Creating Strong Business Partnerships Now!

September 11, 2001 changed everything forever. Certainly on a personal level, none of us will ever look at life exactly the same way again. And the same is true for business.

It may take years, before we finally sort out the long-term ramifications of these tragic events in our nation. But one short-term result seems to be a markedly different reaction in how people treat each other. I hear things like "people are kinder" or "people seem to take a little more time to be considerate" or "folks seem to linger a bit more and focus more on big things and not worry about little things."

People seem to be feeling the need for more harmony, clarity and alignment with and in their lives.

People are looking to strengthen partnerships

Now is the time when many business people are taking a look at their existing relationships -- in part, employer to employee, but also between business partners and between businesses that are in strategic alliances -- trying to find a way to make them work more harmoniously, efficiently and profitably.

Partnerships can be the cornerstone of a successful business, but just as easily if the relationship sours they can become a company's bitter downfall. The deterioration of partnerships is a major contributor to the fact that within five years of their creation 80% of new businesses will have failed. A partnership is so much more than the written partnership agreement. It's a living and rapidly evolving relationship, and a powerful business tool that needs to be cultivated and attended to constantly.

So, how do we achieve this goal? How, exactly, do we keep a partnership from souring?

It starts with communication -- which should represent far more than a harried series of e-mails, memos or phone calls that go back and forth relating to everyday operations.. Clear, broad and open communication benefits everyone within a partnership. The most successful partnerships involve regular communication with partners sharing visions, expectations, accomplishments and disappointments. Shared communication helps people understand each other and they can often build on success when they see what they can learn together.

Central to effective communication is the ability to commit to a set of operational behavioral values and a clear vision. Partners must agree on the strategy used to achieve the vision and create a set of goals shared by all.

Agreement and Alignment Are Key

Partnerships are often put together loosely between people that share an ambition to own their own business or to develop an idea. Remember the expression, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

Paraphrasing Michael Gerber, author of the E Myth and the E Myth revisited, a fatal assumption of most folks starting their own business is the belief that if they understand how to do what they do, that alone guarantees their success-- if they work hard enough. In fact most business people end up working in their businesses so much that they forget to work on their business.

Working on your business starts from day one by making sure you know how to communicate with your partners. Suggested steps include:

  • Develop a clear vision and set of working values (including operational responsibilities) before you start the business
  • Be sure that all of the partners share similar goals and an idea of how you are going to get there, including work styles, ambitions and strategies for exiting the venture.
  • Establish weekly or monthly status and goal setting meetings
  • Utilize offsite retreats as needed on a quarterly, semi annual or annual basis
  • Create a board of directors or advisors and or other mechanisms for the resolution of conflicts and advice.

Personality conflicts and differing definitions of success also spell trouble. Clearly, potential partners are extremely well served to ask each other a great deal of questions before working together. An ounce of prevention does save a pound of cure. All the partners that I have had the honor of working with in advance of their business operations have been delighted with the time spent.. most particularly the people who decided not to proceed with the partnership.

These steps should be kept in some form of written agreement, which can be modified as needed. Without a written agreement, there is a resulting dulling of memories that can leave partners with a lack of structure that often leads to failure. A written partnership should contain:

  • Details of ownership and all the other legal requirements your attorney advises.
  • Responsibilities and roles of all individuals involved
  • Provisions to address the issues bulleted in the prior section.

Such an agreement is recommended particularly for all partnerships to aid in the event of disagreements, death or any other separation from the partnership. This type of preparation can save a partnership or alliance thousands of dollars in expenses and an equal value in the time saved when a conflict event occurs.

"I think I know what you said, but what I'm hearing you say is..."

A working partnership flourishes in an atmosphere that permits and encourages the expression of emotions as well as task-oriented behavior. People are emotional beings and work best in an atmosphere of safety in saying what they have to. In order to accomplish things in business, we need to recognize we constantly need to learn new skills. In the area of communication there are many skills to be learned including:

  • Expressing appreciation and acknowledgment
  • Vision and passion
  • Negative assessments
  • Conflict
  • Respect

Appreciation counts! People want to be understood for who they are, noticed for what they do, know that they are valued and that their contribution makes a difference. Nowhere is that more evident than the workplace. Partners and employees do their best when working conditions foster improved relationships at all levels.

Vision and Passion: Attitudes are more important than facts. George Bernard Shaw said, "People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don't believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can't find them, make them." Inspiring a shared vision and enabling others to act by modeling the way, encouraging the humanity in all of the organization and communicating frequently, honestly and well is a valuable skill.

Negative Assessments: Nothing cripples a business partnership or enterprise more than a "culture of politeness" that inhibits an honest opportunity to identify incompetence and design a learning program to fill the opportunity identified by an honest conversation.

Sharing an intelligent assessment can be a significant contribution to the coordination of powerful action between partners and business associates. Properly executed, a negative assessment can be the door that opens to creating future actions between partners that are more powerful, more profitable and more satisfying. To be open to negative assessments of our behavior is essential to create the type of evolving partnerships and organizations that will survive the 5 year test. Teaching people that you are committed to their development as proficient business people is essential to creating relationships that allow for full and free exchange of grounded assessments and opinions about what is going on. Partnerships where team members learn and grow always have the competitive advantage to succeed.

Conflict and Respect: Differences that result from conflict can impede productive interaction. But an open attitude toward using conflict as an opportunity to learn and grow is also possible. Handling conflict behavior requires flexibility, a positive attitude toward interpersonal communication and towards conflict itself, and constant self evaluation to be truly productive and effective. Start by simply embracing the different ways different people see things and accept that our partners and associates will frequently have a different point of view than ours. If we accept this interpretation we are on the road to fully understanding the wisdom of the adage "two heads are better than one". Learning to listen well and embrace the opportunity for more Clarity, Alignment, Empowerment and Resourcefulness produces trust and CAREing between partners and business associates. Full and free communication should be encouraged at every level of the organization. Businesses that invite differences of opinion and are able to learn from them achieve growth. Conflict in this environment creates a creative tension that is dynamic and fosters the growth to profitability, efficiency and satisfaction throughout the organization. When necessary, members need to know when and how it is appropriate to apologize and forgive others. These are all behaviors that we all can learn and improve upon.

Acknowledgement: "Thank you" doesn't hurt! People need to be acknowledged for their accomplishments. Partners thrive when honest, positive feedback is given as frequently as possible. People are more productive when they know that you know that work is only a part of living a full life. A good partnership requires maintaining a mood of cooperation, shared vision and commitment to the business as well as each other. Partners need to let go of their need to control and focus on the common goals and overall vision for their business.

Finally, Partnerships should always remember to celebrate their successes. Set a time at regular intervals during the year and at the end of an especially difficult day to celebrate the achievements of your business, your partnership and your individual lives. Share acknowledgment and gratefulness of good things small and large done by great people, review and learn the secrets of your successes and the lessons of your disappointments and learn the lessons that life is giving you therein to make this year and every year your Best Year Yet!

This is a great time to strengthen relationships. These often begin with simple, single acts of humility and humanity. Good luck, and good partnerships!

You may copy all or part of this article, forward it to your customers, clients and colleagues, or post it on your website. Please keep the copyright and contact information intact, like this: