Published: 13 Nov 2019

Discover how organisations can strengthen working relationships to optimise value creation. David Hawkins, Chair of the committee that designed the business collaboration standard, shares his insight and top tips for implementation

The business collaboration standard, ‘ISO 44001:2017’ empowers organisations to foster relationships internally and with external parties. The guidance document, ‘ISO 44002:2019,’ published in autumn this year, provides a roadmap to implement ISO 44001. 

David Hawkins, Chair of ISO/TC 286 – the technical committee behind both standards, and Chief Operating Officer at the Institute for Collaborative Working (ICW), London, discusses why some working relationships have failed for organisations in the past. “What frequently damages relationships is a lack of engagement. There is a poor understanding of the processes, business outcomes, information flow, incentivisation and performance measurements. There is a misalignment with mutual objectives, which then drives opportunism.” 

ISO 44001 addresses this disconnect. It recognises that today’s business models involve multiple organisations combining resources and capabilities across diverse industries, cultures and countries to achieve desired outcomes. 

Hawkins says that the standard is not an antidote, but it provides a structure and common language that organisations can use to pursue their respective objectives for mutual benefit. 

Learning from the past

The standard’s eight-stage life cycle model embeds requirements within organisational management systems so that collaborative working becomes a natural part of the business development and operational processes. This supports relationship-building between organisations rather than just sole individuals.

Hawkins says: “In the 1990s, partnering was a common term frequently adopted more for fashion than substance. The majority of these arrangements were deemed failures in part because there was no business reason to partner, or they were managed through more traditional governance models and structures.” 

ISO 44001 has theCollaboration, Relationship, Assessment, Fulfilment and Transformation (CRAFT) life cycle at its core. The model was originally designed for members of the ICW then was adopted by the British Standards Institution (BSI), as the foundation for BS 11000:2010 – the predecessor of ISO 44001.  

According to Hawkins, the CRAFT approach was designed to accelerate the development of strategic integrated solutions between organisations because partnerships tended to take three to four years to fully engage. This systemic approach to collaboration also helps ensure that established relationships are sustainable and endure, unlike previous methods that relied solely on personal relationships across organisational boundaries. 

The life cycle  

ISO 44001’s framework fits within operation clause eight of the High-Level Structure (Annex SL) for ISO management standards and can be assessed for certification.

The key milestones of the eight-stage life cycle are: 

  • Operational awareness: Collaborative working will likely fail without support from top management. This is crucial to ensure that relationships are beneficial, appropriate and sustainable. 
  • Knowledge: Identify appropriate business opportunities where collaboration is critical, desirable and creates a robust business case. This enables the business base to drive the right strategy to work together efficiently.
  • Internal assessment: Granted that the business case makes sense, the organisation must set up its teams with the capability, skills, processes and systems to effectively adopt collaboration. 
  • Partner selection: Identify and select the most appropriate partner(s) to work with. This means looking beyond financial and technical assessments to incorporate cultural fit. Don’t negotiate for short-term wins.
  • Working together: Create a joint governance and management structure along with processes that ensure all partners have a clarity of purpose and are focused to deliver mutual benefit. 
  • Value creation: Maintain a focus on joint innovation, continuous improvement and adding value to the relationship beyond initial targets.
  • Staying together: Ensure that the relationship and deliverables are effectively and jointly monitored, measured and, where necessary, managed to achieve the objectives.
  • Exit strategy activation: The lack of consideration for an exit strategy is frequently a major cause for poor engagement, due to the fear of misunderstanding the implications of leaving the relationship or completing the activity. 

Top tips 

Hawkins has the following advice for organisations that want to implement ISO 44001: 

  • Start small. Test the approach before pursuing a broader application.
  • Train up internal champions that can translate the framework into the context and language of the business.
  • Do not set certification as the objective. Focus on the business benefits instead.
  • When two organisations come together, there are three sets of objectives: yours, mine and ours. If these are not satisfied, the parties will drift apart.
  • Ensure there is a process for practical issues resolution that encourages solutions at the lowest level. The problem is not about what the issues are, it’s about the way the issues are managed.
  • Start with your vision for the end. From day one, focus on the exit strategy and develop this with both internal and external partners. 

Hawkins says the secret to success is simple. “It may sound dumb, but remember you cannot collaborate on your own. It is a joint win that matters and makes collaborative working successful,” he concludes.