Entrepreneurship Success: Making Partnerships Work (II)

We have so far defined the concept of business collaboration and brought out its benefits, elements, and philosophy. Today, we will conclude on the circles of partnerships that we introduced last week and discuss some principles and practices of successful business partnering.

Circles of Partnership: Like the human individual, a business entity belongs to several relationship circles. Typically, there would be investors, creditors, suppliers, employees, customers, regulators, etc. Your peculiar situation and circumstances as well as your type of business will determine what relationships carry what weight. Regardless of the type and weight of each relationship, the challenge in business collaboration is to create, nurture, and grow them into successful, mutually rewarding partnerships.

Types of Collaborations: Generally speaking, there are two types of collaborations; internal and external. Internal collaborations are when individuals and groups across the same business organization ‘partner’ together in respect of their day-to-day operations as well as on long-term projects. This is essentially the teamwork we expect to see in organizations as a minimum. External collaborations refer to the various forms of corporate partnerships that are aimed at achieving certain objectives between two or more business organizations. These include Ecosystems, Portfolio, Alliance, Co-opetition, Network, etc.

Practices of Business Collaboration: Last week, we discussed partnering philosophies viz., Meaning well, thinking long term, and creating opportunities for partners. These must always be the basis of your thoughts and actions. They are the foundations for wise business collaborative practices, such as:

• Identify Key Relationships: Your first challenge is to identify key persons and organizations that you will need to partner with. The individuals might, for instance, be high net-worth persons that can provide equity funding or those highly placed in the society that can be mentors or helpful in opening doors for you. There could also be organizations that you will need to build healthy, mutually rewarding partnerships with. As mentioned, these could include your corporate customers, suppliers, creditors, regulators, etc.

Obviously, organizations are made up of individuals. So, key components of developing partnerships with organizations are those persons that run the organizations or have bearing on them. These could be very junior employees, middle-level employees, senior employees, external directors, etc. Similarly, you should identify both those that have influence at the moment and those that will grow in the future to have influence. Develop good relationships with all.

• Engage: The moment you identify individuals and organizations that you will need to partner with now or will be ‘handy’ in the future, begin to positively engage with them. As we always mention, though, you must not be fixated on your interests only, but should also look out for the interests of the collaborating partner. The moment you do away with your zero-sum mindset and begin to look at things and issues from the perspective of the partner (s), it will become easy to come up with ideas and solutions that propel all partners forward.

• Add-Value: Amongst the elements of business partnering, we mentioned that you must be able to put resources on the table. But beyond just the ‘resources’ you may be able to commit, the ultimate objective of your partner is that you are able to add value in the relationship. Think about it, the people we are most attached to are those that add value in our lives. We ran to them in good and bad times. That is the basis for collaborative success, either for individuals or organizations.

Think carefully and deliberately of exactly the value you can add in each attempt at collaboration. Clearly, each relationship is different and, therefore, the demands, expectations and efforts will, likewise, be different.

• Be Reliable: Trust is one of the pillars on which all successful partnerships are built. Never commit to what you will not be able to deliver and you must always deliver on what you commit to.

Recently, I was involved in the negotiations between an organization and a potential client. At a stage, the organization offered to provide some resources to the client ‘free’. Unfortunately, when the financials were agreed to, the actual cost of the ‘free’ resources amounted to a larger than projected percentage of the net profit to be earned.

Even though there are times when you can legitimately ask for renegotiations, this was not such a case. It was an error in the handling of the negotiations by the organization. Consequently, I insisted that the organization must fulfill that condition without even raising it up with the client as bringing up the issue will not only lead to questions about their technical competence but also their integrity. I advised that they should learn from the mistake and, in fact, be grateful that they were still making decent money.

Being reliable is about being technically competent, trustworthy, looking out for mutual interests and thinking long-term.

• Institutionalization: Obviously, some relationships are best managed by senior executives. However, it is not sufficient that only some senior staff are bought in the collaboration effort. Middle-level staff and even junior operatives must be sufficiently trained to appreciate the collaborative philosophy and practices of the organization. Often as we see, junior operators and middle-level staff can help or mar the reputation of organizations with their acts of omissions and / or commission. Such internal collaborations should engender a culture within the organization. It is also applicable externally by partnering organizations jointly training their staff, deploying technology to enhance their collaboration, etc.

Wise collaborative practices will help the entrepreneur and their business immensely. They should be deliberate, well thought-out, practical, farsighted, and entrenched within an organization. Next week, we will take up Creativity and Innovation.

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