The Engagement Stage of Business Partnering

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To engage is to occupy someones attention

Setting expectations for models that can be applied
Setting expectations is a critical requirement that needs to be positioned between the business partner and their key stakeholders. To seek agreement of ‘who does what’ requires mutual understanding, dependency and acceptance by all relevant parties. There are four features, that will support the convergence of team or joint outcomes:

  • Perceived goal attainment: goals should ideally provide a stretch and also be attainable. When goals are set too high or performance expectations are made too difficult, this will most likely lead to low expectancy. This occurs when the individual or team has the belief that their desired targets are unattainable. Setting achievable goals will increase engagement and motivation.
  • Self-confidence: this is based upon the individual’s perspective about their ability to successfully perform a particular activity or requirement. The individual will self-assess whether they have the required skills, knowledge or competence to achieve their goals.
  • Perceived control: individuals within a team must trust each other to contribute a level of control over the expected outcome collectively. When individuals perceive that the outcome is beyond their ability to influence this will result in low expectancy of the required outcomes.
  • Role clarity: the purpose of a role clarification is to assist individual team members in understanding their individual responsibilities that will improve their working relationships and to increase their cooperation and effectiveness with one another.

Engagement Models
The engagement and development of the relationship between the business partner and the stakeholder will vary within a range of both formal and informal arrangements. These will then impact upon the level of formality of the relationship, this includes, the assessment, use, and application of the:

  • Governance models that are applied
  • Business drivers for the relationship
  • Orientation of the relationship
  • Level of trust
  • Culture of the organisation
  • Ethics boundaries

Within the range of contractual formality and consensual informality, four types of models can be defined and applied:

  1. The contractual model
  2. Service level agreement model
  3. Objective setting model
  4. Laissez-faire model

In support and alignment to the above models, four emerging styles that can be applied to business partnering: Regulator, Business Advisor, Service Provider and Change Agent, which can be broadly aligned to the types of models that are impacted. The features of the model types and how the dimensions of business partnering impact them are illustrated and explained below.


1. The contractual model

A contract is a, methodical, documented, legally binding formal agreement between a business partner, and the primary stakeholder. This type of model will normally apply to outsourced relationships. Different jurisdictions will have different features. An initial example under English law that provides proof of a contractual relationship will include:

  • An offer
  • Acceptance of the offer
  • Valid consideration

Selected business partnering arrangements can be outsourced and contractual conditions are more likely to be applied to those cases. For example IT (information technology) and HR (Human Resources) functions are two typical business functions that may have outsourced activities and responsibilities for business partnering. The regulator style will be the most suitable alignment to the contractual model. In some instances the contractual model may also include or refer to service level agreements.

2. Service level agreements (SLA)

Service level agreements can be both referenced within a contract or a model in their own right. Service level agreements are used to define the level of service that will exist between the provider (the business partner) and their ‘customers’ (stakeholders) that might be either internal or external. The language will be much simpler than a legal contract so that both parties understand it without legal support or advice. The SLA should include the availability of the service, performance levels, how it will operate, priorities and responsibilities. There are likely to be agreed targets and a measurement system being positioned as the primary focus of the working relationship.

3. The objective setting model

Clear objectives will establish what the business partner and stakeholders are planning or targeting to achieve. It is critical for both parties that the process of setting objectives is robust. Specific and measurable objectives provide a framework for the working relationship. Achievable and realistic objectives will engage and motivate all parties. Time-bound objectives ensure that both parties agree what outputs or outcomes are to be delivered. The business partnering relationship, adopting the objective setting model may be driven by the function that the business partner belongs to, stakeholder that the business partner engages with or the combination of both. As described above, the business partner will be part of the agreement process and acceptance of the objectives. The change agent style will be the most suitable alignment for this model.

4. Laissez-faire model

The phrase laissez-faire is a French phrase and literally means, ‘let them do,’ It was used in 1751 to describe how the French state should promote commerce. However, over time the current usage relates to ‘let it be,’ or ‘leave it alone.’ Business partnering towards a laissez-faire model can be relevant where the business partnering relationship is of an advisory, or infrequent usage basis. An example of this may be the relationship with a communications department for the organization.

The degree of formal and informal arrangements that the business partner may need to negotiate with a stakeholder will have dependencies that are unique to each function or organization. Once the arrangements have been established, engagement expectations need to be understood and acknowledged. The expectations need to be set regardless of the style of business partnering alignment and the model of formality that may be applied.

If the business partner’s aims are to create enterprise value and excel in their role, there is a requirement to understand the complexity of stakeholder engagement. Different models that might be adopted and applied may influence the style of engagement. Effective engagement should also consider the impact on softer issues that will build and support effective relationships.