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BLOG: Celanese CIO discusses how to develop 'business relationship managers'

Martha Heller | June 14, 2013
Celanese CIO Mike Jackson discusses his strategy for building a business relationship manager organization and establishing a simple process for post-implementation project review.

Celanese CIO Mike Jackson discusses his strategy for building a business relationship manager organization and establishing a simple process for post-implementation project review. 

How are you developing professionals who can function in a "business relationship manager" role?
A few years ago, we embarked on an IT transformation to improve delivery to our businesses, and our first official move was to establish a business relationship management (BRM) organization.  These are leaders who are assigned to our key businesses and functional areas with responsibility  for communication, shaping demand, and making sure we deliver against that demand.

To build the BRM organization, we started with the talent we already had in IT.  We focused primarily on the business analysts and project managers who had some ability to interact with our business partners, but they were not yet at the executive level.  Around the same time, we brought in a senior finance person, who could both act as a BRM for the finance organization, but could also model the BRM role for our more junior people. Since then, we've been following a dual track of bringing in more senior people who can do the job now, and developing our high-potential junior people into the more senior role.

The BRMs have a tough job.  They need the soft skills to deal effectively with senior managers, to communicate to a broad group of people, and to make our business partners feel a little better about some of the IT policies they don't love.  We have found that the only way for our BRMs to build those skills is to put them into the role - where they work directly with senior business executives -- and give them plenty of coaching.   My job as CIO is to discuss their performance with the senior business executives, and give the BRMs that feedback.

What do you consider the primary responsibilities of a BRM?

  • Build and maintain relationships with their key business counterparts
  • Foster innovation both in the business they support and in the IT organization
  • Keep their business executives informed about day to day operational matters
  • Identify and deal with conflict
  • Organize and govern business projects with an IT component
  • Collaborate with their business counterparts on building a business case for new IT investments
  • Manage our outsourcing partners

It is pretty tough to bring in an entire group of people who are fully loaded with these skills. The key is to realize how challenging the role is, set very clear expectations, and be patient as these people get their feet underneath them.

In our case, we were blessed with a few people who had most of the attributes we were after.  But we had to resist the temptation to load them up with all of the large, high visibility projects and miss the opportunity to give learning opportunities to our more junior people.

 

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