Buttons or Zippers?

Here at Globocorp we strive to be at the leading edge of fast-fashion, coupled with a dose of tech. After my previous trip in June, I’m back in New York this week as part of New York Fashion Week to see some of our latest designers strut their stuff. Watch out for our consumer versions in a store near you … very soon.

In case you missed it, the big themes this year were buttons and zippers. Together, sometimes. Apart: definitely.

Rihanna
I’m not allowed to tell you what happened at my friend Rihanna’s show – as you may have seen they took our phones away. But the break from email did get me thinking about buttons and zippers in a different way ….

… as a strategic adviser to my colleagues, part of my job is to make connections, and button or zip things together so that we see the whole picture.

No, I’m not talking about the clothes strategic advisers wear (that’s for a different blog), but more about how those two items connect in a different way, and what that means for business partnerships with your key stakeholders.

Adding value in three ways
If you are operating as a business partner or a strategic adviser, either in a functional role in a large organization like me, or as an external consultant, the value you add will depend on three things: 1) the skills and expertise you have, 2) the organizational understanding you have so that you can translate expertise into results, and 3) your consulting skills to build and develop relationships.

In many relationships the fulcrum is the personal chemistry between the receiver and the giver of advice. We can use the terms ‘adviser’ and ‘client’ whether the adviser is in the same organization, or a different one. The ‘client’ has operational responsibility for a large group of people and their job is to take the adviser’s counsel and operationalize it. The adviser’s job is to harness and marshal the expertise of their own team and mobilize to face the client. In effect the two individuals are acting like a button and button-hole, holding everything together. All the connection is held by the button.

For some types of relationships, this can work fine. But in other situations, the button at the centre – represented by the relationship of the two individuals – can get stretched and pulled, and sometimes pop (yes, Buck Greenback, I’m talking about you!). And if the button is too tight, it’s painful, circulation gets cut off and the relationship falters.

Zippers
A zipper relationship, on the other hand, is generally much stronger. The zipper has lots of connection points with lots of people working together in partnership across the ‘seam’. The connections might be hierarchical: I advise my CEO and other leaders; people in my team tend to work with middle management. Or it might be functional or expertise-based. But the key is multiple connection points. If one link fails then the zipper still holds.
If you find yourself in a button relationship – either as the consultant or the adviser – here are some things you can do to start building your zipper:

  1. Create a relationship map to explore what the future connections might be. Who are the key players on the other side? What can you do to involve / connect with them? Please get in touch if you would like some examples.
  2. Try to identify the main reasons for ‘button-ness’; is it convenience, lack of trust, people being protective of their own personal power or position? Once you understand the motivation you can start to make changes.
  3. Look at your own behaviour and see if you are inadvertently encouraging the wrong type of behaviour among your colleagues. What can you change?

I’m not universally saying “buttons bad, zippers good” but it is important to recognize when the relationship is the wrong shape. And maybe the next time someone tells you to “zip it!”, you’ll interpret that as constructive advice, not an insult.

Now that Rihanna’s people have given me my phone back I can take lots of photos of our up and coming designers. Look out for the hashtag #globocorp on Fashtagram!

If you would like to hear more about how to build and strengthen relationships, and improve the quality of your connections, get in touch and we can come to your office and share ideas. We can’t promise Rihanna but we do have John Lennon and Bill Gates as ‘guest speakers’ at our events.

Strategic advisers: five perspectives.

In our Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders events, one of our goals is to combine fun with practical tools to help participants reflect on their personal advisory style and think what it means for their own behaviour, and how they work with others.

One of the most popular tools we have helps people think about what type of adviser they are. In fact, being a ‘strategic adviser’ comes in five different flavours.

So what are the five? And which one are you?

Imagine you are walking into an expensive restaurant for a date with the one you love. You will encounter several different people — all experts in their own field, and all ready to give you advice on how to have the best possible experience. But they will all do it in different ways.

Nvospersfnls_Cards1 copyIn fact, maybe your first adviser is one you encounter before you get to the restaurant. You meet a previous customer (or read an internet review): “Aah, you’re going to ‘Augustus’ for dinner! Wow! You must totally have the ‘Barcelona Chop’. It’s their speciality. Divine. And for dessert? There is only one choice. Of course you need to order the ‘Caramel Salée With Meringue’. It’s to die for.” This adviser’s heart is in the right place, and they generally believe that those choices are the best for you. But they have jumped to solution and ‘yelped’ it out before even having a detailed discussion. This is a great approach in a crisis: ‘just tell me what to do’. Yelping out the solution immediately they can save time and make your life easier. But the challenge for this type of adviser — the yelper — is that jumping straight to solution or action sometimes works but is not always the best approach.

Nvospersfnls-02As you enter the restaurant, you will meet your next adviser: the maître d’. Let’s call her Martha. Her main job is to ensure you have a good experience, and to marshal a team of specialists to meet your specific needs. Martha is supportive, helpful and attentive. She knows her stuff but doesn’t parade her knowledge. At times, she will bring in experts to enhance your experience; at other times she will develop a relationship with you to understand your needs in more detail. If you are a looking for a quick transaction, go to a different restaurant. Martha will ensure you feel better after leaving; and will place your needs above her own. As you share a taxi home with your loved one, you probably won’t even remember her name: but she’s the one who made it all happen.

Nvospersfnls-05After Martha shows you to your table, you’ll meet your waiter, William. This is the third adviser archetype. His job is transactional. His job is to give you a menu of options and then write down what you say. He’ll deliver whatever you ask. Maybe there will be a little conversation about options, but essentially the waiter’s job is to deliver. Sometimes as an adviser, that is what you need to do. A senior leader needs something and you need to deliver. There is a time and a place for this approach. But doing it too often is career-limiting.

Nvospersfnls-08As you choose your meal, you’ll maybe want some wine. Enter Salma, your sommelier. As your adviser, her job is to have a conversation to understand your needs, the context (the meal you have already chosen; your budget; your tastes) and then make a recommendation. At the beginning of your conversation, she doesn’t know your needs, your context, and there is no clear solution from her list of hundreds of options. If it was a crisis and you needed immediate wine, then the yelper is the adviser for you. But the sommelier will explore the issues, make recommendations and guide you towards a good outcome.

Nvospersfnls-07Your final archetype is Christiane, the chef. She’s the super expert — and has the Michelin stars, certificates and qualifications to prove it. In her hands, the mundane becomes dynamic. Her technical expertise is second to none and if you need an expert to solve your problems she’s the one for you. Like some chefs, she can be hard to handle. Unlike the maître d’, she doesn’t need interpersonal skills. In fact, you probably won’t even meet her. But her solution will be the thing that you rave about later. As an adviser, she’s the expert and the one that will go away and build a solution to meet your needs.

This typology may be a bit of fun, but it comes in useful when diagnosing business partnering relationships. One of the big challenges in consulting or business partner relationships is that the ‘buyer’ and the ‘seller’ can sometimes have different ideas of why the partnership exists.

Successful business partners will make sure there is an alignment between three components of the relationship:

  1. What does the buyer want? Sometimes, actually, it is a waiter problem, pure and simple. Just do it. Going in with a sommelier approach is just going to annoy people.
  2. What is the job? This might be a job description, an RFP or just an email request from one of your colleagues. You need to identify what type of response is needed.
  3. Finally, as a person, where do you get your energy? Plenty of people ask me, “how do I become a maître d’?” but actually when I quiz them in detail it is apparent they are most happy being a chef.

The trick to successful business partner relationships is ensuring an alignment between what the customer wants, the job requirement and where you get your energy.

And this applies not just to those in marketing or PR but also to professionals in other fields such as HR, Legal, IT etc. In fact, we regularly sit down with the other functional leaders in my business where we explore these issues and think about what that means. (Perhaps the same is true in your organization – how often do you sit down with your peers from other functions and think about what your organization really needs from its functional experts?)

If you would like to hear more about this methodology and how to move from one archetype to another, come to one of our workshops or get in touch directly.