Invest in the relationship

Think of your key internal customers and ask yourself how much time and effort you have invested building and maintaining the relationship with them beyond the time that is demanded by their function or yours. If you haven’t invested you won’t get the returns.

People tend to work better with people they feel are similar to themselves or at least where there’s some common ground. Have a call or a coffee and before you get down to business try getting to know them a little better. Build some rapport. Rapport is the first step to influence

Ask open questions

I’m sure you all know essentially an open question is one that cannot be answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’. The purpose is to encourage sharing of opinions, ideas, feelings and information. For example you could ask your colleague, ‘What are the most important things you need to achieve this year?’ or ‘How can we work better together?’ Most people feel they have had a good conversation if they do most of the talking.

Listen carefully

And take notes. The worst pencil is better than the best memory. I’m amazed when I sit in meetings and people don’t take notes. Do they have superhuman memories? Active listening means paying close attention to what others are saying. Show that you are listening with verbal responses (ums and ahs), summarising and keeping eye contact. For more on how to be a great listener see 12 Qualities of a Great Listener (And why you should aspire to be one too).

Do your homework

It’s surprising how little people know about their own company. Just because you are not at the front line of the commercial organisation don’t be lazy about educating yourself about the drivers of the business. Learn about your services and products, your customers and competitors. Discover what is happening in the wider market and the macro dimensions affecting the business.

Have something to say

If you want to be in the meetings and conversations where strategy is discussed and decisions are taken then people need to believe that you have something to say. Your contribution needs to go beyond your area. You need to show that you understand and have a relevant view of the bigger picture.

Don’t be a blocker

As a business partner you strive to achieve excellence in terms of practices and processes. In your mind there is a right and best way of doing things. The reasons aren’t always obvious to your internal customers. And even if they are they may not find them convincing. It’s easy to get into the position where you are perceived as someone who hinders rather than helps him or her deliver results.

Of course there are a few issues you have to stand firm on. But make sure you are flexible and cooperative on the rest. Simplify or delete anything that does not truly add value to the business.


To be seen as valuable, actually help people in your organisation achieve their objectives. Be proactive and solution focused. Be part of the solution not part of the problem. Share ideas about how they can achieve goals more easily or quickly and do things in your own area that make it easier for them. Use the resources you have in your team to help. If good results happen as a result of you being involved in projects, you’ll be asked to go back.

Add value

Your colleagues won’t always see the connection between what you do and the ‘real’ business of the company. First make sure you understand this yourself. Any activities that are not linked to creating value for the customer need to be questioned and probably eradicated. Where do you deliver most value? Is this clearly visible to your key stakeholders?

Deliver bad news with care

In a workshop for some finance business partners we were practising how to deliver bad news. One participant began her presentation with the line, ‘We need to have a post mortem about what just happened.’ The implication – something just died and we’re going to find out who the killer is. It was like Agatha Christie in reverse.

If people feel accused or got at they will put up the barriers and be defensive. Much better to begin with the positives if you can and position the problems as challenges that you face together and need to work on to find a solution.

Communicate clearly

Every specialism has it’s own language. It’s your job to translate that into terms that everyone can understand. Every department has its own timetable and priorities and they often clash. People need to be given clarity and forewarning about important processes that will make demands on their time.

Be reliable

There is nothing more frustrating and potentially damaging to your relationships than being unreliable. Missed deadlines, meetings or calls will seriously damage your credibility. People need to know they can depend on you. Do what you say you will do. Stop letting people down. Reliability helps build trust. Trust is your passport to influence. Without trust you never win the benefits of rapport. It takes just four ingredients to build trust but all of them are crucial for success.

  • Credibility: I can trust what you say – you have knowledge and expertise which is dependable
  • Reliability: You do what you say you will do consistently
  • Comfort: There is a strong enough match in values so we can work together
  • Motivation: You are able to help me achieve my goals

Bonus: Challenge

To be a valuable partner, you’ll need to be able to challenge others in the business. Build your credibility using the ideas above and your challenges will be respected, accepted and appreciated.