Recently, CSAE had an opportunity to speak with our Corporate Partners about issues relating to business relationships. The CSAE Roundtable was held to generate discussion and for these industry leaders to share their tips on how to improve professional connections.
Q: What do you view as the top two features of a good partnership?
AOB: Trust/transparency and solution-driven mindset.
AAS: The success of any business relationship can be predicated on many features. Two that standout to me are supportive and rewarding. For a partnership to feel and look like a true partnership, each party must feel a sense of support and optimism about the collaboration. When both parties are feeling supportive, they become motivated and inspired to more clearly visualize the bigger picture – and the process of achieving the end goal. The second feature is rewarding. In any successful partnership, there is nothing more essential than being involved in a process where the goal is clearly visualized and the end goal is met. You should be able to see the satisfaction in working with someone who adds value and significance to a shared vision that is fulfilled to its true potential.
Q: Do you value constructive criticism within a partnership and if yes, why?
AOB: I do feel it is valuable to both parties. Most people do not enjoy criticism, but the key word is “constructive.” Similar to most life experiences, it is generally the first conversation around this that is a challenge, and from there on, the process will develop its own cadence.
AGR: Yes. Sharing constructive criticism can imply a certain level of respect and honesty within a relationship. In my experience, those two traits are absolutely crucial in a successful partnership. I’m definitely my biggest critic, but I value constructive criticism for the difference in perspective. In other words, constructive criticism is also simply advice.
LDA: Yes — and, in fact, we actively seek out feedback through client surveys and annual stewardship meetings. Our survey process is designed to go beyond a simple historical focus as it relates to service quality and includes questions designed to explore our client’s specific business needs and issues – which will help us more effectively deliver resources in support of the success of their business. Our stewardship meetings are designed to generate an exchange of knowledge, to provide a platform for client feedback and set the stage for strategic planning for the future. Client satisfaction is paramount to our client service mission.
Q: When is it the right time to discuss long term goals – at the beginning of the partnership or after it has been established for a while?
AOB: My thought is that there must be some discussion of long- term goals included at the start of a relationship – again, playing into transparency. As life goes, things change, and nothing is set in stone.
AAS: Your ability to set long-term goals has an inordinate impact on the success and profitability of your business partnership. That said, the key to a successful long-term strategic partnership is identifying the core competencies that you require and then beginning to immediately develop a strategic planning process and a clear sense of direction. You need to set clear targets for yourself and your stakeholders at the beginning of the partnership by setting short-term goals that will contribute to your long-term goals. Start with your objectives, strategies, priorities and activities that will accomplish this. Once this has been established, continue to work through the planning process and always be thinking about the future and how the present time measures up to the desired outcome.
Q: What have been the most effective ways to communicate with your partners?
AGR: Communication type and style vary so tremendously, it’s a lucky day when you can find partners who are similar to you in this respect. Communication can serve many purposes: getting work done, forging a deeper bond, and so much more. I prefer when the purpose is clear and we essentially “get to the point.” Whether that’s discussing a deadline or a simple catch up, I appreciate direct or “short and sweet” communication styles.
Q: How do you tackle any issues or problems as they arise in the partnership?
AOB: Quick and decisive action/discussion is critical. Do not put anything off in relation to this, regardless of how trivial it may appear. It will only snowball or escalate—or worse, happen again.
Q: What steps do you take to foster accountability
AOB: Accountability is not something that can be given; it has to be “taken”. So, with this, both parties must ensure trust and transparency as a baseline to build a foundation and ensure this is delivered along the course of the relationship. Regardless of who the client/vendor is, both parties have accountabilities to each other to ensure success.
AAS: Accountability is not simply about taking blame when something goes wrong but, more importantly, delivering on commitments. The magic is in the way all parties can work together by building a culture of accountability based on setting clear expectations. Ask yourself, how will you measure success? How do you go about achieving your objectives? And what resources will you need to ensure expectations have been clearly met? Nothing is more frustrating than poor communication that may lead to a misunderstanding and deliverables not being met. Fostering accountability relies upon measuring results, providing honest, open and on-going feedback, and taking the necessary learning opportunities when expectations are not being met. Consistent feedback and tracking your commitments are underrated habits to fostering a culture of accountability that is foundational to recognizing the bigger picture and overcoming obstacles along the way.
LDA: At Marsh, we set performance expectations with our clients: we measure performance. Throughout the year, we engage in strategic risk and performance planning focused on achieving goals and mutually-agreed key performance indicators to measure success within an established delivery timeline. At key milestones, we meet for performance planning to measure where we are, what went well and opportunities to improve.
We enforce quality controls. Marsh Professional Standards contain strict metrics by which we measure our performance on mutually -agreed items, including exposure analysis, market monitoring, clear client communication, on-time binding, accurate binder issuance, policy issuance and insurer follow-up.
We always put a client’s interests first. We adhere to a code of conduct and try to ensure they remain informed and in control of their program. We commit to putting the client’s interests first, upholding honesty, respecting client confidentiality and selecting markets based upon criteria established with the client.
We ask the client how we did and how we are doing. Towards the end of the service cycle, we facilitate an annual performance review to determine whether or not we have met our key performance indicators and what our objectives will be going forward.
We commit to minimum service timelines. We meet with the client to mutually agree on their expectations of timeliness of service.
Q: Do you have a rule of thumb or particular philosophy that guides your approach to dealing with a partner?
AGR: Remember that they cannot read your mind. That goes hand in hand with reminding yourself to be self-aware. Acknowledge that your words and actions might be taken differently than you anticipated.
LDA: We have a great philosophy that guides our approach at Marsh. Our Marsh client engagement framework is built first and foremost upon one basic objective: establishing a thorough understanding of their business. We begin by asking questions to gain a full understanding of a partner’s company, their business strategy and risk issues. Our objective is to maximize the return on their risk management investment through increased efficiency, improved business-risk decisions and competitive cost. Our framework helps us deliver a customized set of solutions to address their specific risk considerations and business priorities in a disciplined, multi-year approach.
Q: How do you ensure your team brings their best to a partnership?
AAS: Partnerships will thrive when each member is acting as a catalyst to grow and succeed within the team. Each team member must have the opportunity to generate their own innovative ideas, having the freedom to reflect, engage and contribute creatively. Cultivating an environment where each member leads by example, collaborating, communicating and striving towards the collective goal is key to not only an exceptional partnership, but also to their own individual success within the team. Supporting and recognizing the success of each member is a great way to hold each other accountable, creating trust through actions while resolving conflicts and solving problems that may arise along the way.
AGR: I like to think of work teams as sports teams. Everyone must hold their own weight. In return, every team member supports each other. Making this clear is crucial. If someone isn’t bringing their A-game or does not make themselves as available to support the rest of the team, it will show. Communicating this expectation and showing the results and benefits of a well-supported team is the best insurance to making sure the team succeeds.
LDA: We at Marsh have Client First Principles which are designed to promote service quality through clearly defined performance standards and continuous improvement strategies. These Principles contain strict metrics by which we measure our performance and address industry-wide timing requirements for documentation and invoicing issuance. Employee adherence to our Client First Principles and Disclosure Policies is subject to our formal internal audit and compliance process. File review and audits are conducted in each office by an independently-trained team with the results reported to our board of directors on a regular basis. Our Principles apply to Marsh globally.