Why Focus on Excellence in Business Partnering

Why do some supply chain teams—despite having all the right commercial skills, tools, systems, and processes—still fail to achieve excellence and success within the organization? At the same time, some teams seem to possess a “secret ingredient” that helps them to achieve truly outstanding results. 

The same applies on an individual performer level. I once had a team member who had minimal supply chain experience and had a degree in chemistry. Despite him lacking experience and core supply chain skills, he managed to drive significant value managing relationships with key suppliers, and the business recognized him as one of the team superstars. What helped him to do that? 

Business partnering and collaboration, being one team with the business, having a seat at the leadership table, focus on what drives the value for the business—all are essential features of the modern supply chain organization. But how do you achieve these? Let’s explore what goes into this “secret ingredient” of supply chain’s success. 

It all starts with looking in a mirror—soliciting feedback from business stakeholders to hear the voice of the customer. The easiest way to do this is by surveying and analyzing stakeholder feedback to take action on it. This also shows that the supply chain would like to be a player rather than a victim.

The next step is to set up an annual business engagement and alignment program with a wide range of business teams. Hold meetings with business leaders at various levels to solicit information on business plans, share key initiatives planned by the supply chain team, align on priorities for the upcoming period, and solicit feedback on supply chain’s performance. This helps with understanding the business, being a “learner” rather than a “knower,” and strengthening the relationships.   

Supply chain also needs to train the business stakeholders: create awareness of the SCM process, communicate “go to” key contacts for the business teams.   

Last but very important is that you build trust through delivery: deliver on promises and expectations, share successes and failures, and take responsibility for the results. 

Now let’s look at it from an individual perspective.

It comes down to maintaining a balance between the four behavioral spectrums: business player vs. the professional partner, and functional broker vs. enabler for compliance and control.

Also, if you overdo one of them, you are risking not being successful in your relationship with the business or with your own supply chain team. 

A business player is co-responsible for business success. A professional partner is maintaining acts to shape the direction only as it relates to supply chain activities. If you’re too much of a business player, then you run a risk of “going native” and lose credibility with your own function. If you are too much of a professional partner, you are seen as a narrow expert advisor oversupplying the business with advice on irrelevant or non-priority issues, acting as someone outside the business with no skin in the game. 

A functional broker means being at the interface between the business and the function, aligning the actions of the function with the needs identified in the business, resolving conflicts, and ensuring that agendas are synchronized. An enabler of compliance and control typically brings the policies and processes to the business, standing up for compliance.  

When you overdo the functional broker role, you can be seen as a “hollow conduit” who simply serves as a mailbox between the business and function without value add. Press too much on compliance and control, and you will be seen as a “functional police” without proper business understanding, and little value add.  

Lastly, there is one more thing to stitch it all together—being able to maintain independence under pressure. The pressure will come from within your own function and from the business stakeholders. Those who can find the balance and drive trust and transparency will ultimately succeed. 

I leave you with these four questions to consider:

  1. Do you bring insight to the business table? 
  2. Do you demonstrate the courage to influence the business and the function? 
  3. Do you build and maintain the integrity of the relationships? 
  4. Do you take the initiative to co-lead the business?