Illustrate principlesas published in

As we enter an “Era of Ecosystems,” we need a different approach and thinking to manage these multi-dimensional and multi-lateral business relationships. I believe the partner management processes that have been developed as a profession are still relevant, but we do need to rethink how we apply them.

Nine-way governance models just aren’t efficient and agile. However, by distilling what we know about effective partner management into collaborative principles, we can create a framework that is flexible and robust to handle the challenge.

I’ve been privileged to lead the U.S. delegation to the International Organization for Standardization Committee for the Collaborative Business Relationship Management standard. While very thorough and vetted by many alliance professionals, I still think there is room for improvements. Its application does provide a framework for managing large, complex collaborations; however, it is difficult to apply to the more modern, agile and fast-moving environment of ecosystem partnering.

As an offshoot of the standards document, the committee spun out a “principles” document that teases out twelve principles summarizing the 128 requirements of the standards document into a more digestible framework for successful collaborations.

My own version of collaboration principles was published in my Forbes article “Better Together: The 10 Successful Ingredients of Successful Partnerships.” I explained that there are a few principles I’ve found to be critical to successful partnerships, including collaborative leadership, value creation and alignment on business objectives, your vision and your values.

Although the principles within your company might vary, below is my advice on why implementing guiding principles for any collaboration is key, along with how you can get started.

What is the value of standard principles for collaborative business relationship management?

First, we need to understand why a common framework among partners is important. It is commonly assumed that half of all partnerships fail to meet expectations. Without a standard set of principles, I believe partnerships are that much more likely to fail. Principles provide a common framework that can guide partner engagement using a common language and understanding of the skills required to be successful.

Furthermore, principles can be applied to many diverse commercial organizations, as well as government agencies, nonprofits and academia. The principles for collaboration raises the visibility of business collaboration and awareness by unifying a process model and set of skills for collaborating effectively.

From my perspective, the value of a collaboration standard can be compared to the impact of the Uniform Commercial Code. The UCC seeks to harmonize laws among the 50 U.S. states with respect to interstate commerce. The UCC is not a federal law, but most state commerce laws are consistent with its provisions. The UCC is often used by courts as a default when state laws are not comprehensive or ambiguous. Its impact has been to reduce the complexity and risk in interstate commerce and accelerate economic growth as a result.

Similarly, a common standard framework for collaboration can be expected to reduce risk and complexity while accelerating the process of alliance formation and value delivery, ultimately resulting in economic growth.

As an alliance professional, I’ve seen that the adoption of even a few best practices result in higher success rates, and the highest failure rates are among organizations that approach alliances ad hoc. Failed alliances equal lost value and sunken costs. A collaboration management framework promotes repeatable success, and a common standard accelerates the process.

By adopting a common framework, business partners decrease the time and complexity of figuring out the processes by which to collaborate. Conformance to the principles you and your partners agreed to requires organizations to assess and address their capability to collaborate effectively and ensure that the right processes are in place to enable success. These collaboration principles enable partners to focus more on value-creating activities, thus increasing productivity.

How to implement a principles-based collaboration?

Collaboration principles do not replace having sound practices and policies, but they do enable lighter-weight approaches. One such approach I’ve found to be successful is creating an alliance team charter.

The team charter is a short document, ideally one or two pages, that summarizes the key agreements between the partners. It usually starts with the statement of purpose, which is your common vision of why you are partnering.

From there, your charter should explain your business objectives, a description of the value you expect to create through partnering, how you will measure success and how you will manage your relationship. An effective charter will ensure that you have the right conversations with your partner and that you document a shared plan of record of your agreements and expectations.

Ecosystem collaborations in an agile world do not fit well with a highly process-oriented management model. They require a model based more on principles, a mindset for collaboration and trust, rather than on process and policy. Organizations large and small, public and private can get a lot of mileage in applying a principles-based approach to collaboration.