05 Mar Business Partnering – what you need to know about your client

You’ve just had an initial conversation with a new client who is the head of service within a medium sized organisation… the initial meeting went well, you established your credibility (using the techniques outline in our earlier Developing Credibility blog), you’ve gathered information about the background to the situation, got a clear idea of the scope of the project and you have arranged to meet again to discuss things further.

You know that, during the first meeting, the client will have been assessing you and your ability to do the job… but against what criteria should you have been assessing them? Their fashion sense? Their sense of comic timing? These things might interest you but it’s unlikely that they’ll help you to successfully assist your client. You need to assess your client in order to maximise their resources and those of the organisation.

So have you properly sized them up and what’s the risk if you don’t?

In our second blog on Business Partnering, we explore what you need to be looking for in your client during your first meetings.

If you don’t get the measure of them and what they can bring to the party at the outset, it can cause things to unravel later… and you might be the one having to hold it all together!

So, what should you be looking for?

There are TWO levels on which to assess the client:
1) The individual who is representing the organisation and who you are dealing directly with
2) You could also assess the whole client organisation

And there are FOUR things to look out for:

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How Energised are they?

Whatever solutions you agree, you will need energy from the client to fuel the exploration process. You’ll also need energy from the organisation to implement your agreed solution. How energised are they? Are they weary, cynical, cautious, and resistant to your talk of change? If they were a mate of yours, would they encourage you to take risks, have fun and be creative? Are they motivated, committed to improving things and creative in generating change?

If there is an energy deficit… you will be the one having to pour in energy at all stages, and it may get to feel like an uphill struggle. If your contact has flat batteries, then immediately look elsewhere in the organisation for someone to co-opt who is charged up. If the whole organisation has a flat battery, make sure you chose interventions that will work in that environment, or consider changing the timing of your intervention – otherwise you will need to be the Duracell bunny!

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How in control are they?

If you are going to work well in partnership, you will need to rely on effective control of their resources- whether that is efficient administrative services, or their human resources being deployed effectively in the solutions you create. So ask yourself, “Do they manage their energy well? Do they assess things effectively? Do they know their own strengths and weaknesses? Do they harness their energy to good effect or does it leak away on ill thought through initiatives?” Poor control in your client can be a liability, even at the simplest level – we have at times taken over the entire administration of our client’s development programmes, because it took less time and energy for us to do that than cope with an unpredictable and inefficient internal administration.

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What is their level of Expertise?

Any intervention will be more successful if you can capitalise on expertise within the business. Do they have the level of expertise required? For example, do you think they have the management capability to manage people through change effectively? Or do they lack skills in key areas? If they don’t have the level of experience required, it means you may have to either limit the level or type of intervention, or inject the expertise yourself (build in some professional development for the internal change agents) or find it elsewhere in the company, e.g. co-opt a non-executive director to be an internal sponsor/ mentor of the programme.

Can they Influence the right people?

Whatever solutions you agree will only work if you have the support of key players within the organisation. Your contact will need to get others on board and theri influencing skills will be tested. So how good are they going to be at it? Would they stand up to Jeremy Paxman? Can they influence the wider environment effectively? Do they have the position and clout they need within the wider organisational context, for example? Do they have the right contacts and do they use them well? Do they have people/ contacts with sufficient political and influencing skills?

We all know the difference between working for an organisation where your contact person sits on the executive team or Board, and one where they are much lower down the food chain, and if they personally lack ‘clout’ it’s going to be hard to get commitment at senior levels.

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In conclusion, no client contact or client organisation is necessarily going to have all of these four attributes in abundance (if they did, they probably wouldn’t need to call on you!) BUT…. (and here it comes)….. in your work with this person, or organisation, if unplugged gaps remain in these areas … guess who is going to provide them? Yes, … got it in one…. YOU!

So, let’s rewind to that initial meeting and if there are gaps in relation to these 4 areas, you need to start talking about how they will be filled and by whom.

What criteria do you use for assessing your clients? Do you look for anything different to the attributes we’ve described? Do you have some stories to tell? We would love to hear from you so please add your comments below.

Look out for our second blog on Performance Management, coming next month.

Posted by Shona Ward

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