Here is an excerpt from an article written by Rosabeth Moss Kanter for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.
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Wedding bells fill the Northern Hemisphere air for this season’s happy couples. Among the newlyweds armed with pre-nuptial agreements are numerous companies starting strategic alliances, joint ventures, and focused collaboratives.
Unlike full-blown mergers, in which two really do become one because one company disappears, alliances and partnerships resemble modern marriages: separate careers, individual checkbooks, sometimes different
names, but the need to work out the operational overlap around household and offspring.
For many years, I’ve helped major companies and other organizations extract value from their strategic alliances or watch them disappear. I’ve developed a 15-step guide to ensuring success as every stage of the relationship, from courtship to ongoing success (first reported in my book World Class).
So here is my business marriage counseling advice. Any resemblances to personal marriages or advice for June newlyweds are strictly intentional.
[Here are the first eight.]
1. Be open to romance, but court carefully. At the beginning of new relationships, selective perceptions reinforce dreams, not dangers. Potential partners see in the other what they want to see, believing what they want to believe. Hopes, dreams, and visions should be balanced by reality checks.
2. Know yourself. Build your strengths. An organization seeking partners should identify assets that have value to partners and strengthen them. Networks of the weak do not survive. The best alliances join strength to strength.
3. Seek compatibility in values. In rapidly changing environments, compatibility in values, philosophy and goals is more important than specific features of an immediate business deal. The basis for collaboration must be more enduring, and there must be a foundation for mutual trust to help weather inevitable changes or problems.
4. Treat the ‘extended family’ respectfully. Include other partners and stakeholders. Rapport between leaders of partner organizations is not enough. Other people and organizations who are the ‘relatives’ in each organizations’ extended family must also be won over.
5. Put the lawyers in their place. Leader-to-leader relationships are important. Partnerships and network formation shouldn’t be turned over to third-party professionals, such as staff analysts, lawyers, consultants, or deal-brokers.
6. Vow to work together until business conditions do us part. Commit to a first project, to exploring growth in the relationship, to monitor change, and to remain friends if changing conditions require a graceful exit.
7. But don’t count on the contract. Formal agreements can’t anticipate everything, and interpretations of the agreement vary — even within the same organization.
8. So keep communicating, face-to-face. Matters are more easily sorted out when partners’ leaders keep talking long after their initial deal-making and dedicate people to watch over the relationship — a partner or alliance ‘ambassador’ (the equivalent of key account managers).
To ensure that your partnerships are effective, apply these principles at every stage of the relationship. Then toast the benefits of happy marriages!
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Rosabeth Moss Kanter is a professor at Harvard Business School and the author of Confidence and SuperCorp. Connect with her on Facebook or at Twitter.com/RosabethKanter.