Step 5 – Living as We/Relationship Management

Once negotiators have negotiated the specific deal points, many might think they are done and it is time to move onto the next deal. Not so fast! The techniques and approaches of Steps 1 through 4 are not enough to live the Vested WIIFWe mindset.

Step 5 completes the Getting to We process when the parties have designed and institutionalized an effective governance structure for the relationship. In this framework everyone involved embraces and applies the guiding principles to their working relationships. Everyone touching the relationship has to abide by the principles, not just the team that has developed the deal; it applies equally for new and existing partnerships, as well as external and internal partnerships.

The crux of Step 5 lies in chapter 9 of Getting to We: Negotiating Agreements for Highly Collaborative Relationships, (Jeanette Nyden, Kate Vitasek and David Frydlinger). The chapter outlines the factors parties should consider as they develop their governance/relationship management framework. It also examines the role that the six guiding principles play in nurturing and enforcing collaborative behaviors.

People who are new to or unfamiliar with highly collaborative relationships can revert to old tug-of-war behaviors. Why? Without a framework and mechanisms for managing the relationship and living the guiding principles the parties have established, it is easy for old me-first habits to reassert themselves. A sound relationship management structure provides a set of cohesive policies, processes, and decision-making rights that encourage continuous collaboration by the parties.

Think of these as the operating mechanisms that will help keep the relationship running at peak performance long after the parties have gotten to “yes” and inked their deal.

These processes and mechanisms for managing a relationship are known as governance. Vested’s Rule 5 calls for “an insight, not an oversight governance structure.” And The Vested Outsourcing Manual is a comprehensive guide for managing complex business-to-business agreements. Fully Vested relationships include comprehensive governance with four elements: relationship management, transformation management, exit management, and special concerns, such as the governmental and regulatory issues that apply specifically to the relationship.

Partnerships completing the Getting to We process will typically focus on one aspect of governance—relationship management. Obviously, the other elements comprising Rule 5 are important— but less complex deals may not need transformation and exit management structures. However, all relationships, regardless of their complexity, need effective management in order to establish collaborative behaviors.

A relationship management structure has three primary success factors:

  • The first includes a firm commitment to live the six guiding principles established under Step 3. Each organization must be willing to compel its personnel to focus efforts on achieving the Shared Vision while continuing to apply all of the guiding principles. While the parties should follow the guiding principles all of the time, integrity takes center stage at this point in the Getting to We process, because integrity obliges transparency and consistency by the partners in their actions and decision-making.
  • Under the second success factor, relationship continuity, the parties maintain the relationship without interruption. Some business partnerships can last for decades and therefore must have a relationship management framework that will endure significant external changes while motivating and nurturing the right kind of behaviors. This is especially important for bringing new people up to speed who will participate in the relationship throughout its life. Remember that managing with a WIIFWe mindset focuses on managing the relationship, not the service provider. This approach provides stability, agility and flexibility.
  • The third success factor involves adopting a “systems” mentality in order to ensure that the parties keep the relationship in sync as “business happens.” This is best done by documenting the actual mechanisms the parties will use to manage the relationship on a day-to-day, month-to-month, quarter-to-quarter, and year-to-year basis. The system’s function is to perpetuate or replicate a chosen result. A well-designed system with the right motivation has the structural ability to manage itself.

Relationships unlock their latent powers when structured to do so. But they must be designed properly, just as, for example, the Slinky toy developer designed it to have latent powers to operate on its own. With a gentle push, the Slinky goes down the stairs without falling, stopping, getting tangled, or worse, falling off the stairs altogether. What does the Slinky have to do with a business relationship? A properly designed governance structure will operate almost on its own. Business relationships in essence form their own systems and therefore need mechanisms in place to keep their unique system running smoothly. In the Getting to We process, systems thinking is the decision-making philosophy and mechanism for assessing achievement of the Shared Vision.

Business relationships that embrace the Vested WIIFWe mindset leverage systems thinking to create governance structures that allow business relationships not only to work but also to foster adaptability and agility in the face of dynamic challenges. In essence, sound relationship management practices keep the parties in the relationship—the ecosystem— in balance.

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