The interviews typically last between one and one and a
half hours. The interviewees are usually key stakeholders in the relationship as well as a selection of different roles across the relationship to enable a thorough
analysis. The survey involves every member of the
cross-company team, including operative staff. Example items on the survey questionnaire include topics like
the perceived effectiveness of the governance and communication, as well as the perceived initiative of the respective partner, and to what extent each team member
trusts team members from the partner organization.
The deliverable for the analysis is a documentation
of the current relationship health. In a third step, the
results from the analysis of the gathered data are used
to design a Relationship Alignment concept and presented to the organizations in a workshop.
Following the analysis and design steps, the Relationship Alignment concept is implemented. The core
value of the method is delivered in a two-day workshop as it improves the relationship. The workshop is
conducted with 15- to 20 key stakeholders from both
partners, selected by their respective executive sponsors. This step includes a variety of activities which
helps the stakeholders to build trust in each other.
One exercise, for example, is the ‘Charta of Collaboration’: a list comprising up to ten guidelines for
everyday behavior. All stakeholders are involved in
brainstorming this set of guidelines. The reason for
this exercise is that it is unlikely that team members
will find guidelines in the formal contract to govern
their everyday interactions. Because the stakeholders developed the Charta on their own, they are more
likely to identify with it and thus adhere to its principles. This results in a relational contract.
Relationship Alignment is about empowering the team
members to work transparently and collaboratively. Implicit expectations are made transparent and intentions
for the relationship are discussed and aligned. Depending on the project scope, Relationship Alignment can also
include coaching with key stakeholders in addition to the
workshop. Finally, Relationship Alignment also repeats
the survey at regular intervals to monitor the health of the
relationship as it continues. If interventions become necessary due to shifted markets or deviating behavior, Relationship Alignment can also implement more coaching
sessions or workshops to realign the relationship based
on the fifth step, continuous support approach.
DOES RELATIONSHIP ALIGNMENT REALLY WORK?
IBM implemented the Relationship Alignment approach in one of its own IT outsourcing projects with a
client in Austria. The survey results showed that the client
was very unhappy with the way the account team communicated. The client felt their needs were not being met.
The account team, in contrast, complained that the client
only saw the relationship as a client-vendor relationship
and that the contract was too biased in favor of the client.
Mutual lack of trust was eroding the relationship.
The results of the analysis also showed, however, that
both partners were looking for a strategic partnership.
Neither partner was satisfied with the current state of the
relationship. To counteract this, the IBM Relationship
Alignment consultants, a team independent of the IBM
account team, analyzed the relationship in depth using
a survey and interviews. Eight key stakeholders from
each partner were subsequently invited to a two-day
workshop. The workshop clarified the various points of
view in the relationship and brought them together. The
partners agreed on the perfect way forward and a Charta
of Collaboration. The workshop improved everyday interactions and satisfaction on both sides.
BENEFITS OF RELATIONSHIP ALIGNMENT
Strategic outsourcing relationships require trust.
Relationship Alignment can help the partners realize
that trust is not only a cost factor- when both partners
agree in their intent to trust each other the relationship
can become a strategic differentiator driving value for
both partners. Once there is agreement about the overall direction of the relationship, the partners need to
find a way to get there. It’s the purpose of Relationship Alignment to manage this journey. Drawing on
our experiences in relationship management and the
Relationship Alignment method we can help your client to make their relationship a key differentiator.
Markus H. Dahm is Manager in the Digital Change & Transformation Practice at IBM Services, Germany. Dahm manages a
pan European outsourcing advisory team that addressed the
issues of governance and cooperation in regards to complex
outsourcing partnerships. Simon Bergmoser has been with IBM
as a working student for three years in various departments,
including sales, presales, transformations & operations, and
consulting. His bachelor’s thesis focused on the Relationship
Alignment method in intercultural projects.