How Replaceability Gave Way to Maximizing Business Value
Since Industrialization began in Europe in 18th-19th centuries, the focus of many organizations, whether they were in the business of making cars or delivering customer services, has been increasingly on standardization and optimization of processes, increased efficiency with highly predictable consistent outcomes—more or less mimicking the humming rhythm of heavy industrial machinery. First, the focus on consistency of output was limited to the products and processes surrounding assembly line production. It did not take long, however, for the same conveyor mentality to take hold of the minds and capture imagination of those who defined the guiding principles of work far away from the noisy factories. Clerical work, accounting, and legal services, engineering, and software development activities were all eventually broken down into manageable chunks of interchangeable modules—ready to be packed, shipped, rearranged, and easily replaced, as necessary.
Modular interchangeable parts permeate every aspect of our life today. When we buy a new toaster, we fully expect it to smoothly replace the old one—in size of its bread slots, heating temperature, length of the attached electric cord, color, etc. If more than a few of the “standard” features of the replacement product deviate beyond our low tolerance threshold, we make our displeasure well known through fuming product reviews, etc.
We also adapted the same interchangeability principles in our relationships with our colleagues and in describing our own professional roles. “Everyone is replaceable,” we argue, “here is a process manual, in case I get hit by a bus…” A few islands of irreplaceability have held strong in our lives, however. For example, try bringing up the idea that “everyone is replaceable” in the context of your relationships with your spouse or children and see how far it will get you. You may also go around looking for a friend, but once you find one, especially a true one, swapping him or her for another “just like the first one” will not do!
A curious phenomenon has been affecting an increasing number of organizations worldwide—the emergence and rapid adaption of the Business Relationship Management (BRM) role. BRMs are responsible for maximizing business value of services provided. To fulfill their mission, BRMs act as a bridge between the service provider and the business partner. To be successful in his or her role, a BRM must be both a skilled businessperson and a master relationship builder—an artist. There are several levels of BRM role maturity—each corresponding as much to a certain level of mastery of BRM skills as to the role a BRM plays in the relationship—progressing from an obedient order taker to a peer adviser and a valued trusted partner. The higher a BRM is on the BRM role maturity scale the harder it is…to replace him or her. After all, would you consider your trusted advisor interchangeable, swappable, generic? Therefore, the highest accolade a BRM can receive is to have his or her business partner or service provider comment: “There is no way we can replace you! We have a unique and valuable relationship!” If you are a pragmatic business leader reading this, please do not be afraid! After all, isn’t maximizing the value of your investments what you are really looking for? Just be ready to abandon some of the replaceable worn out ideas on the way toward achieving this seemingly elusive goal and hire a BRM soon, will you?
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Very good assessment, Aleksandr. And I agree…don’t be afraid! Shortly after taking a leadership role in the BRM team, one of the BRMs accepted a VP position outside of the company. He had gone a long way in establishing trust with the business partner and there was sincere concern about who would replace him. His departure created a bit of a stir with IT senior management as well as the business partner. However, I had worked with the BRM and the business partner in my prior position and was well aware of the necessary skills and personality required. It helped that several people desiring new opportunities had informed me if a BRM position became available to please give them consideration. The outcome was that one of those people raising their hand to be considered I knew to be a good fit to work with the business partner. She had a one week transition period with the departing BRM then quickly stepped into the role at a critical time, IT budget development for the partner. Within 3 weeks I no longer heard the gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands about the gap left with the departing BRM. She quickly established confidence with the business partner and IT leadership that she could do the job. It’s been 6 months now and I’ve never once heard concerns stated about how she is managing the relationship. Is she a trusted advisor? Not 100% but she’s well on her way.
The lesson learned, and to the point of your comments, is that it is hard to replace a BRM that is so well-established with the business partner. It shouldn’t be taken lightly with the idea that anyone is replaceable but a BRM can be replaced successfully with some forethought and planning. As a manager I think it’s important to be prepared for someone to leave and to know what is required from a skills and personality perspective to fill the gap. Knowing the business needs and personality of the business partner is critical. Everyone is replaceable to a certain extent but they aren’t replaceable with just anyone. It takes effort to learn who can replace a team member and it requires the understanding that it won’t be like for like. It also highlights the importance of knowing the talent in an organization so when an opportunity arises one can tap on that person to see if they would be interested in a new opportunity. If a BRM was to leave today I have a short list of people that I would reach out to and discuss opportunities. So to quote the Boy Scout motto, “Be prepared!”
Dear Catherine, thank you very much for your kind words and for generously sharing your first-hand experience and learning with me and the other readers of this blog! I once read a research article, which estimated that it costs at least 150% of the departed person’s pay to replace him or her including search fees, lost productivity during ramp up time, etc. I bet, the cost of replacing a BRM is higher than this average number and is higher still for the strategically positioned effective BRMs. This touches on another excellent point you brought up in your comment–planned succession. This is an increasingly hot topic for the C-level executive positions, but many successful BRMs are next in line for a C-level job. I wonder how many other BRM team leaders out there have the wisdom to “Be prepared!” I say, we ask the members of our LinkedIn group. Thanks again for an excellent comment and the inspiration it provided!