In my consultancy life I worked hard on partnerships and was involved in a fairly significant programme called the Partnership Value Model – which was aimed at larger companies where partnership was required but was tricky or not working. If you think of the relationship between a car manufacturer and the dealer network in any country you will have an idea. Essentially there is no love lost between the two – the manufacturer always has the impression that the dealers are feckless and want the manufacturer to do all the work of marketing and selling and the dealers believe the opposite. Often there is even less trust than love between the two – and the PVM was aimed, for example, at rebuilding that trust.
My words of caution about partnerships for a company that wants to grow its business are fourfold.
The first is that partnership is a weasel word and it means whatever the individual parties want it to mean – but usually it is a different meaning. Treat the whole concept with real caution. One early experience of two companies wanting to partner over the supply of goods and services one to the other was that the potential buyer wanted a partnership so that they could get the lowest possible price with the least effort and the potential supplier wanted to have the highest possible price with the least effort. It was essentially an exercise in cynicism by both sides.
The second is that, like having a dealer network, while creating a partnership is relatively easy, maintaining it and developing it is very hard and costly in time and effort. If you don’t have a person on each side who is accountable for making the partnership work, it just won’t. Trust will evaporate, the arrangement will wither and it will sometimes result in extremely bad feeling. This isn’t something you can make and forget.
The third is that benefits from any partnership are not synchronous – one partner will benefit before the other and this causes so many disputes and bad feeling – and allows the silent naysayers (the most destructive force in any partnership arrangement) to wreak havoc.
The fourth is you can waste a considerable amount of time getting the legal basis of any partnership – and don’t proceed without one – and not actually do anything. (Banks are particularly good, in my experience, in wanting partnerships and then being unable to move forward because the lawyers get hold of the agreement and stasis overtakes the process – if that isn’t an absolute contradiction in terms.) Don’t let the lawyers stop you actually doing something together.
To make a successful partnership then takes a clear understanding of what benefits will flow to each party and the time line for that to happen. Partnership management on a daily basis is essential. You need defined outcomes – not just business benefits – and these should be used as part of the weekly evaluation of how the partnership is developing. You need to be aware of any issues that can affect trust. You need constant communication and not just at the level of the people who thought a partnership was a good idea and implemented it, but at all the touch points. (It’s no good the CEOs coming up with a glorious plan and none of the middle managers seeing it as other than a complete waste of time.)
The onlie begetter of the PVM has been preparing a Bite-Sized Book on partnerships in business and at some stage I hope to announce that it will be published.
In conclusion then – do you really want a partnership – shouldn’t you just do it yourself? Even if the answer is no – do please ask yourself this question and keep asking it.