Leverage Points are high-impact low-effort strategies to improve the way a system is designed. Hunting for leverage points is an art (not a science) and can be an incredibly powerful tool in partnerships, where efficiency is table stakes.
Certifications are hidden leverage points
An under-discussed area of partnerships is the role that certification programs play, both as program architects and participants. Healthy ongoing participation is evidence that network effects are working and that your hands-on practitioner community sees value in your product. Agencies / Services / Systems Integrators are often large participants here, using certifications as a signal of competency and as a differentiator for their services.
As a Consulting Partner, we are an active participant in many strategic Cloud and Software certification programs. This domain is just as critical to the success of our partnerships along with sales, marketing, and product.
We hunted for leverage points and applied two specific changes that resulted in 147% year-over-year growth in net new certifications with our Partners.
Not too bad!
Certifications come in different shapes and sizes
I wish I could snap my fingers and have our talented engineers learn as fast as Neo learns kung fu in The Matrix when a customer needs help. But, it takes way longer to pass a professional-grade exam than an introductory one. Duh. Yeah, I know you get it!
But most certification programs span roles (sales, engineering, support), levels (introductory, intermediate, advanced), and multiple partners. Remember Cartesian Products from high school math? Yep...
- 3 Roles (Sales, Engineering, Support)
- 3 Levels (Fundamentals, Intermediate, Advanced)
- ~8 Strategic Partners (a reasonable number)
That's 72 unique learning paths – ouch!
There is a huge fan-out of complexity that happens very quickly here when you're trying to measure and grow. Calibrating this with real customer demand is even more resource intensive. So, how can we optimize these systems efficiently?
The hunt for leverage points
Leverage Points are the tools to tinker with and change systems in a way that maximizes impact but reduces effort. According to System Dynamics principles, they come in roughly twelve distinct forms.
These fall into component-level, sub-system, and systematic approaches. Many of these concepts are intuitive, and you are probably already applying some of these approaches. Do any come to mind immediately? Which ones are new? My sense is that we tend to over-focus on rules and incentives and neglect other strategies.
To improve certifications, we found that focusing on Information Flows and driving a Mindset Shift were key to leveling up our results.
Information flows as leverage points — low-hanging fruit
Information flows are the structure of who does and does not have access to information. We were inadvertently missing several key information flows that could have been driving visibility and behavior changes.
We focused on two strategies here:
Create competition with information — our leadership across our offices in North America are competitive. When we started grouping and emphasizing certification activity by the office, this quickly boosted activity.
My advice: find your existing cohorts and create some friendly competition!
Make them Famous — You know the mantra! We created a stage for folks who got certified to explain their motivation, share something they learned, and how they plan to use their new skills. This simple information flow fosters a culture of learning and celebration.
Mindset shifts and self-organization
We don't find that incentives like giving away money (~$500) to achieve certifications work well. Instead, we re-framed the mindset around certifications.
We are now deep-diving into interesting topics like security, data governance, computer vision, and machine learning. My advice: Camaraderie is a must; make it easy to find like-minded people and encourage them to buddy up!
A bigger paradigm shift is already underway in partnerships
Zoom out and look at the changes happening in the broader partner landscape at a macro level. There are some huge leverage points right in front of our eyes:
We are seeing organizations like WorkSpan and Crossbeam revolutionize how (and what) information flows happen between companies that partner together. The richness of the potential time savings is massive. Mauricio Rojas Hacker recognizes that the incentives of partnerships are evolving as well.
Nobody embodies this voice more than the folks at PartnerHacker. Look no further than their PartnerHacker principles of They're Not Your Accounts, The First Giver Wins, Build Radical Generosity into your Culture, and of course, Trust is the New Data.
These are fundamental paradigm shifts that favor the collective over the individual and challenge many norms that have been in place for decades. This is all happening through a very-fast growing and self-organizing community of partnership professionals that recognize a big opportunity.
With that in mind… which leverage points have you explored? What worked and what didn't? There is a richness in applying these principles, particularly to the Sales, Marketing, Customer Success, and Product areas.
The fundamentals of Systems Thinking and Leverage Points were pioneered by the MIT Systems Dynamics Lab by visionaries like Donella Meadows and Jay Forrester. Head over to the Donella Meadows Project, or take a look at Dana's book Thinking in Systems: A Primer for more information.