From Reactive to Strategic Partner
How to adopt your role based on the type of organisation you are in

The way our organisation functions defines our role and our challenges. In meetings I have with IT Business Partners, they express how their organisation works and I've noticed that the same attributes come up repeatedly. These attributes can cause frustration since the participant senses an opportunity to deliver value but feels that obstacles prevent them from realising that opportunity. So, how can you best deliver value for the type of organisation you're working with?

Some of these attributes in an enterprise technology function are:

  • Outsourcing part of its service, infrastructure or project capability.

  • Centralisation/autonomy of decision-making for IT services

  • Bureaucracy and lead time required to make decisions

  • Risk aversion, Cost reduction or a focus on standardisation

  • Service definition, recharge and value expectations.

  • Corporate culture - transparency, trust, accountability, learning attitude.

  • Clarity of the vision and goals of the business. 

  • Diversity, dispersion, scale and complexity of business functions and their requirements.

Any reader can look at that list of attributes and describe how they are implemented in the company and how they can either facilitate or obstruct organisational value delivery. We have created a maturity template below that formulates such attributes into an easily referencable diagnostic to plan what type of interventions are necessary to deliver better value to the company. 

Organisation Partner Maturity

The Organisation Partner Maturity diagnostic helps us orient ourselves in the organisation and inform an action plan. The diagnostic is below:

 A few usage notes points: 

  • It's normal for some parts of the organisation to be more mature than others. 

  • Also, the attributes listed above may limit the maximum potential for the organisation to achieve a certain level of maturity. External factors to the organisation may substantially affect its ability to perform, such as a divestiture, merger or acquisition, or falling demand for customer services. These issues could undermine a person's efforts to help the organisation achieve its potential.

  •  Striving to be strategic is the reality rather than always being strategic, and whilst trying, we need to understand what we can control and influence in the way we work.

For more information on how to apply the diagnostic in your organisation, please contact us.

So, how can you best deliver value for the type of organisation you're working with? In the Organisational Change Management course we deliver, I take the delegates through the exercise of enabling a strategic digital business partner capability within the organisation from scratch, following well-understood change management principles. As a high-level guide, the following slides show what a person can do to maximise the value for the business unit, given the circumstances they are faced with.

The basic idea is to transition from reactive to strategic in a phased manner, changing practices in existing projects and employing change projects to improve how one works with stakeholders to deliver value.

Starting at the "Reactive Partner" Scenario

So, if the engagement with the function or business unit is in reactive partner mode, you are most likely firefighting, spending a lot of your time on operational issues and small projects that respond to explicit requirements stated by the visit business. The cheat sheet below from our course provides some insight into the interventions required to improve the situation.

How you conduct these projects and deliver the service is as important as the outcome itself, as it sets the tone and the case study on how to do things differently in the future. The implied message is we were able to deliver a better outcome because of how we delivered the project; therefore, if we invested further in improving our work, we would get even better outcomes. The goal of the interventions listed here is to establish capabilities that manage the flow of requirements into a set of defined services, so, as a result of these incremental projects, the business now finds itself with capabilities organised around delivering projects, services, and some form of business analysis, whereupon the engagement would resemble "Service Partner" mode.

Expanding from the "Service Partner" mode

By now, your organisation may already have established structures, processes, and operating models to deal with demand, projects and service delivery. But old habits die hard, and functions tend to be siloed, so the opportunity is to have a broader holistic approach outside the silos of IT and individual business units, to piece together a strategy that aligns those individual capabilities into a series of business outcomes. One of the most significant failure modes in managing demand is not appreciating the capacity of the IT department to deliver projects. A simple metric: 

How many projects were delivered last year compared to the number of projects in progress this year? 

If you started more projects than you can finish, you've got a challenge setting expectations. Decisions will have to be made, and that's where your one-year business strategic plan helps you make those decisions. The cheat sheet below gives further insight into some of the interventions needed.


Let's set our sights on a one-year forward-looking plan with a list of projects aligned to those business outcomes. The value of the exercise is clarity in terms of direction and business objectives and the information necessary to help prioritise projects. Do this for the whole business; ensure this has started well before the financial planning and budget season kicks in. This activity is a significant investment of time,  yet it provides the cornerstone for prioritisation, decision-making, and governance. If you've already agreed on the business outcomes, you've determined what's valuable for the business, and you can then prioritise the enabling technology projects to match the most appropriate demand against the IT's capacity. 

Attaining the "Strategic Partner" Level. 

So, suppose we take that one-year plan and make it into a five-year plan. How do we do that? This can be kickstarted with help from an Enterprise Architect, external consultancy, or training in Value for Products and Services and Strategy Management, which we provide. It's an investment, and the value from the exercise is:  

  • Clarity in direction,

  • Clarity of where business capabilities need the most improvement to fulfil the outcomes and 

  • Clarity in terms of the technology enablers for those business capabilities. 

The cheat sheet below suggests some interventions:


This plan is not done every five years. It's updated every quarter to reflect the changing environment, the needs of the business, and new technology trends. That insight is garnered from ongoing additional effort on top of the project and service delivery work that typically consumes most IT resources. It requires research; it requires a detailed understanding of the business. It requires prototyping, feasibility studies, and an innovation capability for the insight from the lessons learnt to manifest itself in small regular changes to the strategic plan and roadmap rather than knee-jerk reactions such as changing the ERP system or outsourcing parts of the organisation.


The nature of your role and the type of value it delivers reflects the organisational partner maturity. Whilst the aim to be more strategic is virtuous, the capacity for the organisation to go on the journey could be the limiting factor and there is a "maximum value potential" that can be obtained. This is where organisational change management comes in. 

Moving from a service partner to a strategic partner mode requires a significant change mindset and a deep commitment to the cultural change required across the whole business organisation. There is a change in the operating model, philosophy, training in competencies and role design as end-to-end processes are reworked. Deep collaboration and teamwork are required across different teams.

These insights are from our Organisational Change Management course, a course specifically designed to enable the strategic partner capability in your organisation with case studies, examples and coaching built into the delivery. For more information on how we can help you come up with your own organisational change management plan, please  contact us

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From Reactive to Strategic Partner
Baxter Thompson Ltd, Jon Baxter
3 June, 2024
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