One Team, One Ecosystem: A Conversation With Jennifer Richey
This article is a part of a compelling series that will give you practical tips on how to grow a successful partner program. By leveraging the advice of the greatest minds in partnerships, you will learn how to effectively create, structure, and build a partner program that scales revenue. If you are a startup or SMB in the B2B tech industry, this series is for you.
For this article, we had the pleasure of speaking with Jennifer Richey, Senior Director of Ecosystem at Vena Solutions. Vena is the only native Excel Complete Planning Platform built for Microsoft 365 with Power BI Embedded. Vena transforms how business, finance, and operations leaders Plan To Grow™ with the Vena Growth Engine, the SaaS platform, and methodology that empowers and inspires your plans and guides your growth journey. Over 1,300 of the world’s leading companies power their growth with Vena.
Over her 24-year career in B2B technology, Jennifer has built a number of strategic relationships with numerous partner networks in a variety of roles. She drives business growth through partnerships and ecosystems by leading cross-functionally to unite disparate business units behind a common goal—delivering exponential value to the customer.
Read on to learn how Vena's one-team mentality fosters alignment across the organization and creates a culture where people aren't afraid to be authentic. Take advantage of the advice coming from Jennifer herself!
What is a One-Team Mentality?
Vena Solutions prides itself on having four CORE values:
- Customer Trust encourages all “Venanites” to behave honorably and selflessly, realizing that every connection with a customer has the potential to develop lasting bonds.
- One Team, which means that every member has trust in each other and works together to serve clients and achieve company and partnership goals
- Respect and Authenticity ensure the team treats each other with respect and has a strong sense of community and belonging.
- Execution Excellence means the team prides itself on performing work at an exceptional level and every individual holds themselves and each other accountable for excellence in execution.
In particular, the One Team core company value helps drive and shape the culture of an organization. With this mentality, everyone on the team works to serve the customer and support partners as one team regardless of department or function, and to serve the customer as one team with Vena’s partners.
As in any business, there are always competing resources and priorities, but no team member feels they can’t contribute to something that may be outside of their job description. This, in turn, contributes to the growth of the company and is a better strategy than a disjointed organization.
At Vena, the team works in that order. For this to work, according to Jennifer, team members need to show up as who they truly are. Someone who is working hard to hide traits, parts of themselves, or aspects of their personality can't focus 100% on the goal.
Vena also has functional areas as opposed to departments. Within the functional areas, there are different teams called “pods.” With all these different functions and pods, it's very easy for siloing to occur. Jennifer's central role is to make connections and bridge the gap between functional areas that would otherwise work in isolation, reinforcing the company's mission to operate as One Team.
In partnership with Vena’s Chief Marketing & Ecosystem Officer, Jennifer develops the overarching strategy, business plan, and priorities in cross-functional collaboration and then ensures that everyone across the functional pods are working in service of the larger ecosystem and strategy.
How the One-Team Mentality Shapes Vena’s Partnership Strategy
Vena's ecosystem perspective is holistic, customer-centric, and currently consists of partners, IP, community, and media. Their partners include referral, resell, delivery, and technology partners.
To support ecosystem growth and evolution, Jennifer says alignment across all pillars and functions is paramount. It's important to align partners' product or technical partnership strategy with Vena’s product strategy. The Vena team is also aligning the partner journey with the customer journey, from pre-sale to post-sale, ensuring that the One Team mentality extends to partners and customers as well.
One Team Mentality vs. Traditional Models
Traditional models aren't intentionally inclusive. Intentional inclusion means that the company has a sense of cultural and environmental belonging. This can be measured by how much a company values, respects, accepts, and encourages its employees to participate fully in the company.
In fact, many companies today think that inclusion is synonymous with diversity. However, these two terms are very different. Diversity refers to the full range of human differences. Age, gender, ethnicity, and disability are examples of visible dimensions of diversity. Invisible dimensions of diversity include socioeconomic status, marital status, and sexual orientation.
Vena’s one-team mentality extends to the company’s DEI initiatives, which are core to the culture, and helps create a truly inclusive environment where diversity and differences are celebrated.
Because conventional models aren't intentionally inclusive, they prevent people from breaking down barriers, communicating openly, and putting aside their egos for the good of the whole.
In contrast, the one-team mentality allows each member of the ecosystem to be authentic and work openly across functions.
As Jennifer explains:
“Inclusivity helps a lot with letting go of defensiveness. When the culture is so inclusive and there's that one-team mentality, you learn to just show up because you know everyone is open to learning new things, checking in with themselves, and checking in with the team. And the individuals understand their value contribution to the whole.”
That kind of mentality and environment leads to trust because when you're in a competitive environment where people don't work as a team, it can be hard to build and maintain trust.
Building Trust to Build Success
Partnerships require trust, and trust determines how well we develop partnerships. To build trust, you must first get to know yourself. Be specific with your goals, intentions, and values. This is how you can build sincere relationships.
This too is where DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) and accountability come in. Dedication to DEI initiatives creates an environment where people can get to know themselves and consciously learn and unlearn certain behaviors.
Jennifer says that trust comes from being completely honest with her partners. Building relationships with each other and discovering what's important to each other is the foundation for successful partnerships. The One Team value and its impact on partnerships are that everyone is working toward the same goals, which is to develop a truly effective partnership that serves the customer.
To ensure that this happens, Jennifer weaves the fabric, connects the dots, and pulls cross-functional teams and motions together to provide a better experience for teams and partners.
“Everyone is here working on the same goal, which is to build really effective partnerships in service of the customer. That's what it comes down to. That creates a very good foundation for a trusting and productive partnership, one that's really focused on customer value.”
After all, the value to the customer is what matters most in the end.
How to Build a One-Team Culture like Vena Solutions
If your organization does not have a one-team mentality, it can be difficult for it to evolve and reach the next level of success. When it comes to creating and developing sustainable business practices and better experiences for teams and partners, companies must adopt a one-team mentality.
Here's how Vena is doing it:
Start With Your Leadership
Do leaders influence company culture? Or do leaders develop through company culture? The truth is that it's a bit of both, but leaders are critical to developing a positive company culture and team experience.
Culture and leadership are inextricably linked, for better or worse. New cultures are often launched by founders and powerful leaders who leave ideals and assumptions that last for decades. Over time, leaders within an organization have the power to influence culture through intentional and unintentional behaviors.
The most effective leaders we know are aware of the different cultures in which they're embedded, recognize when change is needed, and are adept at influencing the process.
“For example, when it's Mental Health Month, leaders need to take care of themselves first and show their people that they are taking care of themselves in a way that supports the cultural and DEI initiatives of authenticity and self-care.”
The one-team value must permeate the entire overall strategy. This also means that it should be clear in its language. In terms of your goal to create a cohesive team, each team member should speak the same language and communicate in the same way. As Jennifer states:
“Are we committing to it in our language every day? Are we committing to it in our OKRs and in our metrics? Are we making sure that that next level down is measuring those things that will show us the impact? And executive leadership has to want to see that impact. They need to just say, look, this is what we want to accomplish as a company, as a team.”
This will ensure that everyone knows the goals and is committed to them. By asking team members what they think of the goals, the goals will be promoted and reviewed regularly, which will help eliminate any potential ambiguity. Essentially, the value must permeate every aspect of the organization, from leadership to partners and employees.
Find the Right Tools & Measurements
Setting goals helps you think about what you want for the future and gives you a roadmap for how to achieve it. Measurable goals give you the accurate information you need to decide what to do when you reach your goal and the quantifiable metrics you need to monitor your progress.
When you have measurable goals, you can break down your objectives into manageable components and focus on what's important. To that end, it's important to invest in technology and the right tools to measure your efforts, and that's something Vena has invested in.
To see the impact and value of partnerships and ecosystems for your business, you need the right data, and the right technology can give you that data.
“You have to invest in the technology to make sure that you've got the data. Operations like Vena have ecosystem ops aligned with sales and marketing ops under DevOps and Strategy which also includes customer success ops. It's perfect. In order to recognize the impact and the value that partnerships and ecosystems have on your business, you've got to have the data to show it.”
Prioritize Accountability and Ownership
A lack of accountability makes it impossible to build a one-team culture.
Why? Simple: if no one takes responsibility for making decisions, and solving and fixing problems, things do not get done.
Taking accountability for one’s actions is very important in any business setting. It involves accepting responsibility for your own work. It also involves having faith in your teammates and knowing you can depend on them to complete tasks. This goes for both mid-level and functional leaders.
Accountability also reinforces ownership and entrepreneurship team members so that they're truly excited to be accountable for results. People can embrace that ownership when they know that it's okay to make mistakes.
In the words of Jennifer:
"You've got to build cushions around your strategies and your tactics to make sure that people are stretching themselves and working to stretch goals. And sometimes things just don't work. So, you have to leave room to pivot. You don't want to over-operationalize either. You don't want to over-systematize because you have to be able to pivot when you can."
Key Takeaways: Jennifer’s Advice for Thriving in a One-Team Culture
It can be difficult to transition from traditional models to a more holistic one-team culture. Here’s Jennifer's advice for professionals at any level entering into or building this structure:
Understand Your Ecosystem
“Pick your head up from the day-to-day and take a look around. Scan the landscape. Understand the ecosystem in which you live. Because you do live in the ecosystem, whether it's internal to your company or the broader ecosystem. It's so easy to have the blinders on and your head down on the day-to-day, and that's when you miss all the good opportunities. Pick your head up and scan.”
Put the Customer at the Center
“Everyone is there for the customer, even your partners. Your partners are your teammates. So, the question is, where can we bring more value? Not only to customers but to each other as teammates and to our partners, where can we bring more value? That's really important.”
Encourage Teams to Have Entrepreneurial Ownership Over Their Work
“Having centralized goals that empower and uplift not just the customer, but also the partners and internal teams, helps also foster that sense of being an entrepreneur within your company. A lot of organizations are focused on partner channels driving ARR only for them. They're hiring ahead of partnerships, and it’s all going to roll up to the VP of Sales or the CRO. They're focused on the next quarter or six months, sometimes twelve months, sometimes even just quarter to quarter. But in an ecosystem approach, you have to have a three-year plan and every team is a part of that three-year plan. So, the company has a three-year plan, functional areas have a three-year plan, and individuals have three-year plans that support their personal goals.”
Make it Happen for You: How to Grow Your Partner Program like Vena Solutions
If you want to grow a one-team mentality and ecosystem like Vena Solutions, it is essential that you have the proper tools to promote transparency and trust between you and your partners.
A Partner Relationship Management (PRM) platform allows you to:
- Organize your program with tiers
- Coordinate training, onboarding, and certification processes
- Trace leads
- Build a knowledge base to provide instant answers
- Collaborate with partners on a shared pipeline
- Get full visibility over partner activity
- Measure partner performance
- Track commission and payouts