It’s fair to say that we’re living through a time like no other. In March this year I moved from Microsoft to join Willow, a fast scaling technology company, to lead our global partnership with Microsoft. Less than two weeks into the new gig, we were sent home due to COVID. Starting in a new business always comes with a mixed dose of scary and fun, and experiencing that from home was certainly no exception. I’ve sought to learn a new workplace and industry, but also had to connect with new people around the world, all through my laptop camera. With none of the anticipated travel to Seattle, all of our meetings with Microsoft have been through our well tested Teams app. And, as someone who gets energy from collaborating with people, I’ve been pleasantly surprised how well this has all worked.
In fact, whilst we’ve not had the benefit of in-person workshops and meetings, our regular catch ups online have led to a progressive rhythm that has seen us achieve a huge amount in the 6 months since I’ve joined. As I reflect on those 130 business days and take stock of the progress we have made in our partnership with Microsoft, I am reminded of some key principles that have remained true despite the practical challenges we are experiencing in our working styles.
Aligned vision, values, and business objectives
In any partnership it’s vital to quickly realise if both parties’ vision, values and business objectives are complementary if not aligned. Through my time with Microsoft, I’ve been fortunate to more deeply understand the company’s mission ‘to empower every person and organisation on the planet to achieve more’ and their vision ‘to help people and businesses throughout the world realize their full potential’. These motives are reflective of how Willow thinks about enabling our customers to achieve more, by unlocking insights across their assets to make more informed decisions. I’ve been encouraged to see the values of both our organisations at play, as we continue to come to the table with an expectation to learn something new from each other and a desire to improve the end outcome for our shared customers. With the WillowTwinTM being built on Microsoft’s Azure Cloud, it has been easy to align our business objectives on key metrics that reflect mutual success. Industry transformation is one of those business objectives and that requires us to continue to share our learnings and take feedback on board often to collaboratively shape an approach that works for all.
Trust and commitment
In having aligned visions, values and business objectives that complement one another, businesses are able to build a partnership on trust and commitment. It may sound cliché, but these are some of the most important building blocks that are often overlooked. I’ve seen these elements shine through over the past six months, from a top-down approach as well as a bottom-up. Whilst the framework and intent were agreed at the top, both teams have earnt the right, and grown trust through delivering on commitments consistently and demonstrating both competence and character.
Trust and commitment doesn’t happen by accident. They must be modelled by leaders working together from both organisations. I’m fortunate to be supported by leaders who understand the importance of collaboration, with time committed to connect with each other and review progress against goals.
Joint business plan
With so much happening across both organisations, it’s important that we provide a framework for this alignment and collaboration that guides our partnership and keeps us anchored on what we want to achieve. Having a joint business plan is a simple way to formalise the commitment made by our respective leaders and give some structure to the effort in what typically involves many individuals and teams across both organisations. A typical week working with Microsoft sees us engaging with Product & Engineering teams, One Commercial Partner teams, Customer Account Teams, the Applied Innovation Team and many others. Creating clarity on objectives and tracking progress is vital to demonstrate a healthy and productive partnership.
And then, even the best laid plans sometimes just don’t work out. This year more than ever, we’ve learnt to be understanding and make allowances for unexpected change. Having flexibility in your partnership and leaning on trust is important. Meaningful partnerships are often a long game and it’s important to support each other through a flexible approach.
What I have found to be most important, in my experience, is a collaborative mindset that approaches each situation with the thought of ‘you win, we win’. I’m encouraged as I see this mindset drive our partnership momentum and I’m grateful for all the amazing people within Microsoft and Willow who are contributing to it, by bringing their unique skills and talents to the plate every day. We talk about business partnership but ultimately, it’s people that partner to create impact and I’m fortunate to be working with some of the best.
I’m excited for what the next 6 months holds and to share in more detail the outcomes we are achieving for our shared customers through this partnership.
About the Author
Scott Smith is the head of Global Partnership with Microsoft at Willow. Over the coming months he will be sharing more about the transformational work our two businesses are undertaking to bring digital twins to the built world.