Client: International Food supplier
A dedicated one-day workshop for the sales team enabled them to understand their relational environment and apply insights from the Relational Proximity® Framework. Bespoke exercises enabled them to analyse and reflect on their supply chain relationships. As a result, the team started prioritising different relationships.
Our client’s European customers were increasingly demanding more information regarding supply chain sustainability and ethics. However, it was hard work to extract such information from some suppliers in less developed countries and relationship managers were finding these added requirements difficult to fulfil across their portfolio of clients/suppliers.
Their existing supply strategy had been to purchase from a wide variety of suppliers, in their words a ‘scatter-gun approach’. Analysing a specific relationship between our client and a long-standing African supplier, using the Relational Proximity Framework™, enabled the team to diagnose its strengths and weaknesses. The supplier was reluctant to give much information about their supply chain and none about their own business; there was a sense of distrust based on the hidden belief that our client was making excessive profits. We explored ways to build trust, break down the relational barriers and then decide, depending on the supplier’s reaction, whether this was a relationship worth investing in to build a partnership for the future.
The possibility of being able define the foundations for partnerships led to a strategic discussion around growth opportunities through focusing on a smaller number of suppliers. The aim would be to increase volume and price stability by closer understanding and co-operation. The additional benefit being increased information about origin for European customers.
The RPF gave a framework and language to:
Client: A UK Clinical Commissioning Group
Measuring the effectiveness of a third-party intervention enabled participants to understand its impact and to consider other ways to improve the relationship between frontline service providers.
A group of doctors’ practices undertook an exercise to improve their relationship with social services in order to impact the efficiency and effectiveness of service provision. The chosen intervention was to co-locate dedicated social workers in practices to act as co-ordinators between the healthcare and social care teams. The commissioning organisation wanted to evaluate in what ways the intervention improved the relationship. Renuma was engaged to take a baseline measurement and a follow-up measurement to assess the intervention. The measurement included the ability to distinguish between the social workers co-located with the healthcare teams and wider group of social workers also working with those same healthcare teams.
At baseline, the relationship between the clinical and social work teams was distant. Although there was a good level of mutual respect and a feeling that their objectives were aligned, both parties indicated a lack of understanding of each other’s worlds. A symptom of this was a feeling that the amount of contact between them was very inadequate.
Both parties were encouraged to find ways to build a better level of mutual understanding through the project, but not necessarily through lots of face-to-face contact, which was felt to be impractical.
After 16 weeks, the relationship was re-measured. In every aspect of the relationship, there was some improvement (particularly for the co-located social workers). The biggest impacts of the project were an improvement in the responsiveness of both parties to each other and an understanding that their cultures were much more aligned than previously thought. The different outlooks of the two professional groups were no longer seen to be a barrier.
Of particular interest for the commissioners was that a low level of mutual understanding between the parties persisted throughout the intervention. Also, the improvements measured were confined to members of the dedicated (co-located) social work team rather than having spread wider in the social work system. These insights gave important context to the findings of a simultaneous qualitative evaluation and indicated that the intervention was unlikely to bring sustained change at the scale it was delivered.
Client: International NGO
Tension between two departments was resolved by using insight from Relational Proximity® measurement. Data enabled the senior teams to understand the underlying causes of their difficulties and begin to address them. After a single intervention, the participants put in place a number of actions to enable them to work more positively together.
The directors of these two departments recognised that the state of their groups’ relationship was affecting the organisation’s ability to function effectively. There was tension at all levels.. The directors had previously tried to resolve the situation but there had been very little change. Renuma was commissioned to bring clarity to the situation and enable the senior teams to collaborate.
The relationship between the departments was measured and the analysis used to prepare an improvement workshop for the directors and senior teams. The results of the Relational Proximity® survey indicated that one department felt misunderstood by the others and unfairly blamed when things didn’t go well. Both sides agreed that their objectives were fundamentally misaligned.
Workshop participants identified from the data the issues they particularly needed to work on and Renuma used a number of exercises to build mutual understanding and collaborative behaviour. The first session of the workshop was used to develop empathy between the departments, which enabled them to begin to hear each other’s challenges ‘as if for the first time’ as one participant put it. Having built a stronger foundation, the rest of the workshop focused on developing shared purpose between the participants and identifying a number of immediate actions that would enable the departments to work better together.
The workshop brought a sustained change in the relationship, with one of the directors commenting a year later that ‘things have definitely changed – your intervention loosened the ground to have “good conversations” and share resources’. The strength of the project was in enabling participants to vocalise their differences and challenges using a common vocabulary – the use of data initiated a more practical and less emotive conversation than they had previously managed to have. The workshop identified that much of the tension they were experiencing originated outside the two departments and this insight helped them to start planning collaboratively.
Client: UK Commissioning Support Unit
Two dedicated relational workshops for the client relationship team enabled them to start to understand and apply insights from the Relational Proximity® Framework. Bespoke exercises enabled them to analyse and reflect on organisational dynamics that made their relationship management task difficult. As a result, the team changed the way they engaged internally and with clients.
The Commissioning Support Unit (CSU) had created a client relationship team to be the main point of contact with Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) and local authorities, which were their main clients. Each member of the team had responsibility for multiple organisations. Their ability to fulfill their role was hampered by the quality of their relationships and Renuma was commissioned to help the team improve these.
Training the team in the Relational Proximity® Framework enabled them to begin to understand what might be behind some of the client relational dynamics they were experiencing. Their common understanding catalysed discussions about how they could practically build their team identity and improve their engagement with the multiple channels of influence in place between the CSU and its clients.
Client: UK Utility Company
Systematic assessment of all types of external stakeholder enabled the identification of strong relationships and prioritisation of weaker ones. The process gave the senior management team greater insight about their organisational competencies and where strategic stakeholder risk needed to be addressed.
A UK utility company wanted to improve their understanding of their relationships with external stakeholders in a way that produced actionable intelligence rather than just diagnostic information. Renuma delivered a structured two-way scan of the most important stakeholder sectors to identify where relationships were strong and where there may be operational risk
The scan approach resulted in a heat map of relationships that clearly indicated where the utility and sectors agreed the relationships were strong, where they agreed they were weak and where there was a different perspective between the two parties. The company was particularly strong at relating to other large businesses and industry-related organisations. However, there was some distance in its relationships with representatives of the public (e.g. environmental groups, public bodies, media).
The utility was equipped with the necessary data to demonstrate to stakeholders and regulators the quality of its relationships. The detailed insight enabled the development of a focussed and strategic approach to its stakeholder engagement.
Client: A group of English secondary schools
Licensee: Relational Schools
Relational Schools works to put relationships at the core of school life. The starting point is a belief that supportive relationships between all members of a school are fundamental. Strong, secure, relationships can surmount social inequality, whereas weak or fragile relationships reinforce educational disadvantage.
Many studies support the assertion that the quality of relationships in schools matter. This has enormous implications for structuring classroom environments. Children cannot learn if they are frightened, unhappy or feel that they don’t belong. In addition, problems that remain into adolescence often last into adulthood. Students with insecure attachments in the home tend to experience dysfunctional and insecure relationships with staff. So if teachers can “disconfirm” historical insecurities then those students will fare better socially, emotionally and academically.
Until now, the inability to measure relationships has been a major barrier in persuading schools and government to engage with relationships as a policy imperative. Relational Schools, however, has been working with a number of secondary schools across England to exploit Relational Audit methodology to achieve a formal, structured analysis that is unique in the field.
In a pilot study, most of the schools were either situated in areas of high material deprivation or drew much of their intake from materially deprived communities. It also focused on schools whose leadership team emphasized a Relational approach to issues such as class size, curriculum design and enrichment entitlement, with relationships acting as a driving imperative. Over 2,000 student-to-student relationships were assessed, as well as a large number of student-to-teacher relationships.
Early findings suggested that traditional pastoral structures in the United Kingdom tend to lead to fragmented relationships that become more fragmented as children progress through school. By the time they reach Year 11, the key domain of concern is Commonality: their shared goals, their shared values were so weak that there was no sense of community or fraternity.
By contrast, the more Relational schools were remarkable in revealing the benefits of a Relational focus, as well as the potential to improve more dysfunctional relationships through a range of targeted interventions. For example, students in the schools that were intentional about relationship building:
Bullying is a significant indicator of wellbeing. An estimated half a million 10- and 12-year-olds are physically bullied at school, according to a recent study by the Children’s Society, which found that children in England were unhappier with their school experience than their peers in 11 other countries, including Ethiopia and Algeria.
In one case a school, described as a “family” by students, was considered by social services as the best environment in the region for looked-after children. This last point is tangible evidence which demonstrates the impact of Relational systems and processes at school level.
Client: A professional services firm
Licensee: Relationships Foundation
The client, an international professional services firm with a reputation for valuing its key relationships, wanted to identify ways of improving the relationship between partners and consultants within the firm. It was recognised that this relationship was a critical factor in quality of work, quality of life, and firm profitability. Dysfunctional relationships were reducing capacity to manage work pressures which was causing stress and poor retention rates among consultants.
The firm’s senior partners asked Relationships Foundation to undertake a relational audit to identify key strengths and weaknesses in the relationship between partners and consultants.
The programme of work
Relationships Foundation and the firm’s personnel director jointly organised group discussions and interviews and a confidential questionnaire using the Relational Proximity® methodology was circulated to all partners and consultants. It was found that underneath the superficially positive responses there were some deeply-held concerns about flaws in the structure and operation of the partnership.
The output of the relational audit was fed back to all the partners and consultants in the firm. Each department formed a group of partners and consultants to discuss concerns and put together action plans. The work of these groups was sponsored by the senior partners and coordinated by the personnel director who, with his team of personnel managers, undertook the cross-selling of ideas to improve relationships between groups and the development of initiatives across the firm.
The relational audit looked at the relationship from both sides, providing an assessment of areas of strength and weakness in the partner/consultant relationship and highlighting concerns over specific aspects of Relational Proximity®:
The use of the Relational Audit tools provided the partners and consultants with a common language that they could use to begin discussing the issues more openly and hence make progress towards a shared solution.
A number of suggested changes emerged from the initial discussion groups and were evaluated in the interviews and questionnaire results. For example, it was felt that:
Following meetings of the departmental groups, the personnel director led a development programme for partners, helping them to develop their role as managers and to change the approach of some of the partners to consultants – for instance, through training in such areas as mentoring and listening skills. Senior partners in the firm supported a ‘new deal’ for consultants, including the restructuring of pay scales and chargeable work procedures, and the introduction of a flexible working policy and planned secondments to client companies. The groups are continuing to work on a range of internal initiatives to improve the structure and operation of the partner-consultant relationship.
The personnel director said of the audit process:
“Effective relationships are key to our business performance. The relational audit enabled us to target specific areas for improvement. We intend that these improvements will ultimately be reflected in the quality of our service to clients.”
Client: A sales team
The client organisation was a business going through a significant process of change. In one division a new leadership group had been formed, bringing together disparate sales leadership to increase collaboration and learning from best practice. The group had not gelled well for more than a year and performance was suffering.
On the face of it everyone in the team stood to gain if they worked together but the necessary collaboration wasn’t happening. The individuals had been extremely autonomous in the past and resented what they perceived as an attempt to impose central control. The individual appointed to lead them assumed he had more respect from them than was actually the case. The behaviours in the team were challenging and unsupportive and could occasionally descend into hostility. The leader of the team felt he was running out of options.
Why was the issue difficult to address?
The team members all disputed the right of the leader to instruct them. Whilst instructing them was not his intent, this damaged all the relationships. The team met regularly but had no face to face communication between meetings. A lot of assumptions were made about what they knew about each other as people, and also about whether they shared common purpose. There was such a degree of dispute between the individuals that the leader of the team was unable to see how he was contributing to the problems.
Type of project
Standalone team intervention – a one-off project involving the use of a Relational Health Audit followed by a facilitated workshop to discuss the results
Key lessons or insights
Deficient scores were observed across all of the drivers, confirming the initial feelings that a poor relationship existed within the group. Particularly low scores were found within the Conduct, Benefit, Skills and Amount sub-drivers. These low scores, except for the Parity driver, had a high consensus, indicating that there was a common recognition of the problem.
Before the intervention it was clear to an outside observer how dysfunctional the group was. However the members of the group were telling themselves a number of narratives that placed all responsibility on the leader or one or more other members of the group. After the intervention, it was possible for the group to discuss their problems dispassionately. In the end this allowed for a realignment of purpose and this in turn led to a reorganisation and disbanding of the group.
Client: A professional membership and qualification body in accountancy
The CEO of the client group was concerned about its relationship with two partner organisations who recruited and trained the students who would become the Membership of the future by qualifying in the professional standards set. The relationship was not financial but was entirely symbiotic.
There was no particular issue with either of the relationships, however they were going through a process of setting mutually beneficial strategies and the CEO wanted to create the best possible relationship going forward.
The major project challenge was to convince the two training organisations that they were not being punished, and to get their agreement to participate. KPMG’s independent facilitation of the process and the two-way nature of the Relational Health Audit were instrumental in addressing this.
Once the surveys were completed and analysed, two workshops were set up to deal separately with each training provider. One proved easier to set up quickly than the other and this made a significant difference to the usefulness of the intervention for both sides. Led by the CEO, the parties adopted an appreciative approach to the discussion, offering improvement actions to help each other achieve relational ideals. This was extremely effective.
Type of project
Standalone, one-off project, organisation to organisation.
Low or high scores are not always the most important factor. Often what matters is the ability of the process to close a perception gap. When there is evidence of a willingness by either party to close the gap, improvement in the relationship and trust between the parties can be almost instantaneous.
When two leadership teams have an evidence-based discussion about their respective organisations’ perceptions, they can often generate the commitment to act. As one of the CEOs put it: “I want our organisations to have a good relationship. If your team are telling us they only get 90% of what they expect in any area shown on the audit, then I want my team to be moving that to 100%. Every incremental gain must be worth having.”
The parties agreed to a relational action plan that they would cascade through their organisations. As a result of the intervention, both parties acknowledged that their strategic discussion was more productive and efficient than it otherwise would have been.
Client: Engineering consultancy business
Licensee: Team Focus
The company was a highly successful consultancy business offering engineering solutions to its clients. Started 30 years ago by an entrepreneurial engineer, it had grown to a turnover of £15 million when the owner appointed a new MD. It now turns over £25 million.
The top team was concerned about ‘the next step’. It was no secret that the MD would retire in less than 5 years. Under his guidance they had agreed direction and strategy, and yet there was a level of disharmony in the team. The CEO invited Team Focus to run a ‘Team Build’ event to sort things out.
Team Focus agreed to run a 2-day event but requested confidential 1:1 sessions with each member of the Executive Board prior to the event. This was for the consultants to get to know the participants, begin to build a relationship, and to uncover some of the underlying attitudes and issues.
The 1:1 sessions revealed great concern about climate, direction and particularly the question of succession. Some believed that decisions were being made behind closed doors. Many were unclear how decisions were being taken and who was being consulted. It was agreed that the proposed 2-day event would go ahead with an agenda for ‘getting to know each other better and creating a more open climate’. The first day was designed around activities to get people talking and sharing. The second day moved the agenda back to work issues and concerns.
The event revealed that the team was unclear about what was happening and how decisions were to be taken. It was also clear that the issue of succession was surprisingly urgent. However, it was also clear that there were rivalries concerning internal applicants. As a result Team Focus proposed and then implemented the following process:
The result has been that several aspirants to the CEO role have self-selected out, recognising that they do not have what is needed going forward. The climate in the top team became more open and positive as a result of having a clear and open process. The potential fallout, which often comes from succession battles, appears to have been averted or at least reduced.
The company has since acknowledged that without the Relational Health Audit they would not have identified the significance of the relational issues. Having a tangible metric for relationships (the RHA) transformed a debate concerning basic differences in opinions into a discussion based on meaningful evidence. The significance of the Relational Agenda would have remained where it is in most companies – recognised as important but having little impact on thinking and process. The appointment of this CEO has clearly shifted towards a more relational style with clear buy-in from the team.
Team Focus is a psychology-based consultancy working in partnership with Relationships Foundation to deliver relational consultancy.
Client: A major UK food and clothes retailer and a major global NGO
The NGO worked in partnership to ensure that the retailer’s decisions about sourcing of commodities such as cotton and fish were as sustainable as they could be. This relationship was up for renegotiation and the two individuals in the respective organisations with responsibility for making the partnership work wanted to do everything they could to set the next seven year agreement off on the soundest possible footing.
Both organisations stated their desire to build on their history together and ‘make the relationship great.’ However the two organisations had very different cultures, oriented respectively toward the environment and financial return. Although both parties were immensely committed to a shared vision, they nevertheless clashed when historic prejudices got in the way. In particular the NGO believed it could do much more to support the retailer on its sustainability journey if this artificial barrier could be broken down.
It became apparent that the most senior individuals from each party were judging the organisation-to-organisation relationship on the quality of their personal relationship. This personal relationship was particularly strong. Problems in the relationship between their respective teams would then be escalated for these leaders to resolve. The two leaders would resolve the problem, but neither could implement the changes needed to prevent the problem arising again.
Type of project:
Standalone, one-off project
Strong one-to-one relationships, particularly at senior levels, do not inevitably produce strong organisational relationships – though this may not be immediately obvious.
The methodology was easily able to highlight where change was needed – in the degree of access each party felt they had, in how responsive they felt the other party were, and in the breadth and depth of their understanding of each other. All these were highlighted as areas for improvement.
A new basis for the relationship was established to which both parties were able to commit.
Client: Global service supplier
The client supplies services to a European manufacturer. The relationship was a long-standing one and both parties had been broadly happy with the transactional service arrangements in the past.
Immediately prior to Sandham’s involvement there were signs of increasing frustration from both sides. A number of staff on the supplier’s team said they didn’t want to work on the account and the customer was experiencing some concerns about the overall direction in the relationship. The customer was a large values-driven business and didn’t want to use its advantage to demand change from the supplier. The supplier didn’t know how best to approach the sensitive topic of why his team didn’t want to work on the customer’s business.
To come up with an appropriate intervention that would sensitively uncover the difficult issues in the relationship and provide a constructive way to move things forward for both sides.
Sandhams met with both sides and conducted confidential interviews with the key people involved with the day-to-day relationship. They also met with the senior managers in the customer and the supplier so as to gauge their commitment to a mutually beneficial outcome. Having gained some sense of where the issues lay, Sandhams created a forum where both sides could voice the issues directly. To do this they designed a Relationship Review Process which included the Relational Proximity Auditing Methodology. This comprised a 1-day workshop and audit followed six weeks later by a follow-up workshop and review.
At the first workshop each side used the language of Relational Proximity to voice their concerns. For the supplier the main issue was around ‘fair conduct’. They were able to describe how some of the ways a particular customer behaved was experienced by them as abrasive and intimidating. They said some hard things that the customer was unaware of. Those on the customer’s side shared how they felt they were continually being ‘sold’ a strategic partnership style of relationship when in fact they wanted only a ‘commodity service’. The issue was around shared objectives. This mismatch in expectation had led to much misunderstanding.
The outcomes of this intervention included:
Client: A Utility Company in South Africa
LIcensee: Stakeholder Relationship Assessments
A major utility company in South Africa wished to assess its relationships with its major stakeholders, including the government department that sets the policy framework that governs its operations.
A relational audit revealed that the company’s relationship with the government department scored significantly lower than its relationship with other external stakeholders such as suppliers and customers. Also, the company’s view of the relationship was significantly worse the government department’s view of the same relationship, with particular concerns about Continuity and Multiplexity.
Discussions with the utility company quickly showed why there were problems in the relationship and what could be done about it. It turned out that the utility company sent representatives into the office of the government department many times each week. However, it did not keep a record either of who was attending such meetings or of the messages that were communicated to the department’s office. Nor did the company have a point person who was keeping a record of the issues raised by the department’s office and the concerns expressed.
The company’s board and executive committee, therefore, had little idea of how the company’s relationship was developing, and what attitude the department’s office might take to various questions. In practice, the company relied simply on its chief executive meeting with the relevant government minister once or twice a year for a half-hour discussion on the major issues affecting the industry, including the price appropriate to charge to consumers. The department, with fewer participants in the relationship, was better able to join the dots of the many different interactions and was therefore more confident in the relationship.
Without a measurement process to demonstrate how bad the relationship was with the department, especially relative to other stakeholder groups, this problem would have been difficult to identify and prioritise, and even more difficult to fix. Concerns about a relationship can too easily be attributed to some of the inherent tensions in that relationship: in dealings with a government department there is always potential for concern about Parity and Commonality. Yet in this case, closer analysis of the relationship showed that the problems lay elsewhere: in the management of the various interactions and the knowledge these could generate – issues that were far easier to address.
Client: A UK utility company
Measuring the quality of relationships between three organisations provided an effective catalyst for improved delivery. After a relatively short amount of contact time, the improvements demonstrated over a 20-week period made tangible impacts upon how each organisation relates and how smoothly the street works operation runs in the locality.
Renuma was commissioned to work on a three-way relationship between the local team of a utility company, a civil contractor and a local authority. The desired outcome was to strengthen the relationships, so improving the flow and completion of street works.
The improvement project involved three main stages: planning the change by surveying the relational environment, doing the change through facilitated direct contact with the three parties and checking the change through follow up surveying.
Relational improvement outcomes
The 20-week relational check measurement showed clear progress in each of the three relationships. Every component of the relationship between the local authority and the other parties had improved. The detailed analysis gave the parties further insight into the ongoing actions that would sustain this improvement.
Operational improvement outcomes
As a result of the work to improve relationships, senior teams reported that previous blockages in effective planning and completion of street works had been removed. The improved communication and mutual understanding arising from the project allowed the backlog of delayed critical works to be cleared. This translated into an increased volume of successfully completed works and cost savings that arose from the avoidance of penalties.
The company commented that it had been an “important project for all involved … it highlighted that the issues were not just with one party, but were with the other two parties as well.”