The Intangibles in a Successful Partnership
Several weeks ago I addressed the issue of contract/outsourced manufacturing, more precisely the challenges some face when presented with the option of whether to proceed or to remain committed to their traditional business model. At the end of the article I wrote that "the hardest part is not deciding to entrust your future to an external partner but rather finding one that is right for you".
I'd like to jump one step ahead of the search for a right partner and illustrate what an ideal partnership looks like, the proverbial white buffalo. Rather than explain my view of the search, perhaps understanding what to look for will paint a clearer picture. This should ease the search, since the goal is now a little more discernible.
Organizations and businesses in general are not altruistic by nature nor do they operate by a code resembling a post-apocalyptic film, where those who are strong and cunning prey on the weak and the defenceless. Businesses in general gravitate to partnerships because they, amongst other things, ensure security, help stimulate innovation and open new markets. It is only the degree to which organizations cooperate that differs. There are numerous notable examples of such partnerships and below I have outlined several ongoing ones that are often overlooked:
- Microsoft & Toyota - 2011
- Coca Cola & Heinz -2011
- Cirque du Soleil & Reebok -2008
- Apple & IBM -2014
"Sharing is Caring"
All of the examples above have one thing in common. A need was identified by both entities within themselves and inside the other that could only be solved by bringing the "other" into the fold. The act of sitting down and transparently discussing gaps within each and seeking guidance/help can only be successful if there is trust, which usually is a result of transparency at the outset and a willingness to share useful information commonly understood to be private or confidential. This preliminary mutual exposure, if handled delicately, is an important factor that will ensure success in the long term.
A successful partnership needs a champion. This is an individual that acts as a formal point of contact for his/her organization but is also capable of acting as an informal advocate for the partner company within one's own team. The role requires the individual to navigate through a variety of relationships both internally and externally as well as on varying levels in order to ensure timely involvement that will mitigate damage or add greater value. This role demands an individual that is tactful, personable and genuine in their intent. There are numerous precedents for this, most notably during the Cold War when the U.S.A and the Soviet Union had informal communication channels that shared information so that a global disaster may be avoided. On paper it may have been treasonous but humanity today is grateful for the foresight by the powers involved that understood the limitations of formal relationships and discussions.
Finally a partnership requires consistent work. It can not be left to run autonomously as the relationship requires continuous input from both parties to ensure the emerging issues are always dealt with in the context of a business environment that is constantly changing not only in one's own organization but also within that of the partner. Consistency also relates to the stakeholders within the partnership as frequent changes to the teams will invariably stunt any progress in relationship building and project flow. It is of essence that this is kept to a minimum and a commitment is made by both parties that this will be adhered to as it is crucial to ensuring the success of the project/relationship.
These three elements are typically not thought of as the most crucial in a partnership, even one that involves outsourced/contract manufacturing, and they are often taken for granted when they are considered. Since operations teams within organizations are tasked with the tangibles (business compatibility, technical compatibility, vision of the future and etc.) it is the intangibles that are often overlooked, ignored and under-resourced. It is essential that these elements are addressed in a functioning relationship as well as looked for when establishing partnerships. If any of the three are not present, trust your gut feeling and keep searching as there are those that can contribute and are looking for a reciprocal alliance.