BRM: Relationship status…it’s complicated.

Question: Partnering implies a level of equality of engagement for both parties, is this an aspirational state for BRMs or simply a different organisational name?

A long time ago, perhaps at the height of “political correctness has gone mad”, I was pulled up for referring to two data field as being a master and slave entity. Not until I showed the HR colleague these were the very settings on a computer hard drive was it possible to deal with this misunderstanding. It has however left me a little wary of using the phrase again. I can only say sorry if doing so now causes any offence. All language changes based on context, understanding and definition over time.

The concept of a master having a slave is no longer one that any of us would agree with. Being servant-minded be that as a servant leader, a public servant or because of the humility in our approach to a task can all be positive (even privilege) positions to be in. The BRM must be mindful of who and what they are a servant to, and remember that the whilst serving can be a privilege it isn’t the basis of the peer-advisor relationship you may be seeking to establish.

Many relationships have a power struggle within them. This is observed even before the school playground starts to form a child’s view of the world. There have been many occasions where the behaviour of our eldest daughter has become angelic just after her younger sister has been told off. Who taught her to highlight the )bed behaviour of someone else in this way is anyone’s guess. This same child did, age 3, tell me not to use her name when telling her off as if to depersonalise the situation.

Children may be more innocent in their forming of relationships. Research suggests that young children do not see many of the physical traits that as adults we quickly become consciously (or unconsciously biased) towards. As the world shapes us we start to conform to the patterns around. We express a desire to be equal with someone but if we’re honest, how often is it because we see that as the gateway to achieving something that we want? A safe reflection on society is that many relationships are formed because of potential gain. Perhaps one, the post-COVID-19 benefit will be that we see the value of relationships for others simply for the human connection.

This is a long reflective introduction to consider the relationships that the BRM seeks to establish and maintain.

People buy from people. We connect at a human level. Yet, I do think, that the nature of these professional relationships there is another dimension. Being a peer in the professional context is not the same as being a contemporary of someone socially. Both you as the BRM, the provider domain and the business partner all want something. Success is aligning the right parts of those things together (not just aligning them!) This changes the purpose of the relationship and therefore how it is established, developed and maintained.

The research that the CEB carried out which led to the Challenger Sale being published expected to find that salespeople who built friendly “yes customer” style relationships would be the most successful. They were surprised to find that this isn’t the case. Professional relationships have another dimension – they are more often an exchange of value, ideas, thinking and solutions. If I can teach you something about your world that you were unaware of, and be part of the solution then there is a value in this relationship for both of us.

One trap that a BRM can fall into is the idea that if they can only make the customer happy, meet their demands and do exactly what is asked – being the “yes person”, then they will find the door opened to other conversations. This is a trap because in my experience it only serves to reinforce the idea that one party is a supplier to the other and at the mercy of their buying decisions. This situation is only exasperated when internal teams working for the same organisation seek to put in place some form of service level agreement. That is an indication of the break down of trust within the organisation much more than it is a desire to have a professional working relationship.

The original questioner introduced the idea of a partnership of equality. This is why you as the BRM may take the style and attitude of a servant to your business partner but it would be a mistake to see your purpose as only to serve their needs, or to be subservient to them. The BRM needs to hold a bigger picture in their mind than just the needs, objectives and desires of the individual they are building a relationship with.

In one situation I found myself having to say “no” to shortlisting an internal candidate for interview. The hiring manager had wanted to promote a member of their team and yet the applicant didn’t provide the evidence in their application to meet the criteria that had been set. I found myself in the difficult place of needing to be able to continue to work with the hiring manager (and potentially the applicant in their current role) as a BRM in the future. It wasn’t easy and not an enjoyable situation but it was the right thing to do. On this occasion, and it won’t always be the case, it served to build the trust and respect between me and the hiring manager. Knowing that I was prepared to do the right thing, to have an opinion, and to challenge them in an objective and not emotional way demonstrated that in other situations my contribution would be beneficial to shape their thinking.

Ultimately, we all want to be right and few of us like to be challenged, even fewer to be told we’re wrong.

The BRM needs to establish a partnership of equality not because they deserve it, or because that’s how decent human beings should operate, but because the contribution that they can make should start from a position of mutual respect. This is an aspirational place to be but I firmly believe that as we establish ourselves as a BRM the willingness to challenge, to not just blindly serve, and to hold ourselves as an equal party is critical for the success of the role.

Written by

An experienced senior digital business leader with experience of delivering transformative change.

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