary sources such as articles, white papers, and blogs from industry thought leaders.  Another popular activity is to pitch in to help meet a deadline or rebalance their workload.  Mini-projects are certain to follow, next.  It is an excellent way to move the relationship to partner status. 

Keep in mind; however, that it is a JOINT undertaking and not a delegation of tasks to a direct report or a hired temporary employee.  This is where the consulting side of the partnership can begin; leading him/her through decisions and actions using the HPI methodology says Broad. Early conversations around partnering should include:

  • purpose of working together
  • benefits of shared tasks shared outcomes
  • role clarification
  • partnering process explanation and agreement.

Three Consulting Styles

Let’s start with the Pair of HandsThis style of consulting resembles more or less the contractor for hire or long-term temporary employee; sometimes referred to as the permanent temp much to the chagrin of those who hold those positions.  Here the client (or internal customer) retains control of the project from problem identification to solution deployment.  The consultant implements those decisions as if s/he were an extension of the client’s staff.  Hence the expression, an extra pair of hands to delegate the work to.

Three Types of Consulting Styles

There’s the Expert.  Here the consultant assumes most of the control for the project.  The client can still make suggestions while the consultant makes recommendations for the best solution selection.  Ultimately, the expert-consultant decides on the course of action and tells the client what the best path forward.  In this type of consulting relationship, the client wants the expertise of the consultant. 

The third is Collaborator.  This is where the consultant utilizes his/her specialized knowledge and field experience and leverages the client’s knowledge of the operations, including processes and procedures, and the cultural factors.  In this relationship style,  1 + 1 = 3, representing a more synergistic approach to problem solving.  Decisions and implementation plans become shared responsibilities.  This style is often referred to as a business partnership and it is really the only one that changes performance.

The Best Time to Initiate

Ideally, the best time to initiate a relationship is during a current assignment especially when the shared project is going well.   A “project client” is no less important than a business partner, the difference is in the intensity during the life of the project.  A project client is the one who is ultimately accountable for the project results and may not be the one who initiates the project discussion, explains Dana Gaines Robinson and James C. Robinson in their book, Strategic Business Partner: Aligning people strategies with business goals

Before you can get access to strategic work, a PC has to prove s/he can deliver on tactical projects that are solution-oriented.  Gaining access starts with cultivating a relationship with project clients.  The secret is not to ignore or bypass the project contact person but to work with him/her to gain access to the project client. 

Suggest that the contact/lead attends meetings with you regarding issues that need to be resolved at the higher level or collaborate on joint update briefings to the leadership team.  By establishing good relations with the contact, access to the project client is less adversarial and demonstrates an authentic approach to getting answers/ direction that was not previously available. 

Project clients can become business partners; one that provides access to strategic initiatives.  Or they can provide introductions to true clients.  If possible, volunteer for activities that will give you visibility with this person while supporting him/her on the assigned project.  They will begin to learn more about your “other” capabilities and your ability to handle more than “assignment at a time” will be confirmed.  And in all your interactions, ensure that they are truly value-added conversations; else you will be perceived as wasting a busy executive’s time.   

Internal vs. External Consultant

I’ve been both and have had success in implementing HPI projects in both environments.  There are pros and cons and tradeoffs.  Whether you are internal to the organization or external (an outsider), Compliance Trainers need to expand their skills sets if they are going to move from a “pair of hands” to expert and eventually to trusted business partner. 

Technical Trainer or Performance Consultant Wanna-be?

As the traditional role of technical trainer evolves into Performance Consultant, the skills needed are evolving as well to keep up with management expectations for alignment with business needs.  To that end, Beverly Scott, author of Consulting on the Inside: An internal consultant’s guide to living and working inside organizations, suggests that internal consultants re-tool with some new skill sets:

  1. Know the business.  Tie solutions and align results to real business issues that add value. Get to know finances.
  2. Identify performance gaps before management does or becomes the focus of a CAPA corrective action.
  3. Become a systems thinker.  HPI is all about systematic performance improvement.
  4. Build skills for the multiple roles a PC performs.  Become known as a change agent, systems thinker, learning strategist.
  5. Pay attention to trends; talk about them.  Watch for relevance for the organization. –VB.

“The ability to give advice as a consultant comes from trust and respect, which are rooted in the relationship”. (Beverly Scott, p.61, 2000).

  • Beverly Scott Consulting on the Inside: An internal consultant’s guide to living and working inside organizations.
  • Dana Gaines Robinson and James C. Robinson in their book, Strategic Business Partner: Aligning people strategies with business goals
  • Alan WeissOrganizational Consulting: How to be an effective internal change agent.

Who is the Author, Vivian Bringslimark?

Comments welcomed, feedback appreciated.

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