29 May 2023

Choosing the right strategic partnership

By Samantha White

Membership organisations often have a lot of options as to who they work with, and it’s all too easy to over-commit. Vanessa Harwood-Whitcher, CEO, IOSH, outlines how to identify those partnerships that will enable your organisation to deliver the greatest benefit.

A strategy review highlighted that IOSH resources were spread too thinly. “We had MOUs with partners across the world, involving huge travel costs, but no clear benefit to either party,” explains Vanessa.

“So we developed some decision-making tools that allowed us to look at our strategy and be really clear about when we would work with somebody and when we wouldn't for that particular point in time. It gave us permission to say no to some things.”

This approach has led to some very fruitful partnerships, including one with the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Pre-COVID, the two parties had been building trust, working on a memorandum of understanding, and looking at whether their objectives were strategically aligned.

The decision-making tools – one which helps IOSH identify geographic locations which it can support and the other which organisations it aligns closely with so may wish to partner with -  enabled IOSH to consider “how a partnership would help deliver our strategy, and look at our charitable purpose and make sure we're delivering that public benefit piece. We were looking particularly at where the partnership might help us work in parts of the world where health and safety is not perhaps quite as developed - knowing that we could get in at the beginning of the forming of regulations and legislation around health and safety, helping the country to develop its standards, where we would have the most impact.”

The partners were about to begin specific action-planning work when the pandemic hit. Understandably, all activity then switched focus to COVID. “Of course, who did they turn to but us to talk about health and safety in the workplace and how you continue to operate organisationally through a pandemic? We did joint webinars, attended by thousands of people, so it was of great value for our members, because they could hear right from the source of advice. And generally, it started to raise the profession in the WHO’s eyes.”

Post-pandemic, the relationship has helped IOSH target its activity and understand where it could have most impact, and gain access. The WHO has identified the industrial sectors and geographies, many of which are in emerging economies, where there is greatest need to protect workers.

“It's typically construction, the garment industry, food and agriculture, where accidents and deaths are highest. They're looking to build the capacity and capability of health and safety professionals in the country, so there's a real sort of win-win both ways.”

IOSH draws on its expertise to provide training and guidance, among other activities. “It could be helping policymakers write legislation or training people on the ground to understand how to do a risk assessment. Rather than trying to experiment with where it works best, partnering allows us to get immediate impact.”

One example involves working with the Nigerian government to look at setting legislation for health and safety. “We've worked with a couple of national professional HR bodies in Nigeria, because they're the ones that will help to set standards around health and safety. We've also set up a local division of IOSH so they can engage as members together and help support their professional development activities, networking, etc. We've put on lots of training to help build that capacity.”

Fulfilling IOSH’s purpose
“We have three charitable objects. One is effectively sharing knowledge with the world of work in general. So, raising the understanding of health and safety among governments, regulators, businesses, those types of organisations. This partnership was absolutely hitting that mark in terms of getting the standards in right at the top of the country so that they were filtering into businesses and then to individuals.”

IOSH’s other charitable objects involve connecting members, so they can share information and network with each other, and raising professional standards. Partnership with the WHO “met every single one of our objects, and that was checked through this decision-making model. There's a strong strategic alignment, right back to why we exist.”

“Being able to tell that story to our members is really important, because it shows that we are fulfilling the purpose that we were set up to do. It's really exciting,” concludes Vanessa.

Vanessa's advice on communicating a new organisational strategy

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