As published in Forbes. com
It’s no secret that companies of all sizes are facing some daunting challenges in digital transformation, globalization and the constant pressure to do more with less. More and more companies seek out partners to buffer the impact, gain skills and access innovation. More than half of CEOs, particularly those that IBM labeled “reinventors” in their recent Global C-suite Study, are seeking to collaborate with partners more. Yet I’ve found that collaboration still falls into the skills gap. As of 2011, The Association of Strategic Alliance Professionals’ “State of Alliance Management: Past, Present, Future” report found that failure rates for alliances still exceeded 50%. (Full disclosure: I serve on the ASAP board.)
Yet success doesn’t have to be a coin toss. Companies that develop partnering skills and best practices can see much higher partnership success rates, according to the Association of Strategic Alliance Professionals. So, what are the keys to success? Here are 10 of the ingredients I’ve found are most important for getting partnering right.
1. Alignment Of Vision And Values
If you don’t know where you’re going, how do you expect to get there? Good partnerships begin with understanding the end game. What is the shared vision that is the guiding North Star of the partnership? Is it to cross-sell into each others’ customer base so you both gain incremental revenues? Are you combining your technical skills to develop a new product? The aligned vision is the glue that holds the partnership together.
2. Alignment Of Business Objectives
Your business objectives and that of your partners’ do not have to be identical and probably won’t be, but they should be complementary. In one alliance I worked with, one company was seeking to gain market share; the other wanted profitability. Both are great business objectives — but they are different, and sometimes they came into conflict. They put some simple ground rules in place that helped them work together to reach their respective objectives. They found the right alignment.
3. Effective Governance And Metrics
Governance can be thought of as a management system that balances trust and control. When things are going great, you probably trust that they’ll continue to, but it’s also good to have clear metrics and oversight to be sure.
4. Collaborative Leadership
Having executive support and collaborative leadership capability cannot be overstated as a success factor. Good leadership helps keep the partnership on track strategically. It also embraces a different management style. Your partner is not part of your command and control hierarchy. Therefore, understanding how to lead through influence, consensus building and appealing to your partner’s self-interest can be critical skills.
5. Value Creation
To me, value creation is the beating heart of great partnerships. How are you creating value for your company, your partner, and most importantly, your customers? This is often reflected in partner math: 1+1 should be greater than 3. If you are not creating greater value together than you could alone, then where is the value in the partnership?
6. Joint Business Planning
Great ideas and great intentions must lead to action to be realized. This is your business plan. How are you going to achieve your vision, create value, and meet your business objectives? This doesn’t usually happen in your silo. It’s is a contact sport. The joint business plan is developed with your partner and captures much of what you’ve covered in terms of objectives, governance, metrics and so on. It should also address what resources each partner is committing to achieve the objectives and timelines, as well as which leaders and staff are assigned to work the joint plan.
7. Trust And Commitment To Mutual Gain
Trust is like air. You hardly notice it when it’s there. But when it isn’t, you know. Trust in partnering comes in two flavors. One flavor is about reliability. Can you trust your partner to deliver? Will they do what they say they’re going to do? They may have the best of intentions, but some partners still can’t always be counted on. The other flavor of trust is about integrity. Will they treat you fairly? Are they looking out for your interests as well as their own? Trustworthy partners tend to approach challenges and conflicts by seeking mutually beneficial outcomes.
8. Transformative Flexibility
In the lean startup world, this would be called a pivot. It’s the ability to change if your assumptions change, if the external business climate changes or if things just aren’t working and you need to try something new. Pepsi and Starbucks formed a partnership some years ago to introduce a carbonated coffee drink, according to Business Insider. It failed — fizzled, if you like. But they didn’t call it quits as an alliance. They tried a different product, a bottled frappuccino, which was a huge success and seemed to populate nearly every grocery store. In my experience, great partnerships have a lot of “relationship capital” that they can invest in new futures together.
9. Collaborative Competence
Many collaborative competencies have been mentioned in this article. Some of them are process oriented, such as setting up joint governance and metrics, creating business plans and setting business objectives. These are often referred to as hard skills. But the soft skills are no less important and, in my opinion, “harder.” These include management by influence and consensus building, resolving conflict in ways that result in win-win outcomes and harnessing differences in outlook to create innovation. These are very difficult skills to master, and yet I find them to be very powerful.
10. Collaborative Mindset
The collaborative mindset is probably the most important success factor. It’s the attitude and mental approach that fosters great collaborations and underpins successful partnerships. It embraces open, honest, transparent communications. It leads with trust. It values differences as opportunities to create value. It seeks reciprocity: when you win, I win.
Adopt these ten principles of collaboration and I believe you’ll find more value and success in your business relationships. As companies become more dependent upon functioning within business ecosystems, I’ve found that being able to collaborate effectively is more than a competitive advantage. It’s a staying-in-business strategy.