Emotional intelligence, the capacity for recognising our own feelings and those of others for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships, is an essential component of the buyer/provider relationship, as Liz Kentish explains
Emotional intelligence (EI) is about being aware of yourself and other people. It’s about holding a mirror up to yourself and recognising how your behaviour impacts on others and vice versa. When a client organisation makes the decision to start working with an FM service partner, it’s typically because the two organisations feel aligned. The cultures are similar on paper. We like to work with people like us. But often neither client or service partner do enough to ensure that the individuals in both organisations are aligned and understand each other’s roles and responsibilities and where people are coming from. They just leave them to get on with it. You don’t have to be best friends with the people you work with, but you do need to understand what drives and motivates them. And before you do that, you need to understand what drives and motivates you.
Toxic relationships between clients and providers happen when they’re not using emotional intelligence but instead rely on service level agreements and key performance indicators to communicate. The relationships have gone into survival mode. But EI can take angry emotions out of relationships and focus instead on what individuals and groups have in common.
Here’s how to use emotional intelligence in your client/ service partner relationships:
1 At bid stage, involve the people who will be running the contract in the event of a win, so the client can get to know them and start a relationship. Too often, the client builds a relationship with the bid team, and is then passed over to the mobilisation team, builds a relationship with them, and is then passed to the ops team who actually run the contract. By then, they’ve been ditched twice, and can feel aggrieved. If you’re the client, insist you meet the ops team at bid stage.
2 Work together to create clarity around the joint overarching goal and then vigorously communicate that to everyone in the joint team. If everyone, both client and supplier, knows what they’re aiming for and buys into it, you don’t get the angry emotion when things go slightly awry.
3 In the early stages of the relationship, spend time getting to know the client. What will make them look good within their organisation, to their boss and clients? It might be small things such as a certain way of addressing senior people, a particular menu, a specific design for a report. What does the service partner do that they love, and could do more of, and what doesn’t work? These are brave questions but if you have those conversations at the start, it will help to cement the relationship. Clients and service partners must have mutual trust and respect.
4 Include the ‘relationship’ as a standard agenda item on regular meetings. That provides the context for a discussion about what’s going well, and what could be done differently. When have you seen the team at its best/worst? This should be a 360-degree approach with the client also asking themselves what makes them a good/bad client.
5 People working for service partners typically adopt several organisational cultures. They have the culture of the organisation that employs them, and they will appreciate the culture of the other service providers they work alongside. But the most important culture is that of the client organisation. They must understand the client’s values, strategy, direction, and have a good knowledge of their business – which department does what. Teams can then create conversations in passing with the client about the major new piece of business, about the latest acquisition, or the incoming CEO – and show how intrinsic they are to the business. It also means that the FM service can be adjusted accordingly. Briefings to teams about the client, distributing the client internal newsletter, and encouraging interaction are key ways to achieve this.
LIZ KENTISH, MD OF PEOPLE DEVELOPMENT EXPERTS KENTISH & CO