Sunday, September 12, 2010

11 Keys to Building Strong Partnerships

Have you ever gone on a vacation with someone who is very different from you? One wants to experience everything under the sun while the other wants to just chill out. One wants to plan the day down to the minute while the other likes to figure out what to do as the day goes by. One wants to go left, the other right. One wants window down and put the peddle to the metal while the other likes the windows up and keeps tapping the break peddle. Now just imagine, being in partnership with this person who has very different preferences. What would that be like?

I am sure you get the picture.

Therefore, in choosing your business partner(s) it's crucial to, for both long-term success and to having an enjoyable experience, here are 11 key factors of consider:

1. Shared Vision. Metaphorically speaking, what will happen if one wants to go to California while the other Florida? One envisions a chain of big box stores while the other a small boutique? It's important to share common definition of success, your desired destination, what you want to sell, and to whom. Otherwise, it'll be a constant push-n-pull, tug-of-war.

2. Shared Values. Do you share values that will guide you in your decision making, in your day to day activities? For example, how will you function say if one views employees as those who can be easily hired and fired at will while you view them as family? One has no problem taking on debt while you are terrified by it?

3. Shared Work Ethic. Will you both put in your best efforts or is one a slacker while the other carries the load?

4. Shared Base Strategy. Of the 4 types, do you both share where you want to be ultimately?
  • Small Fish, Small Pond
  • Small Fish, Big Pond
  • Big Fish, Small Pond
  • Big Fish, Big Pond
Similar to example given in #1 above, what will happen if one wants to build a business say selling commodities in high volume low margins and the other wants to pursue a strategy of a specialty selling low volume high margins?

5. Aligned in what you lead with. What happens say if one wants to be the low cost supplier while the one wants to be known for outstanding quality, customer service and charge high prices?
  • Innovation, Cutting Edge
  • Customer Service
  • Quality, Tried and True
  • Low Price Seller
For example, what will happen if one wants to be known for high quality, outstanding service while the other wants to sell on price and quality isn't as important?

6. Leveraging Strengths. Here, differences are actually healthy. If say one is outgoing, aggressive and quick to act, it's important to have someone who is reflective, more thoughtful and reserved. Or one is more task focused, it's important to have the other be most people focused. It's the Ying and Yang, left brain and right brain. Both are needed.

7. Complimentary Skills. Overall, to run a successful business, skills in administration (e.g, HR, IT, Accounting), Sales/Marketing, and Operations are needed. Do the partners bring a mix of skill sets? Here again, you need to ensure everyone brings something to the mix so all bases are covered. You want someone who will fill in for your weaknesses and you do the same for the other. No one is good at everything. It takes all types to make business work.

8. Do you enjoy being together. In business, you will spend lots of time together and therefore it's very important you enjoy each others company, and have the ability to have open honest conversations, no matter how tough the issues.

9. Commitment: There will be good times, there will be rough times. Are all of you committed to the partnership, to see it through, no matter what you all face. One for all, all for one.

10. Personal Responsibility: When something goes wrong, will you play the blame game or are you strong enough to also look within and see how you contribute to the situation. This was a lesson for me. It took me a long time to accept that in my own partnership coming apart, I too had a huge role. Until we are willing to looking within ourselves also, we'll play the victim game and that doesn't contribute to healthy partnerships.

11. Trust & Respect: Last but not least, do you trust and respect each other. You want someone on whom you can count on, completely trust, someone who has your back covered as you have theirs, someone you respect. All successful lasting relationships are built on foundation of trust and mutual respect.

Having said all this, I want to stress that there is no one right or wrong, better or worse. There is a place for everyone. Important thing in partnerships is that there be alignment. If it's missing, your partnership is destined to difficulties. Therefore, when choosing your business partner(s), be sure to pay critical attention to these factors.

Also, as a final word for now, it's important to note that it's unlikely to ever find a perfect match. We are humans afterall and we each have our uniqueness's. What's important is to be aware of where you align, where you don't, and to work through those differences, and to recognize that there is always some benefits in those differences.

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