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How leaders can engage strategic partners

Engaging strategic partners is a great way to work with others to achieve business goals. Read my perspective on this topic in my monthly column “The Leadership Journey” published in The Citizen hometown newspaper for Auburn, NY.

“Leadership is not a job to do alone” is the Gwen, Inc. company tagline. When first developed, the idea was to encourage individual leaders to actively seek support from other leaders. It is our experience that leaders isolate themselves, believing if they engage support from others, it is a sign of weakness. Nothing is further from the truth. Every successful leader supported by my company obtains personal and professional support from handpicked groups of leaders. In short, what these leaders do is engage strategic partners as a resource for being effective in achieving business outcomes.

More and more companies contact Gwen, Inc. for this same purpose. Current business environments have companies reflecting on whether it is advantageous to continue doing things alone. What many discover is that there is extreme value in exploring concepts like cooperation, co-opetition (cooperative competition) and collaboration with competitors when possible to do so. Frankly, this is new thinking in companies. Companies are used to a tradition of positioning competitors as friendly enemies. As part of this tradition, CEOs seldom think to engage a competitor as a strategic partner. If a company decides to engage competitors as strategic partners, there are specific actions to take as part of this process.

Prepare to engage strategic partners

Companies should not enter strategic partnerships haphazardly. Preparing to engage a strategic partner requires answering specific questions. Begin by asking why your company needs a strategic partner. What expertise does this company have that ours does not? Why consider this specific partner and not others? What information are we willing to share to educate the prospective partner about our specific need? How do we make the partnership mutually beneficial?

Recruit a strategic partner

Companies engaging in strategic partnerships must think about a recruitment process. What steps will the company take to identify possible partners? Create an agenda to focus discussions and negotiations during meetings with prospective strategic partners. Send the “right” leaders to represent the company at the meeting. It helps if this person or individuals are at similar leadership levels, and have a prior connection and baseline knowledge of the other company. Bring materials that clearly identify what need will be met by strategic partnership. Clearly state points of mutual benefit. Strategic partners will focus on WIIFM questions: What’s in it for me? Location matters. Hold the meeting in a location that is mutually convenient and conducive to strategic business discussions. Consider a location connected to the work you need support from a strategic partner to complete. Decide in advance who will close the deal. If the prospective strategic partner says no, this may signal a delay, not a denial. Make sure to close all open questions and keep possibilities open when feasible.

Sustain the strategic partner relationship

Strategic partnerships fall apart when there is no agreed-upon sustainability strategy. Establish formal written agreements detailing roles, responsibilities and expectations. Include accountability and evaluation plans as part of the agreement. Agree to publicly acknowledge each other’s contributions to the strategic partnership. Formally assess partner involvement and satisfaction. Finally, strategically build trust between the companies. Trust is the glue that keeps strategic partnerships together.

Leadership matters

Creating strategic partnerships is a technical matter. Sustaining strategic partnerships is a matter of leadership. The effectiveness of a strategic partnership is directly connected to the individual leader responsible for managing the partnership. We observe that leaders charged with developing and sustaining strategic partnerships have certain personal attributes. These leaders have demonstrated an ability to achieve business goals in partnership models. This work is not for leaders who work best alone. They are trusted by individuals in and out of the company. Critical thinking is one of their strong suits. They recognize the need for frequent face-to-face communication. They build relationships in their own and partner companies, creating access to additional resources needed to achieve business outcomes.

As companies are required to do more with less, strategic partnerships are one way to address this business challenge. I monitor thoughts of world-class leaders engaged in strategic partnerships. There are literally hundreds of quotes on this topic found on the internet. The fact that so many leaders in multiple industries see the value in this idea confirms for me the notion that individual and company leadership is not a job to do alone. Find your partners and leverage this relationship to help your company succeed.

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