Applying Soft Skills to Hard Problems: Internal and External Alignment

Vantage Partners’ new podcast, Vantage Views, delivers monthly conversations on applying soft skills to hard problems featuring hard-won experience from across industries. In Episode 1, Partner Danny Ertel sits down with Gregg Parsley to discuss building alignment — both internally and externally, during moments of transformation and in periods of stability. Relating experiences from working at Shell and IBM, Parsley shares some of his tools, insights, and stories from “working in the trenches.”

On approaching internal and external alignment

"In organizations going through transition there is a huge emotional element of fear that has to be dealt with. Whereas in very stable organizations you have an emotional energy around people advancing” — Gregg Parsley

 

Listen to the Vantage Views podcast — “Applying Soft Skills to Hard Problems: Internal and External Alignment.” 

 

 

Click here to jump to the episode transcript.

The Questions:

  • What stands out for you, as some of the big differences in how you engage stakeholders and how you build alignment through stability vs through big changes?
  • Do you find it easier or harder to get aligned internally or to get aligned with customers and partners?
  • What advice, from what you've accumulated the hard way, is teachable?

 Want to learn more about internal and external alignment? Read these articles:

 

The Interviewer: Danny Ertel is a founding partner of Vantage Partners and an expert in negotiation, relationship management, and organizational transformation. His work centers on developing and implementing strategies that leverage enhanced collaboration across internal organizational boundaries and with external partners. Danny frequently helps clients through complex negotiations with key clients, alliance partners, or critical suppliers, and to transform corporate functions to better support their business strategies. His experience spans multiple industries, including energy and mining, legal, finance, technology, and life sciences.

The Guest: Gregg Parsley is 33-year veteran of both sales and sourcing across fortune 50 company business units and C suites. Gregg spent more than a decade at companies like IBM and BMC, very heavily involved in large account management large enterprise accounts and in strategic partner management. Mr. Parsley then worked at Shell, moving from client management to managing buy side relationships. Gregg is highly skilled and experienced at developing and managing individual and corporate relationships.

About Vantage Views Podcast Series

Vantage Views delivers monthly conversations on applying soft skills to the hard problems faced by leaders everywhere, featuring hard-won experience from across a variety of industries. Grounded in our expertise in managing change, building alignment, collaborating, and influencing effectively, Vantage Views interviewers and our guests explore how to develop and apply critical skills to navigating complex business challenges.


Episode Transcript:

Intro:
Ethan Underhill: I have no idea who here is the ultimate decision maker. I've got all these stakeholders and they all seem to want different things. No one seems to be able to make something happen, but anyone seems to be able to stop it. Many complex organizations face some version of this challenge, because moving ahead successfully with any kind of strategic initiative typically requires a high degree of alignment.

In today's episode of Vantage Views Vantage Partners co-founder Danny Ertel will discuss decision making and alignment with his guest Gregg Parsley. Let’s tune in.

Danny Ertel: Morning Greg.

Gregg Parsley: Hello Danny how are you?

Danny Ertel: Good, good. Thanks for spending a little time with us today.

Gregg Parsley: My pleasure.

Danny Ertel: So, Gregg before we jump in I just think it's probably only fair to let our audience know a little bit about your storied background right, so I won't say how many years, but you spent a decade or more let's say at companies like IBM and BMC. Very heavily involved in large account management large enterprise accounts and in strategic partner management in an industry that is highly dependent on strategic partners.

And then you were doing so well at managing clients that Shell came along and said hey would you come and help us manage suppliers and apply some of that special sauce that you've got client management and sales on the buy side of the house.

And as you did, that you, you also went from relatively stable steady state kind of environments to an organization that was deliberately undertaking a very significant transformation.

So you bring a lot of interesting experiences here and I want to pick your brain a little bit on what you've learned from some of those.

I want to jump right in.

So maybe one sort of question for you Gregg is, you've lived through having to influence and herd cats and corral stakeholders and very large complex but stable organizations going through growth periods and you've lived through it in organizations going through major transformations.

What stands out for you, as some of the big differences in how you engage stakeholders and how you build alignment through stability vs through big changes.

Gregg Parsley: In organizations that are going through transition, there is a huge emotional element of fear. Fear that has to be dealt with, whereas in very stable organizations, you have a very huge and emotional energy around level leveraging up and people getting promoted and advancing.

And, in the end it's kind of both the same it's people dealing with their motivations what their interests are where they say they plug in here's what's next.

But in organizations that are going through transformation great change and new organizations, by the way I’ve seen that as well, is that there's- fear is probably not the exact right word, but there's you know trepidation there's concern there's the unknown but it's helping it you getting to know that why it exists and then how things fit together and work in this very dynamic world versus the stable environment where it's much more of structure by which people have become a custom and know, here's how you advance in the company.

And so, in either were either world, people have their own interest, if you will, they have their own methods and it's about getting to know that and know them and know culturally how the organization is where it's at and where it wants to go that you can then start to actually develop relationships and influence folks from a very positive standpoint.

Danny Ertel: You've got sort of great background in large enterprise account management at IBM, one of the companies that I think sort of invented managing large enterprise relationships and then partner managing it the BMC in the software business where you've got to work with partners.

And I'm curious from that experience, did you find it easier or harder to get align internally and to get aligned with customers and partners?

Gregg Parsley: It's a great question to me and I, I suppose I don't see it as any different and I guess that's probably why bridge from different you know seats around the table to eventually work in from in a sales position to actually working in an internal sourcing type of environment. And I think what happens oftentimes is that sales, people are taught very clearly.

To understand their clients and so they do a tremendous amount of mapping, if you will, of the organization that decision making process, who the experts are etc.

But, yet when we get to the internal we suddenly think that that all just magically happens because of org charts and authorities and governance structures. When the opposite it's just the truth we don't take the time to actually map out our stakeholders, we don't take the time to actually take a hard look at where the power resides where the influence resides where the informal network of people are and reside, and how we actually have relationships with them or not.

And instead we just think well we've been given this mandate from our bosses and therefore it is the corporate edict so we approach other people in this mandate mindset versus this collaborative mindset, or even I'll say selling but selling in a good way, which means we're actually trying to join together mutual people and jointly take advantage of an opportunity or solve a problem by working together collaboratively.

So, it really comes down to some fundamental skills, if you will, that most of our sales people that call on us are taught and yet internally we sometimes don't take the time to teach ourselves that

Danny Ertel: Any uh any examples come to mind when you turn some of those great sales tools into you into the internal matrix?

Gregg Parsley: One of my favorite stories is and I brought this on myself, so I only have myself to blame is when we were launching the supplier management initiative across all of all of Shell, and so we have this global organization, people are used to operating very autonomously. Shell is not one company it's a conglomeration of many, many different disciplines and across different businesses and we're launching the supplier management initiative. Our senior Vice President was head of all sourcing procurement globally first time that role has ever been created said “Gregg, where do we start?” And I said, “well let's start with the biggest ugliest messiest supplier that we have a problem with,” and he said, “oh that’s easy here, it is,” and I said “great, wonderful” and “oh no what did I just turn on?”

What I realized quickly by by using a whiteboard to map all this out and thank goodness I at the time had access to a very big whiteboard was that all of the stakeholders had incredibly different diverse relationships around different products and different technologies with a supplier and none of them had ever talked to each other, but every one of them knew what the answer was to solve the problem with the with the supplier, so they all had different problems from different perspectives. But all of them knew exactly what to do, but they had never talked to each other at all about the problem.

Then I actually went and talked to the supplier. They had a different perspective thanks said, “please, with the real Shell stand up. We can't figure out what it is you guys want us to do, because each and every day you send each and every one of our divisions multiple directions multiple interests multiple ways of doing things and multiple demands. Who can actually tell us which one you want us to do first?” So, we mapped all that out very, very structurally we did some diagnostic interviews and questionnaires across both sets of the parties, and then we did what is my favorite technique.

In my Texas slang is we put all the liars in one room. We held up a mirror to both companies to both senior executives and what they realized was wow, the problem is not across the table the plan, the problem is actually in our own company. And I wish I could do the Italian accent that the head of manufacturing for this supplier used, and I wish I could use the colorful language he used as well. Where he said, “your engineers and my engineers not engineers, they think they are Michelangelo they're both trying to create art and neither one of us can run a business based upon art, we have to run a business based upon repeatability sustainability efficiencies.”

And across the board table they actually reached over and shook hands and said we're not going to let that go on anymore we're actually going to enforce the discipline that we expect into our own organizations.

It was a good moment of using some very structured approaches to drop an Aha moment and agreement and a realization of how we could work together more efficiently and effectively, and that was actually by working more efficiently and effectively inside our own houses.

Danny Ertel: I love that story Greg. What advice, do you have of what you've accumulated the hard way is teachable?

Gregg Parsley: The number one learning that I that I had and it happened early when I was in sales was why do people say no. You just start thinking about it, why do they say no to me and so usually, when people say no, I don't know I talked a little louder I talked a little faster. But I kept talking and what I learned over time, is that people say no, because they've got some legitimate concerns, and so the better, I could be it actually uncovering what those concerns are, the better, I was able to understand them.

And so I learned to ask a lot of questions and to listen, a whole hell of a lot more than I talked. And try to understand, so what happens to them if they say no, what happens to them if they say yes to what I'm proposing. And then, to look at the world through their lens versus mine.

I mean in a sales I had my objective, and you know. Pretty driven structured guy was going to achieve my objective and, if I could just build that perfect value proposition, and put the focus on them more than on me, as a way of certainly to initiate the conversations and the relationships, including with very well established relationships, you had with people.

When you bring a new idea forward you almost start from the ground up hopefully you start with a little bit of credibility and trust because you've you know you've relentlessly executed you, you did what you said you want to do you; you've developed a knowledge of their business and your own you're able to marry those two together, but when it's a new idea, you still need to start from so what's important to them and what good or bad happens to them as a result of them agreeing to what it is you're proposing.

Danny Ertel: It sounds like a great technique for getting into the shoes of the person that you're trying to persuade or influence and thinking a little bit about what does it have to look like to them for yes to be the right answer I like that a lot.

Well, thank you Gregg this has been a terrific conversation, it sounds like over the course of your career on the sales side of the House and partnering and supplier management going through transformation you've picked up quite a few techniques and lessons learned along the way.

Thank you for sharing those with us this morning.

Gregg Parsley: My pleasure Danny and I hope this is helpful to those that take the time to listen.

Outro:
Ethan Underhill: That's our Vantage Views for May 2021. Vantage Views is produced by Vantage Partners, a consulting and training firm that empowers companies to innovate more quickly, execute with greater discipline, and collaborate more effectively, for sustained impact and growth.

Tune in next month for more thoughts on how to solve hard problems with soft skills.

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Individual Effectiveness, Vantage Views podcast