The benefits of a strategic partnership are plentiful for small for-profit and not-for-profit organizations. Strategic partnerships for example allow one or both organizations easier access to resources for minimal cost, increased organizational capacity, delivery of more holistic services, and mutual referrals of clients and customers.
One such benefit, a favourite of mine, is the ability to develop creative solutions. These solutions are born of the broader perspective one can only enjoy with a partner with a different viewpoint. When leaders have an open mind, they can brainstorm solutions they might never have otherwise conceived.
In short, strategic partnership is nothing more or less than having the right partners at the right time and for the right reasons.
Management and leadership of small organizations must realize that strategic partnerships can make or break them. The benefits as described in the first two paragraphs are plentiful, but what happens when organizational cultures clash or the foundation of the partnership is fundamentally flawed?
Most people will enter a partnership in good faith without the anticipation of failure. This is a naïve thought. There are many large and small factors that influence a strategic partnership’s success right from the start.
The following list describes the essential elements of successful strategic partnerships. They are divided into the three stages any partnership goes through.
1. Establishing a firm foundation
Leaders taking ownership to initiate, envision and champion the partnership are irreplaceable. They create the welcoming culture that is so attractive to potential partner organizations, including an open-minded venue where all parties can discuss their visions and priorities. They also encourage the understanding, nurturing and sharing of values.
Once objectives are clear, it is time to discuss the management model that will benefit all partners. For example, a cooperative model is based on partners maintaining their current identities, staffing and budget. Decision-making is done by consensus.
A joined approach is the collaborative model in which roles and responsibilities are clearly defined to support accountability to one another. Resources are committed to the tasks within the partnership and decision-making is by agreement.
Third management model is the integrated model. Organizations have less autonomy, sharing policies, procedures and resources. Decisions are made by agreement or vote when needed.
Last but not least, it is imperative to discuss evaluation when establishing a firm foundation and agree on assessment objectives and evaluation tools. This includes creating a conflict management process and deliberating termination options.
2. Maintaining and growing the relationship
A relationship has been founded, yet it will not immediately be based on trust. People will trust one another only when they realize that specific priorities have aligned and that there is a mutual commitment between parties. Before getting to the trust, they may need to overcome active and passive resistance.
To do so, communication is central. Open and honest sharing of expectations and (potential) conflicts need to be integral to all discussions. Listening to what is happening on the ground is as important as balancing power at the decision-making table. It also serves to support keeping momentum.
Change happens often and needs to be managed. To do this well, supportive structures need to be in place. This includes proper leadership, staff participation, time commitment from relevant staff members and process adaptation.
What we’re talking about here is the ability to facilitate change in response to the external environment. Legislative changes, contract revisions and loss of revenue are just a few of the upheavals that make facilitating change crucial.
3. Evaluating the partnership
Evaluation should take place on an ongoing basis. Having success indicators developed in the early stages makes it easier to make the changes needed to maintain a healthy partnership.
No matter which measurements have been developed, the solicitation of feedback across the organizations is very helpful. This helps management see issues from a variety of perspectives. The results are integral decisions regarding required changes, strategy implementation and more.
I hope you find this blog post useful. Next week I will discuss tools on how to find out if you are ready to partner and how to identify (potential) strategic partners.