Is the synergy worth the energy?
The reason I ask this question is because, developing successful and profitable alliances is rarely easy. If it were, everyone would be doing it successfully. Many alliance consultants, and myself included, have determined that about 50% of the alliances created in the United States fail for one reason or another.
The reasons that you may select to enter into alliance relationships are varied, and generally based on need and competencies. The need side is usually represented in areas where we may consider ourselves or our organization to be lacking or weak. The competency side is the opposite, the strengths that we have to share. An ideal alliance situation is with a person or organization that exhibits competency in our weaker areas and weakness or need in our personal and/or organization’s areas of competency. This is where our circles of interest strongly overlap—where we have the greatest chance to be of service to one another.
To be successful in building competent collaborations, at least a sprinkling of the following six personal qualities should be encompassed within you and your alliance partners: Curious, Vision, Communication, Leadership, Organize, and Compassion. Let’s look at these individually.
Curious. While you’ve undoubtedly heard is said many times, “Curiosity killed the cat.” We’re not cats. We’re business people searching for leading-edge methods for which we desire to improve our capabilities and hopefully our profits. Curious means you are open to new, and frequently, unsuspected opportunities. You must be curious to alliance possibility in order to simply get started.
Vision. Where is it, which you want your alliance to help you reach? What synergistic goals do you visualize being possible? Simply developing an alliance because it appears the trendy thing to do is hardly a reason to put forth the effort. Additionally in the area of vision, you must be able to see into the future and not become dependent upon your alliance partner—doing this will make you weak. On the other side, if you become too independent, you will no longer be desirable ac an alliance partner to others. Your vision needs to be to work toward that proverbial, and many times elusive, sweet spot where you become interdependent and develop time effective synergies.
Communication. Through my research, I have discovered that the leading reason for alliance failure is communication. While communication does cover a number of issues and situations, this is the key area for which I’d suggest you focus greatly.
A great example of the need for quality communication is the fact that Eli Lilly, the pharmaceutical giant, writes into many of their alliance agreements a mandatory quarterly face-to-face meeting of the principals from each company in the alliance. While the Lilly executives sometimes complain they do not have the time for these meetings, the meetings are contractually mandatory. Generally there is a social dinner the evening before the meeting where many of the current issues and problems get brought out in the open in a non-threatening manner.
Following the 911 attacks and resulting travel challenges, some of the Lilly alliance executives tried fulfilling these contractual obligations via videoconferencing. It seemed to work well and continued substituting videoconferencing for the mandatory face-to-face meetings. It did not take long for alliance problems to start magnifying. As soon as they went back to the live face-to-face meetings, they started again solving challenges before they ever became alliance relationship problems.
Leadership. In order for your alliances to be successful, you must exhibit at least a modicum of leadership qualities. I did not say dictatorship! Here, more than in any other area, your willingness to focus on getting things done, rather than to obsess on being right will determine alliance success. In a corporate environment, the paradigm of partnering must start at the top. The executive must drive the philosophy through both word and deed. Even if you are a single person practice, you must be an alliance champion throughout all the areas of your business.
Organize. Your ability to organize, in the form of alliance structure, procedure and process will have a huge impact on the ultimate implementation and longevity of your alliance relationships. Continuing with Lilly, their alliance implementation process is so sophisticated that they measure (Lilly Web) the perceptions of all of the key players in their alliances—Lilly players and those of their alliance partners. The perceptions that they measure are basically what everybody thinks about one another. This allows Lilly to course correct when they discover that Lilly’s, and their alliance partners’ perceptions of the performance of one another is distorted or out of balance.
Compassion. As you meander through the process of alliance development and implementation, you need to have compassion, and even tolerance, for the foibles of others. This quality will allow you to maintain your sanity in what can sometimes seem like alliance insanity. As you develop alliance relationships, sometimes your alliance partner might, in your opinion, let you down. Since not everybody happens to be as bright as you are; an alliance success secret is to give your alliance partner a break once in a while—especially if your expectations are a bit unrealistic.
Relationship Value Update. For years, I have told my alliance clients, that if they would just complete a Relationship Value Update(RVU) for one another as little as twice yearly, they could head off a number of relationship killer situations. Some have, and succeed but unfortunately many have not and have failed. While using this tool does not guarantee success, but it sure makes alliance success more likely. There is the long form in my book, Developing Strategic Alliances, (to access this and other helpful additional information from Ed Rigsbee at no charge, please visit www.rigsbee.com/downloadaccess.htm).
Here, I’ll share with you my short form. I believe this RVU if used diligently, will make a lasting difference for you as you go through your alliance implementation process.
Below, you will find the three key questions for both you and your alliance partner to answer IN WRITING about the value of your alliance with one another. Then mail your answers to the other. Then each of you can review the information in the privacy of your own office—it’s much better this way. Doing this is far less threatening than is a face-to-face value meeting—that can be done later. Now each of you can quietly read the RVU and hopefully better understand the others’ perspective on the success of the alliance and the value it does, or does not, deliver. This tactic is your best help for avoiding perception challenge issues and dealing with small issues before they get out of hand.
- The value I’m getting from the relationship.
- The Value I think you are receiving.
- Your suggested improvement strategies
Contracts. Written agreements, whatever you call them, are crucial in the success of an alliance. No matter how trusting and loyal each alliance partner operates toward the other—in time people forget their promises. Sometimes they even come to believe they promised something other than they actually did. You have heard it said by any number of professional speakers, “The palest ink is far better than the most retentive memory.” I have found this platitude to be quite accurate. By putting to paper your expectations of one another, along with promises and listing who is responsible for what, you both will have a living document to use as an alliance relationship guide. This guide, contract or agreement, whatever the name, can naturally be adjusted at any time based on new information, market conditions and/or changed alliance partner commitment levels.
In the final analysis, I can honestly tell you that alliance relationships, for a myriad of reasons, can be extremely profitable for all involved. The key is to determine if the synergy is worth the energy. If it were not, why in the world would you want to proceed? But, if you believe the synergy is worth your energy, you can open the door to a new world of business possibilities. With partners that share their complementary core competencies, things can be done that you may never have imagined possible in your career. A truth that I have discovered in my years of alliance consulting, most people are in such a big hurry to build their alliance that they over look the most important alliance issue—pick your partners well. Skip the necessary due diligence, and you’ll be crying about conflict resolution and exit agreements rather than focusing on the opportunities and possibilities.
My Alliance Partner Quiz will help you to get a fighting start in selecting your alliance partners. You may also access this at no charge, please visit www.rigsbee.com/downloadaccess.htm.
Good luck in building your synergistic alliances.
Ed is the Founder and CEO of the 501(c)(3) non-profit public charity, Cigar PEG Philanthropy through Fun, and president at Rigsbee Research which conducts qualitative member ROI research and consulting for associations and societies. He has been called “the dynamite that broke up our log jam” by association executives—rarely politically correct and almost always provocative—and from a dozen years as a United States Soccer Federation referee, Ed calls it the way he sees it. Exceptional resources at www.rigsbee.com.