When is the right time to bring in a strategic partner?

We made the list! 2021 Inc. 5000 list
FarWell makes the 2021 Inc. 5000 list, celebrating five consecutive years of this honor
August 19, 2021
Leading in a VUCA World: Building Agility Webinar FarWell On-Demand Webinar
Leading in a VUCA World: Building Agility Webinar
November 4, 2021

Business leaders often bring in a strategic partner to help them navigate the roadblocks they encountered midway through an attempt to complete a strategic initiative with internal resources. They need to get back on track to achieve important objectives they know are slipping.

Business leaders often wait to bring in a strategic partner until they’ve exhausted their internal resources. They believe:

  • “We have capable, talented people on our team.”
  • “We know what needs to be done; getting there should be easy.”
  • “We understand the nuances of our business better than anyone.”
  • “If we do the work ourselves, we will save money.”

Organizations frequently try to tackle a strategic initiative in-house. This seems like the logical step and can work for some organizations, depending on the scope and scale of the project. However, when you weigh the tradeoffs in cost, time, and talent to manage an organization-wide strategic initiative internally, it may be more cost-effective to bring in a strategic partner.

While your team is filled with highly skilled employees who understand the ins and outs of your business better than anyone, success with in-house project execution is dependent on employee strengths, capacity, and their desire to manage strategic initiatives.

We’ve identified five missed opportunities organizations leave on the table when they tackle strategic initiatives with internal resources. These are all considerations as you assess whether to take on a big project yourself or bring in a strategic partner to help ensure its success.

Allocate resources for maximum impact

Your internal resources are limited. The time people spend to manage an enterprise-wide project or strategic initiative is time they can’t spend on growth, business improvements, or developing their teams.

This tension between project work and functional work will never go away during an internally managed project. How the organization measures employee success is a key factor in this dynamic. If they are still measured on the performance of their primary role, they will prioritize that work over the project work.

Speed-to-market can also be an important factor in a decision to bring in a strategic partner. If competing work priorities lead to missed project milestones, you could miss out on significant financial opportunities due to the delay.

When you bring in a strategic partner, your project is given expert attention, and your functional areas remain the focus of your internal leaders.

Right-size your project design

If a project or strategic initiative is run ineffectively, your return on the money you invest could suffer in multiple ways.

Budget overruns are the most obvious risk factor. Inefficient project management consumes time and resources. Projects can end up costing much more than you originally planned or budgeted.

Project ROI is also at risk if you neglect to clearly define the organization’s current state and desired future state. Doing this allows you to know where the gaps are and what to do about them. A strategic partner can right-size a solution to meet your needs (for both today and down the road) without over- or under-engineering a solution.

In other words, will you inadvertently buy a new piece of software when a system configuration would have done the job as well for a fraction of the cost? Or maybe the opposite is true—you need new software, but your team only knows how to reconfigure your existing program.

If project leaders fail to take the time to define functional project requirements from both an internal and external lens, they’re likely to face false starts and costly, time-consuming rework. This means wasted time, spending too much money, and great frustration.

When unexpected problems result in a delayed product or service launch, you’re unable to realize the revenue you had projected.

We often see problems occur when organizations add responsibilities to the already full plates of their current team members.

Having a strategic partner whose sole focus is to design and deliver a right-sized solution on time and within budget means better project – and organizational – ROI.

Rely on cross-functional success

Business leaders know their functional areas well. But they’re not always conscious of all the ways their area impacts other functional areas within the organization.

For example, IT may decide to implement the Office 365 suite of tools to generate greater efficiency and collaboration within the organization. But they may not realize that when they disable Slack, Skype, or Zoom and replace these technologies with Teams, they are impacting a core group in customer service who relies on the specific functionality only offered by the tool that was replaced. What seemed like an upgrade leads to unanticipated, unintended, and counterproductive customer experience consequences, all of which consume resources to be fixed.

Additionally, be aware of the risk of overdesigning a solution to address all possible scenarios. This often leads to needless customization and complexity. This work takes time, adds cost, and increases the risk of the project getting off track.

Bringing in an outside expert to help assess the impacts across all stakeholders and help weed out the “must haves” from the “nice to haves” can save you time and money overall.

A customer story about functional surprises:

FarWell supported a client who had rapidly transitioned to a cloud-based enterprise and partnered with a number of third-party vendors to maintain their position in a highly competitive and regulated health services market. Because they had to move so fast, and managed the project themselves, they didn’t fully understand all of the security implications of their actions until an audit identified several critical security gaps.

The organization needed to close these gaps immediately to protect sensitive customer health data.

Strategically, the organization sought to not only close the identified gaps, but to modernize their security capabilities and member health data controls. In parallel, they aimed to build a mature, digital business that provided fast, secure, and personalized digital customer experiences.

FarWell identified and prioritized all security and compliance gaps as a first step. Advisors analyzed the current state and determined the required future state.

With those efforts complete, FarWell built a roadmap and timeline. The customer critically needed to establish an effective vendor management program, including third party risk management (vendor compliance) and policy, process and procedure creation. To give the program a quick lift, FarWell researched and found two compliance accelerators who specialized in these areas.

As an end goal, FarWell and the customer had to establish a scalable enterprise security and compliance program. This compliance program would give the company the structure, skills, and resources to be self-reliant going forward.

With FarWell’s help, the organization revamped their entire digital compliance and security program over the course of six months, closing all critical gaps. The solution design ultimately focused on self-sufficiency. The customer hired their own security manager who is now executing the roadmap developed by FarWell to grow and mature the program.

Gain internal buyin to avoid organizational resistance

In many cases, leaders are clear about why a new state is necessary and desirable. Chances are the strategic initiative has been discussed at the leadership level for weeks or months.

This does not mean the purpose of the initiative is equally clear to everyone else in the organization. While leaders have had time to assess and absorb the changes they are planning, employees are just learning and beginning to go through the change curve cycle. Jumping in too fast and expecting everyone to quickly adapt can lead to unnecessary friction, reluctance to adopt the changes, and negative impacts on employee engagement and culture..

A thorough change management plan and approach, supported by a comprehensive communication strategy, helps your organization understand and embrace changes, adapt to new processes, and get comfortable with any new technology. In addition, a change readiness assessment and plan will help you identify potential areas in need of focused attention.

A strategic partner can help gather and assess feedback from all organizational areas and incorporate it into a plan. This step hastens change acceptance and organizational resiliency and may improve the project itself.

Download FarWell’s free Change Readiness Checklist for Leaders to help assess your organization’s capacity for change.

A customer story about organizational resistance:

Leaders of a global e-commerce organization saw the need to implement an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) tool to help grow and scale the business. As they were implementing the new tool, they faced significant employee resistance.

Employees had used a home-grown system for years, so they saw little need for a replacement. They knew how the existing system worked, and they were comfortable with their current processes. They avoided opportunities to learn about and prepare for the new system.

The FarWell team partnered with HR, established an Adoption Team including both skeptics and supporters, and created a Change Challenge to inject good-natured competition among all the areas involved with the change. As a result, the organization successfully implemented a new ERP. Employees understood the benefits of the change and enthusiastically supported it.

Retain and engage talent

Leaders sometimes ask employees to take a role on a strategic initiative while they’re still expected to perform their day-to-day jobs. This added pressure can lead to strain and employee burn out.

Work performance can suffer on both the project side and the functional side. The observable effects on the project side include missed deadlines, overlooked or missed requirements, and errors. On the functional side, you might see low morale, talent burnout, and increased turnover.

Alternatively, you may have employees with extra capacity and see an opportunity to give them a “special assignment. First, make sure they have the right skills, desires, and tools to perform the tasks needed to be successful.

Employee subject matter expertise is necessary on any project team. However, leaders can significantly increase the success of strategic initiatives when they partner with an organization to help drive and manage the effort. Commonly, stakeholders underestimate the amount of time and effort needed to keep a project on track from a budget and resource perspective.

Bring in a strategic partner to ensure the project has expert guidance and undivided attention. Your functional experts can now contribute to the project and keep their focus on developing their teams and achieving their functional objectives.

Bring in a strategic partner to help deliver the project outcomes you want.

A valuable strategic partner considers your success their success. Their mission is to help you succeed. The right strategic partner will:

  • Work to understand your vision, budget, and timeline and make sure key stakeholders are aligned.
  • Help you assess your current state, the future state you seek, identify the gaps, and outline the steps necessary to close them.
  • Offer an expert and impartial point of view and share insights from other successful projects.
  • Provide focused project leadership to keep strategic initiatives on track and on budget.
  • Handle day-to-day tasks so your leaders, team members and key stakeholders are free to apply their expertise and creativity to devise solutions, break down silos, and contribute to better project decisions.
  • Identify skill gaps within your team and work with you to help close those gaps to prepare your team to take the reins when the project is complete.
  • Work to ensure employee adoption and a smooth transition to the new state.
  • Give you the tools and skills necessary to maintain the new state and build on the foundation you have built.

When you are ready to start a major initiative, or if you are in the middle of one that’s gotten off track, consider bringing in FarWell as your strategic partner.

FarWell’s approach to strategic business initiatives leverages industry best practices and our experience solving problems for clients in many different industries. Through our Right-Fit discovery process we gather information and work to understand your unique situation and needs before we offer a solution designed for your business.

FarWell brings a fresh eye, experienced professionals, innovative approaches, and current best practices to help you maximize the business benefits of your big initiatives.