Remove the middleman with a business partner survey

Are your business relationship managers performing as expected? Do your leaders meet business partner expectations? Are you sure?

Hi, I’m Peter Nichol, Data Science CIO.

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Are you a business relationship manager trying to figure out how to define your role? You’re in luck. I’ve just designed a course titled, Define Your Role for BRM Success! In this course, you’ll learn how to define your role in the organization and maximize your effectiveness as a BRM.

So, into our topic we go.

How to manage expectations

Today, we’ll explore how to ensure you have an accurate pulse on your business partners’ expectations. We all know that building relationships and maintaining those relationships is paramount in being successful within any environment.

The success of your relationships largely depends on the amount of time you invest in developing them. Unfortunately, we all know that hard work alone doesn’t equal success. We must measure and validate that we’re meeting or exceeding expectations. It’s imperative to manage expectations and get direct feedback on how the team’s performing, and, more specifically, how individuals on your team are being perceived. Perception is reality. To do this effectively and fairly, we need to evaluate the team externally.

I’ve found the introduction of a business-partner survey to be invaluable. Maybe you’ve just joined a new team. If so, this is a great tool. Maybe you’ve been on the team for years. If that’s the case, this is a great tool to refresh your understanding of what’s working and better clarify what’s not. Don’t assume. Validate your understanding with a survey.

Why the business-partner survey is a game-changer

Years ago, these surveys were referred to as “360-degree Surveys” or “360 Leadership Assessments” or simply “360s.” Speaking from the experience of having gone through a full 360-degree leadership assessment, this is a tool that confirms individual and organizational biases.

However, the business-partner survey is framed differently and is applied in a new context. First, the goal of the business-partner survey isn’t to jam up your team. It’s designed to amplify the good and get ahead of the bad. The business-partner survey allows you, as a leader, to get direct feedback from your business partners about individuals on your team in an unfiltered format. The benefit here is that you’re receiving direct input. No middleman is filtering the message to make it softer. There’s no relay of leaders to distort the original form of the message. You’re hearing raw, unedited feedback about your leaders.

Have you ever been in a situation where you received inaccurate feedback on your performance? How frustrating was that? You knew how you performed, and yet the narrative you received didn’t reflect reality. It’s not a great feeling.

As a leader, we must ensure this doesn’t happen to our team on our watch. It’s not your boss’s responsibility. It’s not the duty of the leader on your team. It’s your responsibility. Own it.

Are you removing your team’s roadblocks? When was the last time you accelerated their performance to make them more effective? How have you amplified the strength of a team member this month? By applying a business-partner survey, you’re also able to take action.

Are you providing timely information?

Did you ever sit down for a performance review discussion only to find you’re talking about an incident that occurred months ago? It’s an uncomfortable place to be. It’s also strangely curious that this is the first time you’re hearing about the situation. Don’t let that happen to your team. Have those one-minute updates frequently. Using a business-partner survey allows you to provide timely and actionable feedback to your leaders on how to bring their game to the next level.

Rarely do I receive business-partner surveys that have disastrous results. Of course, the feedback is biased by the individual’s role in providing the feedback. However, it’s also the reality of how they perceive the world. Guess what. This is a perception they’re already sharing with others. Whether you agree or not, you must have that information to make future decisions.

Less favorable information allows those leaders to course-correct before situations spiral into a place where options are limited due to executive frustrations. This is the exception. For the most part, favorable feedback has benefits for your team.

The survey DNA

The ultimate power of this survey is to elevate your team’s image. Using a business-partner survey can help get your team promoted.

To administer the survey correctly, it’s essential to understand how the template is laid out. The business-partner survey has four sections:

  1. Introduction
  2. Who’s being evaluated
  3. Specific questions
  4. Additional comments

The first section, the introduction, talks about why the business-partner survey is being conducted. Mainly, the goal in this section is to stress that this survey isn’t a corporate mandate. It’s being used as a measure to improve and elevate your team’s performance to the next level.

The second section, who’s being evaluated, deals with who’s in scope for the survey. This section covers the business departments units covered within the survey.

The third section outlines the specific questions being asked of the respondent. These questions are all in the form of yes/no. Intentionally, there’s no middle. There’s no scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being exceptional performance. The process uses a forced-choice methodology. Forced choice requires the respondent to answer (e.g., yes or no), which causes them to make clear decisions about each response option. (There’s an option of “N/A” if the leader is new or the question doesn’t apply to that individual.)

The fourth and last section covers additional comments. This is a free-form section to allow respondents to provide a narrative in their own words. This section is extremely powerful. Here’s where the respondent can offer up kudos for the leader’s hard work.

Survey question examples

You’re likely wondering what questions I include when I send out a business-partner survey. The focus isn’t on measuring net value but rather the behaviors of that individual leader that contribute to team, department, or organizational value.

Here are examples of questions about leaders with delivery accountability. Does the leader:

  1. Have a sense of urgency?
  2. Use good judgment when making decisions?
  3. Demonstrate respect for peers and colleagues?
  4. Welcome suggestions from team members when appropriate?

When you create your questions, make sure they relate to your leaders while being generic enough to identify general behaviors.

For example, you may have already identified many of the behaviors as team norms. If you haven’t identified team norms, check out my previous article, “Why team norms transform team dynamics.”

The power of words over metrics

Consider for a minute the following two situations. In the first situation, the leader achieved $5 million in costs avoided by implementing a complex, data-analytics, cross-functional initiative. The initiative was a wild success. In the second situation, the CEO heard about this accomplishment from multiple team executives and said the following during a departmental meeting: “Paul’s ability to unify the company was amazing. Through his leadership, his team saved the company $5 million. Please thank Paul during our ‘Bits, Bytes, and Beers’ social hour this Friday. The hard work of his team paid for our event!”

Both statements reflect on the same accomplishment. However, somehow, the spoken words of the CEO are far more powerful. This is the impact of kudos—expressing verbal praise for an achievement.

The additional-comments section allows respondents to offer feedback in their own words. There are five to eight blank lines. However, respondents usually either write a book or only provide a brief phrase.

The beauty of this design is that even if you don’t receive additional comments, you can leverage the questions as a statement. For example, “works with a sense of urgency”—referring to the Senior Director of IT Operations—would be an accurate and helpful quote taken directly from the canned questions.

The benefit of the business-partner survey is to empower your team. Of course, if corrective action is necessary, you also have a great tool to facilitate that conversation. You can provide context-specific examples of behavior heading in the right director or behavior that needs some adjustment.

If you’re leading a rock-star team, this single tool might be your best friend. The business-partner survey is an excellent method to document performance to build a business case for employee promotions.

Start today by taking simple steps to gather the information necessary to conduct a business-partner survey to empower your team. Give your team direct and timely feedback so they can soar!

Download the template

If you found this article helpful, that’s great! Check out my books, Think Lead Disrupt and Leading with Value. They were published in early in 2021 and are available on Amazon and at for author-signed copies!

Hi, I’m Peter Nichol, Data Science CIO. Have a great day!

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Peter is a technology executive with over 20 years of experience, dedicated to driving innovation, digital transformation, leadership, and data in business. He helps organizations connect strategy to execution to maximize company performance. He has been recognized for Digital Innovation by CIO 100, MIT Sloan, Computerworld, and the Project Management Institute. As Managing Director at OROCA Innovations, Peter leads the CXO advisory services practice, driving digital strategies. Peter was honored as an MIT Sloan CIO Leadership Award Finalist in 2015 and is a regular contributor to on innovation. Peter has led businesses through complex changes, including the adoption of data-first approaches for portfolio management, lean six sigma for operational excellence, departmental transformations, process improvements, maximizing team performance, designing new IT operating models, digitizing platforms, leading large-scale mission-critical technology deployments, product management, agile methodologies, and building high-performance teams. As Chief Information Officer, Peter was responsible for Connecticut’s Health Insurance Exchange’s (HIX) industry-leading digital platform transforming consumerism and retail-oriented services for the health insurance industry. Peter championed the Connecticut marketplace digital implementation with a transformational cloud-based SaaS platform and mobile application recognized as a 2014 PMI Project of the Year Award finalist, CIO 100, and awards for best digital services, API, and platform. He also received a lifetime achievement award for leadership and digital transformation, honored as a 2016 Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leader. Peter is the author of Learning Intelligence: Expand Thinking. Absorb Alternative. Unlock Possibilities (2017), which Marshall Goldsmith, author of the New York Times No. 1 bestseller Triggers, calls "a must-read for any leader wanting to compete in the innovation-powered landscape of today." Peter also authored The Power of Blockchain for Healthcare: How Blockchain Will Ignite The Future of Healthcare (2017), the first book to explore the vast opportunities for blockchain to transform the patient experience. Peter has a B.S. in C.I.S from Bentley University and an MBA from Quinnipiac University, where he graduated Summa Cum Laude. He earned his PMP® in 2001 and is a certified Six Sigma Master Black Belt, Masters in Business Relationship Management (MBRM) and Certified Scrum Master. As a Commercial Rated Aviation Pilot and Master Scuba Diver, Peter understands first hand, how to anticipate change and lead boldly.