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What Is A High Performing Business Relationship? by Andy Akrouche

In my previous post Are You Ready To Become Relational, I talked about the need to move beyond the semantical definition of a business relationship to a state of relational readiness.  Specifically, positioning your organization to look outside of the narrowly defined and largely ineffective performance-based contracting model, to an adaptive relational framework that is focused on improving outcomes.

A critical element of this transition begins with the recognition that both objectives and stakeholder capabilities can and frequently do change from the point of initial engagement.  Recognizing the inevitability of change in complex business relationships is the first step.  Next, you must create a framework for managing these changes within the context of both existing as well as new relationships.

This is the point of relational readiness towards which organizations must work.

In doing so, there are three distinct areas of focus.  Today we will discuss the first; defining the high performance business relationship.

A general understanding of the relationship-based model from the standpoint of not only its differences from transactional or performance-based models, but the benefits that can be derived from it in terms of improved outcomes. This includes an understanding of the needed organizational structure, process and behavioural changes associated with being a participant in high performing relationship.

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First let’s get the myth out of the “relational” terminology.

Relational contract theory has been around for a long time. It simply means that the whole agreement is not necessarily within the four corners of the contract.   Almost all complex contracts contain this type of provision giving the ability to do amendments via a prescribed change order process.   In this sense everyone’s model is relational.

So on one extreme you have models that promote spending tremendous amounts of energy to define some sort of an end state, create work statements and metrics that presumably would achieve that end state, then source a vendor that can deliver that state.  I often refer to those as transaction oriented performance based models.  Now those deals also contain relationships and have relationship management frameworks .  However, the relationship management function exist mostly to materialize the deal based on an initial set of assumptions and parameters.  In other words, the relationship management function is really no more than another approach to enforce compliance so as to achieve a predetermined state.

Procurement is easy in this type of model.  Vendor selection is based on technical capability and capacity to deliver a known end state (product or service)  and a fixed definition of value (financial or otherwise) as perceived at the time of the transaction.

Needless to say, this approach usually falls short in terms of meeting stakeholder expectations. We have already seen the consequences of these types of arrangements, particularly when they span decades.  The greatest challenge is that no amount of time and expertise expended by executives, lawyers, financial modellers, program managers or procurement people can create certainty over the long life of a contract.

A relationship-based model lies exactly on the other side of this spectrum.  In this model, the relationship is embodied in what we call the SRS Relationship Charter.  The Charter, which provides the operational framework for a joint organizational entity, is centered around a clearly defined mission that includes the relationship’s purpose, values, supporting processes, and people.

It is through this integrated joint entity that the generation of deliverables, the development and continuous alignment of the relationship’s strategic plan, product/service delivery and performance is managed.  It is important to note that when I refer to delivery and performance management, I am not talking about vendor performance, but relationship performance.  This is an important distinction because while the word relationship is frequently bandied about, it is usually within the context of a traditional performance-based contract.

With the relationship-based model, the process for selecting a strategic partner or partners is different.  It is based on what I call a strategic fit assessment and financial pricing model.  Of course the pricing model to which I am referring is different from that with which most are likely familiar in that it is centered on dynamic cost-objects, as opposed to a predefined set of items that define value at a certain point in time.

Recognizing and being able to adapt and leverage the inevitability of change as a strategic advantage, is one of the key benefits of the relationship-based model.  This is because the relationship-based model proactively channels stakeholder energies towards continuously improving the definition of the outcome and the related technical processes that ultimately generates the deliverables.  In this regard, it is a dynamic and continuous process for planning, implementing, measuring, learning and problem solving.  It is also from within this type of framework, that high performing relationships ultimately grow.

For those who have had the opportunity to read my book, you will know that a high performing relationship is one that exhibits the following business process traits or elements:

  • Act of Relating – Connecting and linking in a naturally, complementary way. This is where strategic fit assessment is paramount, including the alignment of strategic direction and capabilities within the context of  strategic program objectives;
  • Mutuality - Sharing the same or similar views, ethics, outputs, each to the other;
  • Respect – Recognizing and considering each other’s needs, requirements, contributions, abilities, qualities and achievements;
  • Innovation – Use of combined strengths and synergies to gain insight and deliver improved outcomes;
  • Continuous Alignment – Commitment to making the necessary adjustments to minimize risk, optimize or improve  the outcomes and maximize the realization of benefits for all stakeholders;
  • Empowerment – Introducing joint integrated management structures and processes to gain needed insight to manage risk and for managing the relationship at the strategic, tactical and operational levels.

Understanding these elements, it becomes clear that high performing relationships are all about creating high performing teams.  As the inexhaustible number of case studies and reference materials over the years have demonstrated, no amount of contractual structuring based upon a traditional procurement process can accomplish this objective.

Success with this new paradigm rests in our ability to change our familiar yet ineffective approach to sourcing and managing relationships.  This includes focusing on ways to create a culture of organizational trust and collaboration, particularly within the public sector.  Specifically, the need to see contracts beyond a “one off” deal or transaction based upon a specified need at a single, static point in time.

This of course requires a cultural change within an organization in which stakeholder teams as I call them, share a common purpose that are driven by an ongoing alignment of capabilities.

Towards this end, there is a need to redefine the organization’s internal vendor management and contract compliance protocols, as well as risk management oversight, before a true transformation to a high performing relationship model can occur.  In short you have to stop managing vendors and start managing relationships based upon a culture of collaboration and trust.

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Are You Ready To Become Relational by Andy Akrouche

Over the past couple of years there has been a notable shift in the area of complex business arrangements including outsourcing,  public-public and public-private partnerships centered around the importance of relationships.  Specifically the recognition that effectively managing the “relationship” between all stakeholders is the single most critical element of a successful initiative.

Even industry associations and practitioners of transformational and vested outsourcing are now talking about “relational importance” as they transition their models towards what I call a relationship first approach.

So what does it mean to be truly relational?

Before I answer that question, let’s quickly identify what it isn’t?

To start, terms such as win-win and the mere acknowledgement that relationships are important is not enough.  The reason is that recognition without meaningful action is nothing more than wrapping the old adversarial model in shiny paper and putting a bow on it.

Unfortunately, this repackaging exercise has been repeated far too often because it is much easier to add a new label to an existing model, than it is to actually make the necessary changes to being relational – especially within the public sector.   The reason is that becoming relational means that you will almost always have to facilitate a cultural change within the organization from the top down. 

For many the prospects of a cultural change is a daunting, even fearful exercise.  This is because it forces us to shift from a familiar performance-based model that is structured around an adherence to the inflexible terms and conditions associated with a static outcome.

The main problem is that the real-world does not operate within the narrowly defined conditions of a contract – no matter how well it is structured.

Initiative goals can and do change, and with it the capabilities of key stakeholders to fulfill their established role.  This means that rather than attempting to enforce compliance to a rigid set of performance requirements based on a single point in time objective, one must be able to adapt to the reality of inevitable change.

The recognition and subsequent ability to adapt to changing goals and stakeholder capabilities, is the true definition of a relational arrangement.

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To reach this point of relational readiness, it is important to build awareness and capacity within the buying organization.  This “education process” as I will call it, must target all levels of the organization from senior executives to those who are managing the day to day activities. Therefore, the focus of this program should include:

  1. A general understanding of the relationship based model from the standpoint of not only its differences from transactional or performance-based models, but the benefits that can be derived from it in terms of improved outcomes. This includes an understanding of the needed organizational structure, process and behavioural changes associated with being a participant in high performing relationship.
  2. A guideline for how to plan and source a relationship, as opposed to a transaction or one-time negotiated deal including; i) How to define the attributes of the required relationship, ii) How to objectively select vendor(s) based on those attributes in a manner that satisfies the tendering process, and iii) How to build a Relationship Charter during the procurement process.
  3. A process to “operationalize” the Relationship Charter so that it is transformed from a well-intentioned paper model, to one in which it defines the way that stakeholders actually work together towards achieving a mutually beneficial improved outcome.
  4. The mechanism to organize, tool and manage the partner relationships management function within the organisation.

In subsequent posts, I will examine more closely each of the above elements in greater detail.

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Performance-based contracting and the road less traveled by Andy Akrouche

According to a World Bank report titled Performance-Based Contracting for Health Services in Developing Countries: A Toolkit, performance-based contracting is a type of contracting with;

  1. a clear set of objectives and indicators,
  2. systematic efforts to collect data on the progress of the selected indicators, and
  3. consequences, either rewards or sanctions for the contractor, that are based on performance.

Given the above, performance-based contracting seems to be fairly straight forward.

Unfortunately the world is anything but straight forward in terms of variables that can and do effect the original criteria upon which a performance-based contract is structured.  In short, there are natural changes in buyer requirements and supplier capabilities that occur over the life of a contract that cannot be anticipated from the outset.  This includes political, economic, social, technological and environmental changes.  As a result, what were once a clear and useful set of objectives, is no longer applicable in terms of achieving the desired relationship outcome.

Like the analogy of the fruit from the poisonous tree, when objectives and corresponding capabilities inevitably change, both the data collection framework and the criteria upon which the rewards and sanctions are determined, are no longer relevant.

The main question then becomes how do you manage this unknown yet expected change?

Traditionally, the approach in terms of measuring post-execution contract performance is usually centered around the enforcement of the original contract terms and conditions.  In other words, the contract itself becomes the driving force behind the attainment of buyer objectives and supplier responsibilities.  This is similar to encountering an unexpected roadblock on a long journey that you had previously mapped out.  Instead of looking for an alternative route you insist upon driving through the barricades.  You ultimately know that you are not going to go too far, no matter how much you insist that you must stick to the original route.

This insistence that you “stick with the original plan” – or in the case of performance-based contracting – the original terms and conditions of the contract, is the reason why so many relationships fail to deliver the desired outcomes.  Yet we insist upon trying to manage the barricade as opposed to forging a new and better route, because we have not structured the agreement and more specifically stakeholder relationships, around a collaborative approach to inevitable change.

In essence we have drawn a line in the sand that attempts to enforce a rigid set of original performance criteria that is more reflective of a penny wise and pound foolish mindset.  Or to put it another way, we place a greater emphasis on how we do something as opposed to how we can actual get there.

What we really need to do, is to recognize the fact that in order to be effective, a contract is a living document, and must therefore be flexible in its anticipation of the inevitable barricades that will come in the form of unanticipated change.  As a result, we must establish an entirely new set of criteria that focuses upon the ability to respond to change, regardless of whether said change takes the form of a buyer’s shift in needs or the supply base capabilities.

For example, what if the vehicle that you selected for the original journey is no longer suited to the terrain that you will have to take as a result of the roadblock?

Keeping in mind once again that neither you nor the supplier could have anticipated the fact that the original route will no longer work, or that a change in way or vehicle would be needed.  Do you still hold the supplier responsible for this?  Do you indicate that by taking the contract it is the supplier’s sole responsibility to address the roadblock, and penalize them for any possible delays?

This is the flaw in how performance-based contracting is implemented.  Specifically the inherent inflexibility that first seeks to hold the supplier accountable to a rigid set of criteria, as opposed to seeking a mutually beneficial alternative solution.

It is what I call the fork in the relationship road, because it forces the supplier to create a separate agenda that singularly reacts to challenges as opposed to jointly managing them with the buyer.  Similar to a disgruntled passenger in the back seat fuming that their journey has been delayed or forced to take a road less travelled the buyer, by contractual choice mind you, is in effect no longer in the driver’s seat as a co-pilot.

Like the Plexiglas partition in a taxi, a wall of limiting communication goes up, preventing the necessary collaboration that would lead to an arrival at a shared destination.

So what is the alternative?

Relational contracting.

In terms of complex, long-term relationships, performance-based contracting will only be able to produce positive outcomes or results within the context of a relational model.

This is due to the fact that with the relational model, the emphasis becomes one of sourcing and managing relationships with vendors versus a prescribed set of performance statements of work.  The end result is that a strategic fit between all stakeholders is maintained and aligned with the relationship’s original goals.

At the heart of the relational model, is the Relationship Charter.

The Charter is the business arrangement framework within which contractual elements and metrics such as deliverables, incentives, timelines, financial obligations and service quality are jointly managed, measured and evolved.  The Relationship Charter shifts the focus from one of adherence to a static set of vendor criteria within the confines of a single transaction, to one that places greater emphasis on ongoing collaborative problem solving.  This means that there is a framework for the adjustment and alignment of capabilities involving all stakeholders, that reflect the real-world changes that have an impact on the ultimate success of an initiative.

In short, with relational contracting, it is not how you get there, but that you get there.

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FrontLine Defence Magazine Special

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Click magazine cover to access article . . .

“To be truly successful, the Defence Analytics Institute or DAI has to take the program beyond itself to deliver results” – Andy Akrouche

Editor’s Note: Defence spending is a hot topic lately on both sides of the Atlantic, as government’s are challenging Defence Departments to do a better job in terms of procurement. In this special article for FrontLine Defence Magazine, I provide my perspective on the Canadian Government’s efforts to better manage Defence spending through the formation of the new Defence Analytics Institute.

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How to make Outsourcing and PPP Relationships Work Webinar Series Launched on Udemy by Andy Akrouche

In response to the steadily increasing number of requests I am receiving from senior managers of both public and private sector organizations regarding the Relational Model of Outsourcing and Public-Private Relationships, I have created an on-line webinar series.

Utilizing a frank, conversational style format, the 4-Part video series on “bridging the gap between expectations and successful outcomes” will provide senior managers with an executive level briefing on how to make complex Outsourcing, FutureSourcing™ or PPP initiatives successful.

In this series, in which I talk with host Jon Hansen, I focus on providing answers to the following five most frequently asked questions:

  1. Why do Outsourcing and Public-Private Partnerships fail to meet expectations, and more specifically what are the fundamental issues?
  2. What is a relationship based approach and how can it solve many of the root problems?
  3. How can you introduce effective consumer protection constructs and create the conditions for sustainability?
  4. How can you use procurement framework and industrial policy to create a strategic supply chain and economic value beyond the project bubble?
  5. How can you establish and operationalize a relationship charter representative of all stakeholder interests and goals?

Available on the Udemy platform I invite you, as well as others who are contemplating any form of strategic procurements including Outsourcing, FutureSoucring™ or Public-Private Partnerships, to view the series.  My ultimate goal is to provide you with the insights that will help to guide you towards achieving improved outcomes with lower risk.

Up until the 28th of April I am pleased to offer you a 50% discount off the regular course price.  Simply enter Coupon Code COMP503W where indicated using the following link; https://www.udemy.com/outsourcing-and-ppp-relationships/

 

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The Groundswell Effect and the Emergence of the Public-Private Partnership Relational Model by Jon Hansen

relationalblogger:

News of the Joint Venture Agreement between SRS and the Commonwealth Association for Infrastructure Development has not gone unnoticed . . .

Originally posted on Procurement Insights:

Andy Microtrends

In his book Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes, Mark Penn argues that the biggest trends in America are the Microtrends, the smaller trends that go unnoticed or ignored.

If you think about it for a moment, you will see that Penn is right on the money.  After all, how many of us thought that from its somewhat humble bulletin board beginnings, that the Internet would become the catalyst for global social and economic change?

This is perhaps one of the main reasons why I started this blog back in May 2007.  At the time, I wanted to provide a lens on the silent, groundswell shifts that would ultimately envelop the industry and redefine the way we do business.  Generally speaking, and based on the growth we have seen in readership, it would appear that we have been successful in identifying emerging trends and players.

Within…

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Bridging the gap between PPP promise and successful outcomes by Andy Akrouche

“Recent failures, bailouts, and excessive costs show that the risk analyses and value-for-money accounting used to justify P3s are clearly flawed and cover up the true costs and risks for the public.”

Such as the one from which the above excerpt has been taken, there are no shortages of articles and papers relating to the unrealized expectations of what were once promising PPP initiatives.  The question is why do PPPs consistently underperform?

An April 2012 report titled “Public Private Partnerships in India: Lessons from Experiences” goes a long ways towards identifying at least in part, some of the key problem areas that have caused so many programs to run off the rails.  While this report points to many of the issues requiring solutions, it unfortunately fails to offer a real systematic framework for fixing them.  The issues to which I am referring include a “static” transactional orientation, how variability of demand and expected changes are viewed and managed, risk/reward allocation, and the effective utilization of PPP procurement as a vehicle to create sustainable economic value above and beyond project bubble.

With UK government taking a hard look at PFI and introducing PF2 as a measure to improve the performance of traditional PPPs, where the public sector partner(s) take an active role and ownership of the “business”, the gap between the promise of P3s and their outcomes may become slightly narrower.  However, until a truly holistic adaptive framework is introduced, we will continue to struggle to gain the necessary traction to achieve the hoped for outcomes.

So what is a holistic adaptive PPP framework?

An adaptive PPP, or as I sometimes refer to it as a relational PPP (in keeping with the relational terminology), is a relationship-based Public-Private partnership framework where the focus of the PPP management process is on two integrated dimensions:

a)      Establishing the baseline business arrangement from which we will begin a continuous alignment process. This dimension includes all of the usual management, technical and financial planning activities, but without the burden of having to predict the unforeseeable in terms of variability of Demand and PESTL  environment; and

b)      The establishment of a Relationship Charter within which contractual elements and metrics such as deliverables, timelines, financial obligations, service level quality and performance are jointly managed.

For those who have already read my book Relationships First (eBook ,Hard Copy), and have attended my seminars and training programs, you know that the SRS Relational Contracting Methodology provides a detailed roadmap for managing the process and development of baseline arrangement referenced in point “a”, as well as how to properly structure and operationalize the Relationship Charter.

Consisting of three constructs, the Relationship Charter will also provide the framework that is needed to operationalize the new UK approach to PPPs.  

The SRS Relationship Charter consists of:

a.       Shared relationship mission and purpose;

b.      Joint Governance Framework;

c.       Open book financial management offering transparency and accountability in managing public funds.

With the added layers of transparency, openness and objectivity required for public procurements, the SRS Relational Contracting Model becomes an essential enabler and a natural platform to launch and implement successful Public-Private Relationships.

This is due to the fact that the SRS relational model provides the necessary checks and insight mechanisms to ensure the selection of the right strategic partner. In referring to the right strategic partner, I am of course talking about one that can deliver to meet today’s needs, but is also strategically capable of adapting to changing circumstances to jointly manage the delivery of improved outcomes.