By Robert Walterson
Hello everyone, and welcome to our third Institute for Collaborative Working (ICW) blog post! In our last blog, we discussed the importance of good relationship management in a collaborative enterprise. A key feature of a strong relationship is having a shared vision, values, and culture despite having different capabilities and perceptions.
This is why Vision and Values is the second principle of collaborative working.
In this blog, we will discuss the importance of aligning these values and culture with those of external partners. We will begin by discussing the theoretical overview and underpinning of this principle, before moving into its importance within collaborative enterprises.
When we do things, we do it because we see value in it. This principle applies through every level of a business. In the highest-level sense, we value an outcome from the business as a whole. This can be tangible such as profit or intangible such as social impact. Within these high-level values, we have values which inform them, and guide our actions in achieving them. These can be anything from ingenuity, innovation and inclusion, to loyalty, honesty and respect. The way these values inform the overall business objective can be seen in the case of projects. Projects are a means to obtain certain benefits, which will ultimately contribute to the fulfilment of the organisations overall goal. This can be seen in the following example. A company is created with profit as its goal. Its founders value innovation, so they wish to achieve this profit by innovating and creating something which has never been seen before. To achieve this, they undertake a research product. They conduct research on the market, their competitors’ products, consumer demand and more to provide insights into their new product. This project has certain governance features, processes and more. In this example, the governance features may value continuous improvement and value-added above short-term financial security and organisational stability.
We can see how values operate on multiple levels within an organisation. Individually, we also have our own values. We may value renumeration, recognition, kindness, justice, fairness, equality and much more.
Within collaborative enterprises it is important that as much of these values are aligned between partners as is reasonably practicable. Its importance can be seen when we consider the above facts in relation to the nature of a collaborative enterprise. We defined collaborative working in our first blog as ‘people working jointly on an activity or project to achieve a common goal.’ If you do not have the same goal of the enterprise in mind, or you do not value it, you cannot work together to achieve it. Beyond this however, if you do not share the same values which inform the achievement of this goal, there will inevitably be conflict. An example of this could be in the role of hierarchy of communication within an enterprise. One organisation may value a more decentralised, informal approach to communication whereas the other may value a more hierarchical, formal approach to communication. If these values are not aligned, it could cause conflict and inaction within the enterprise.
Within collaborative enterprises it is important that as much of these values are aligned between partners as is reasonably practicable.
Whilst these values can be agreed and formalised beforehand, it is also important that the culture around the enterprise is also aligned. Culture is the outworking of values- the product of the way these values are currently interpreted. Two businesses may agree to have ‘open communication’ as a value, yet without a clear understanding of what this looks like in practice, two organisations could have two equally valid interpretations of what it means.
Culture addresses this issue and goes a step further. Even with agreed upon rules and processes; when something unexpected happens, when things change or when emergent phenomena appear, these rules and processes can go out the window. Under extreme pressure or uncertainty, organisations will fall-back on the culture they understand. In this sense, culture goes beyond external rules and processes and creates an internal understanding of how to act in any given situation. This reduces conflict and allows organisations to act quickly without having to constantly refer to the rulebook beforehand.
All of this can be difficult to ‘get right’- and presents a sort of paradox. The benefits of collaboration are realised by bringing together different and complementary skillets. These skillsets come with their associated values, behaviours, and ideas of ‘how things are done’. So in some sense, you want and need these differences to provide a different perspective and outlook- but on the other hand you want to be able to trust your partners and have some assurance of how they will act in a given situation.
The degree of alignment of visions and values guides partners on behaviours and decisions. Consequently, they can achieve smoother operations, more effective achievement of goals and higher performance. One of the benefits of ISO44001 is the accomplishment of this objective. Before any collaborative enterprise is established, a Suitability Assessment is carried out amongst potential partners of the business. Once it is established that a suitable opportunity for collaboration exists, those that offer most potential value are identified and prioritised. Once a partner with whom the organisation wishes to partner with is selected, a Value Analysis process is initiated. This will help to determine if a collaborative approach can offer more value than an alternative approach. If it is ascertained that a collaborative approach could add value, then a business case can be drafted for how it could be done specifically. Once a business case for a strategic direction is approved, then the Joint Relationship Management Plan (JRMP) can be established. The JRMP is the ‘constitution’ of the relationship- the foundational document upon which any collaborative enterprise is built. It details the goals of the collaboration, values, governance processes, the Senior Executive Responsible (SER) for the collaboration, operational process, leadership arrangements, communication management and much more. It is the document you can refer to whenever you are unsure about something within the collaboration. More than this though (and going back to values and culture) is that the very architecture of the document creates a culture. The JRMP is a living, breathing document which informs and underpins the decisions made within a collaborative endeavour. By creating and ‘playing-out’ the document, organisations will naturally mimic the behaviours that they desire. This helps create culture, as it allows the organisations to generate the behaviours from within, rather than having them enforced from an outward authority. This process will be discussed further in our later blog post on trust.