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How Well Are You Managing Your Current Partnerships?
by Stephen M. Dent


Let's look at how well your organization is managing its current partnerships.

  1. Do you have a jointly developed strategic framework in place with your partner(s)?

    Having a jointly developed strategic framework is important for two reasons. First, it provides you and your partners with an opportunity to define and document a clear purpose for your alliance. Second, it builds joint ownership of the alliance. This is especially important when an alliance was conceived by one partner who then invited the other partner to join.

  2. Have you documented your needs based on your business's strengths and weaknesses and shared them with your partner(s)?

    Having your needs, strengths, and weaknesses documented provides an opportunity for your partners to get to understand you and your business better. It also provides your partners with information that can assist them in helping you meet your needs.

  3. Do you have a measurement system in place to document and track your partnership's mutual benefits?

    Partners often fail to put into place a measurement system to document and track the partnership's benefits. When there is a perception that one partner is gaining benefits at the expense of the others, resentment builds, which leads to mistrust. Documenting and tracking the partnership's benefits to each partner not only helps measure whether those benefits are being achieved, it also enables imbalances to be identified--and rectified.

  4. Are relational expectations documented between you and your partner(s)?

    It's important that you document what is expected of all members of the partnership. Documenting such norms of behavior plays an essential role in maintaining the partnership's culture.

    Members of a partnership change over time, however. As members change, previous agreements, especially around relational expectations, can get lost in the shuffle. New members coming into the partnership must be briefed on the partnership's culture so they have a clear understanding of what is expected of them.

  5. Do you have a jointly developed partnership agreement in addition to any contractual agreements you may have?

    Partnership contracts tend to define only expected deliverables. Partnership agreements, on the other hand, lay out the strategic framework, behavioral expectations, roles and responsibilities, and tasks of the alliance--in other words, how the partners are going to interact with each other. Here's another way of thinking about it: A partnership agreement focuses mainly on process; a contract, on output.

  6. Do the sponsors of the alliance meet at least twice a year in face-to-face meetings to review alliance progress and strategic relevance?

    For alliances to succeed, the leaders of the partnering organizations need to be actively involved. Absent leadership dooms alliances. It's critical, therefore, that alliance sponsors meet at least twice a year to discuss alliance issues and to plan for future activities.

  7. Do you measure the relational components of the alliance along with its economic benefits?

    Most alliances do a good job of measuring their economic indicators--the additional revenue generated by the alliance, the alliance's expenses, the amount of time spent on managing the alliance, and other cost-related functions. What alliances don't do as well is to measure the relational aspects of the alliance--levels of trust, frequency of communication, use of creativity in problem-solving, ability to resolve conflicts, and so on. The relational aspects are as important to the overall success of your alliance as its monetary benefits. In fact, good relations within the alliance ensure that the monetary benefits will follow.

  8. Is trust a formal indicator that is measured and regularly reported within your alliance?

    Trust is rarely monitored in alliances, and yet it's key to their success. People do what they're measured to do. If trust is measured, trust will happen.

  9. Have the teams implementing the alliance received formal training on building relationships?

    Alliance and partnership building is an unnatural act for most of us. We're educated, socialized, and rewarded in ways that reinforce our belief that we must look out after #1--as our business behaviors all too often illustrate. When push comes to shove, we revert back to these behaviors because they are comfortable and "feel right." But they are not the behaviors that make partnerships successful.

    People must learn the skills to build successful partnerships. These skills are those identified in Partnership Continuum's Six Partnering Attributes™: Self-Disclosure and Feedback, Win/Win Orientation, Ability to Trust, Future Orientation, Comfort with Change, and Comfort with Interdependence. Formal training in these skills gives people the tools they need to change old behaviors and to build healthy, long-lasting -- and profitable -- alliances.

  10. Have joint communications and symbols of the alliance been prominently displayed in public locations? After the alliance has been established, you must communicate its importance to your organization. You communicate this message through joint communications and by displaying symbols of the alliance in locations where people can see them.

    Consider, for example, the Northwest Airlines/KLM Royal Dutch Airlines alliance. No matter where you go in the world, Northwest shares its logo (and vice versa) with KLM--on business collateral, at check-in stations, and on uniforms. This symbol reinforces the message that the partners are working together.

To learn how you can establish a Partner Relationship Management program for your business, visit: .


The Author


Stephen M. Dent is founder of Partnership Continuum, Inc., a leadership coach, and author of books, automated online assessments, and other tools that build more effective relationships at or at +1.612.375.0323.

Many more articles in Partnering & Alliances in The CEO Refresher Archives
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Copyright 2003 by Stephen M. Dent. All rights reserved.

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