Virginia, US

One of the most frequent phrases we hear from our clients is a desire for us to “work in partnership” and indeed, Fragomen partners, directors, and managers often find themselves saying to clients that we want to “work in partnership.” But what does this really mean? Without a definition, it can lose its meaning and become just another line of business-speak.

A partnership, by definition, is a two-way street and to my mind, it contains a number of core elements that are keys to its success.

  1. Communication & Transparency. In my experience with the best client relationships, there should hardly be such a thing as an “internal” email, the contents of which, cannot be shared with our client or vice versa – the client with Fragomen.  When we can be open in our communication, honest about the questions we have, the limitations we have, and any doubts, then the result will be fewer misunderstandings and a better quality of service and advice. Similarly, when our clients are open and transparent about the motivations behind a request, and even share details such as information about personalities involved, it allows us to advise and communicate more effectively and with greater certainty of purpose.
  2. Strong Personal Relationships.  This may seem like a strange one to throw in here, but I believe that we work best together when we remember that we are all people with lives beyond our name that appears on the screen in emails. There is a kind of false world that develops around email communications where the fact that we are all actually people is a fact that is easily lost. When we meet in person or speak regularly over the phone, our humanity is restored, and to the extent we can develop friendships, this helps to make communication and transparency easier and more natural.
  3. Understanding Each Other’s Business. I hope it almost goes without saying that immigration professionals at Fragomen need to understand our clients’ businesses. We not only need to know how the HR or Global Mobility organization is structured, including roles and responsibilities, but also the industry sector and the different pressures that may involve. It matters if someone is needed immediately to assist in the repair of a nuclear facility, or if someone doesn’t have access to emails due to being on an offshore rig, or whether the individuals involved will be going to head up a new business opportunity. It also helps a great deal, however, if our clients understand how we operate, who is who, what our capabilities are and where our capabilities lie. In our strongest partnerships, our clients understand us as well as we understand them and know how and what questions to ask as a result.
  4. Thinking & Planning Ahead.  Every now and then, we should all sit-down, meet, and discuss our goals and the best ways to achieve them. We should set projects and priorities and work together to form strategies. Too often, we spend our time reacting to day-to-day events. Even in business review meetings, the focus may be on statistics (e.g. volume, spend, etc.), without much focus on what the program goals are and how we can work together to achieve those goals.  At least once a year, perhaps twice, a strategy meeting between key stakeholders is crucial to a good partnership.
  5. Integration. Although not always an absolutely necessary ingredient, integration of technology and sometimes people can strengthen a partnership. Integrated technology using data feeds or messaging or other methods of sharing information can only improve communication and give rise to a sense that we are functioning with a single purpose. Similarly, sometimes people placements between organizations can strengthen those ties and achieve greater understanding between the parties. I recently heard an anecdote about one of our team members who has been working onsite with a client a few days a week. The difference that has made to our understanding of the client’s motivations and how we work with them has been immeasurable.
So, this is what working in partnership means to me. Too often, these kinds of phrases are thrown around without much thought given to what they mean. It is, however, important that we all take some responsibility in achieving some meaning through action, through behaviour, through working together to achieve our shared goals.