In a recent discussion with a client who is the Global VP of Services, the question of Collaboration came up from a unique perspective. In his industry, they often partner with competitors and suppliers to respond to and deliver solutions to their customers. And while they feel pretty good about their negotiating competencies, he was very concerned about the lack of collaboration competencies, especially where you are faced with multi-faceted relationship structures (competitors and suppliers). And when he layered on the fact that they were projecting a very healthy growth trajectory over the next 3-5 years, I had to point out that their ability to respond to that kind of demand was totally dependent on their ability to develop those collaboration competencies as quickly as possible. Now before you think that this may not apply to you, I would ask you to think about all those critical supplier relationships you have that for whatever reason you will never be able to break and therefore the only way to enhance the value of those relationships is through Collaboration? Or the amount of Collaboration you need internally to be successful in your role?
As our discussion continued, these points became quite apparent to him. For his organization to meet those growth targets (and their order book over the next 2-3 years already supports those growth targets), they were at risk because the critical competency that was needed was Collaboration and as we all know, developing a competency has a lead time associated with it,especially one that typically doesn’t get a lot of attention. The Collaboration competency requires a totally different way of thinking and traditional competencies around negotiations can get in the way. For our client, this critical competency was sorely needed within his organization when dealing with those external relationship structures.
Developing these competencies can actually be a competitive edge for every organization. Let’s take the example where you have a supplier who has a near monopoly. Your ability to mine more value through Collaboration with that supplier gives you an edge or your ability to create a new supplier (as a credible threat) might require collaborating with some of their other customers in the same predicament. Where there are long standing supplier relationships that your stakeholders will never let you change, you can still generate significant value with those suppliers through Collaboration. Your sales organization may be contemplating entering a new market and the only way you can provide them with a Supply Chain to support that new market is through Collaboration. How about when you might have to Collaborate with competitors to create a new Supply Base because it’s a regulatory requirement.
In our experience in dealing with this issue with clients, we have often found that the attitudes held by senior leaders around collaboration are the most challenging. And unfortunately, those attitudes are allowed to permeate through their organizations. Your organization may be totally different ? Organizations are designed with competing goals which add to the complexity. Our basic attitudes have long been developed (as early as school) in a competitive environment, not a collaborative one. I still remember the biggest challenge my kids had when they went to college was with team assignments that had no active intervention from the professor.
We think that this will soon be recognized as one of the Next Practice competencies that create an explicit competitive advantage for organizations. And if your goal is to stay ahead of the curve and Best Practices that others are pursuing, then Collaboration should be your clarion call for 2015.