The Partnerships

by Krishna on April 10, 2006

Take a look at any winner in politics, sports or war. It is almost always the team with the best teamwork that wins. The victorious Governor has the better coalition and broader-based support. The Super Bowl team is the one which played together as a team. The battle-winning army had the best coordination.

Success comes to leaders when they can get the organization to work together in meeting the goals. To build upon the earlier analogy, it is faster to get to the goals when some people are not walking in the opposite direction and obstructing the others. Leaders cannot achieve anything by themselves – all they can do is cook up ideas that will not get implemented.

It is therefore necessary for leaders to forge partnerships within the organization. Partnerships with employees are commonly known by that term “culture”. A partnership, by definition, means the following: Coming together, setting mutual goals, agreeing on the right activities and finally sharing in the success or failure.

When is there a “lack of culture”? It happens when the goals of the leader and the goals of the employees are at cross-purposes. Why does an employee come into the office and seemingly work in a destructive manner, i.e., without any attention to quality or productivity? Because when there is no partnership, it doesn’t matter! When no partnership is forged, there is no stake in the system for the employees and the management may very well be speaking the Hiri Motu language when they talk about all those grandiose plans.

A different set of partnerships comes about when the leader acknowledges the areas in which he or she is fundamentally weak in or cannot learn within a reasonable timeframe. Such leaders surround themselves with other leaders to complement them by providing knowledge and experience in various domains.

Partnerships are not just internal. The organization must look for partnerships everywhere, including customers, vendors, distributors and, believe it or not, competitors. Partnerships can take several forms – it may be as simple as creating a vendor community, establishing an Owner’s Club or an online web community or working towards common standards.

Establishing a partnership with a customer means to look out for the customer’s best interests and to stay ahead of their needs, demands and, yes, even “greed”. By that, I mean anticipating the next need of the customer even if it seems totally irrational. For example, the customer of a software product may have a stated need to email one particular report to one particular named manager. When they actually use the application, they may in fact want to email several reports to several managers and have it scheduled to be sent at 7:00 am daily. Now that falls into the greedy category, but as a software product company, if it was anticipated and provided, the customer falls in love with you.

Establishing relationships with suppliers, vendors and distributors is sometimes given low priority, because they are usually down the food chain. But some of the biggest corporations like Wal-Mart and Microsoft have reached the top because they were willing to build those partnerships, while those like Apple, with huge potential, have faltered because they wanted to go it alone. There is a saying, “Remember those whom you meet going up because you will meet them coming down.” The corollary is that keeping happy those whom you meet going up will keep you up there for a long time, because there will be less people to drag you down.

Now, why would one want to establish a partnership with competitors? And doesn’t that have shades of legal anti-trust issues? The fact is that while a company can be in cut-throat competition, there are many areas that it can co-operate with competition to reduce unnecessary bleeding. Industry standards, favorable government legislation, and shared non-competitive resources are some examples. Companies can also cooperate for social good. Saving the environment or working towards improving health and education, while being a reward in itself can gain the company a lot of goodwill among employees and customers.

Even if there is no direct partnership with other firms, companies can learn a lot from competitors. Many companies have the “NIH” (Not Invented Here (syndrome) which prevents them from understanding what competitors may be doing that they could copy and adapt to their environment. Getting rid of that mentality will help organizations grow and attract more customers.

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