By Stuart Maister, Joint MD

It’s fascinating to share your thinking and hear professionals from a wide variety of contexts bring their experience and insights to the table. When we assembled such a group in London’s Soho some clear ideas emerged which I’d like to summarise.

Those there included a leading lawyer, leaders of engineering and outsourcing firms, the partner CTO of a major tech company, a policy adviser at the CBI, an L&D leader at a major professional body and leaders of consulting firms.

We were discussing ecosystems: what they are, and how to fulfil their potential of creating and capturing much higher value for those involved. Their promise is to enable those in the system to be far more ambitious about what can be achieved through collaboration, competition and co-creation, and the question is whether organisations should be the catalyst for such a system’s development.

Sharing the Trust Model

Why ecosystems?

One of the key thoughts in the discussion was the need for such an approach because of the pace of change. Organisations recognise the need for agility and responsiveness. The same is true for an ecosystem of players who may serve a strategic account and/or a marketplace. The traditional set piece model of procurement, with a series of parallel trading relationships that set up competing parties, does not serve this need. It’s too static and its structure is wrong. Instead the whole ecosystem needs to be more agile and resilient, aligned and open.

Trust as the enabler

A key dynamic of this is the ability for the actors in the ecosystem to deserve and give trust. To be trusting and trustworthy. This enables that openness, honesty and higher levels of collaboration and responsiveness.

We presented our Trust Model, which has three components. Steven MR Covey defined trust as combining Capability and Character, and we’ve added Clarity as we believe that it’s important to actually define the vision, values and purpose of those involved in a trusting commercial relationship so that everyone is aligned. (There’s a fuller description of this model here.) 

What came out in the discussion was the perceived importance of this third component, Clarity. There was a strong sense that this turned a general idea into something that had direction. The importance of definition was highlighted.

It also enables a far greater ambition to be developed as part of the vision. One attendee told a compelling story about how he helped set up the arm of a professional accounting body in Afghanistan. They developed a big vision of how this would enable people in remote parts of the country to be able to trade more effectively and on equal terms with their customers. This motivated and accelerated the development of an ecosystem of organisations to make things happen in a way that focusing on the processes and deliverables would not.

The Character dimension of the trust equation is critical. It’s how buyers choose who to work with – and this was confirmed by the General Counsel of a major outsourcing firm who said it was what made the difference between different law firms pitching to be on her framework. (See earlier posts about this: most firms focus on their Capabilities and don’t spend enough time describing their Character. It’s something we work hard on with clients.)

One of the interesting thoughts that emerged was how important it also is to define Capabilities. We’ve defined this as being about what can you do Now and Next – in other words, to define the value you bring as precisely as possible, but also to ensure you are have a capacity to innovate and adapt as a way of continually deserving trust.

One of the participants really drilled down on this. He cited the example of the public buyer in another country where his firm operates. It issued a requirement in a construction contract that required enormous amounts of data storage. This may be best served through a coalition of partners, not one firm. He suggested that having a model which demanded Clarity about Capabilities and Character would be a powerful foundation to develop the right answer to this challenge.

This developed into a discussion about how, if we look at the ecosystem level, this can be developed through synergy – the whole being much greater than the sum of the parts.

The platform is not the ecosystem

One of the final thoughts that came across was the understanding that the platform is not the ecosystem. There’s a lot of work that goes on into developing digital capabilities that enable collaboration and synergies. Without the appropriate behaviours or collective trust, the same challenges can remain. The challenge for an organisation which wants to be a leader in this space is to ensure its internal ecosystem is in good shape, aligned and focused, and then engage in others to develop the coalition of value that this approach makes possible.

This discussion was supported by two recent blogs on ecosystems: