Partnerships are more than just a collaboration on ad-hoc projects. It is about moving beyond responsibility for independent results to a relationship that involves co-creation, share risks and responsibilities, interdependency, and organizational transformation.
We have adopted four core values of an effective partnership.
1.Equity and respect:
Acknowledge the value that each partner brings to the partnership. Resource contributions, organizational culture and individual motivations for joining the partnership may differ, but the power of partnership is built on harnessing each partner’s key strengths.
Sharing information, maintaining clear lines of communication, and having honest discussions around difficult issues are important. Trust can be lost over the course of a partnership if transparency is not maintained.
3.Patience and persistence:
Trust and familiarity, two cornerstones of effective partnerships, are built up over time. Being patient creates space for partners to break through, not break down, during difficult times.
Come to the partnership with good faith. It is ok to acknowledge individual partner benefit but keep focus on creating a partnership with a shared vision and definition of success.
Factors for Effective Partnerships
Partnerships are a means to achieving a shared vision that no one partner could achieve on its own.
Define the Goals of the Partnership.
What is the partnership meant to achieve?
We need to have a clear understanding of the goals of the partnership.
Identify what the partnership needs in order to be successful.
Everyone in the partnership brings a unique set of resources ranging from funding, to technical expertise to credibility. Acknowledging what each partner can and cannot achieve with its own resources is key to identifying gaps and selecting appropriate partners.
Developing a selection criteria to identify partners that have the appropriate strengths, resources and influence is what the partnership needs to be successful.
Due Diligence is Key
Performing a due diligence check can help to identify potential partners that are aligned in their values and have a shared vision of impact.
Ask Hard Questions
Investigate at both the operational and personal level. If a potential partner has a history of unethical operations, poor performance, or limited leadership, it is important to consider how their participation may impact the partnership.
Assess the risks and rewards of the partnership. All partners anticipate that the rewards of engaging in a partnership will outweigh the potential risks.
It is unwise to partner simply because of the business involved. Since brands become co-mingled in a partnership, it is important not to overlook the potential risks. These risks can include repetitional damage, loss of influence, and heavy upfront investment of resources.
Build and Maintain Trust
Trust lays the foundation for open and honest conversations, achieves partner buy-in, and encourages commitment to the partnership at a deeper level. It is critical to share knowledge among partners internally and agree on how to communicate success and areas of improvement.
The way in which partners communicate can make or break a partnership. It is important to agree on shared language that builds consensus rather than reinforces differences.
Communicate honest, clear, concise way, Don’ t be afraid to speak frankly about key issues such a differences in resources, power balance, influence, and level of engagement. Listen actively, it is crucial to any relationship. It demonstrates genuine interest in a partner’s concerns, helps build respect, and lays the foundation for trust.
Good communication requires more than emails and conference calls. Establishing a regular schedule of interactions, such a in-person meetings, is key to building trust.
In the early days in particular, face-to-face interaction is even more important. “Discovery meetings” can be an important tool to uncover share interests and values, differences in organizational culture, and specific capabilities and limitations.
Acknowledge and respect differences. There will be differences among partners in a number of areas including organizational culture, availability of resources, and individual motivation for joining a partnership.
Acknowledging and respecting these differences is just as important as identifying share values and a common vision.
Set Out a Clear Vision of Objectives, Understanding of Mutual Benefit, and Roles and Responsibilities. Successful partnerships set out clear objectives, a plan for how to achieve them, and the benefits in doing so-both for the partnership as a whole, and for individual partners. Partner organization must often justify the investment of resources by demonstrating clear business and development benefits.
Align interests and objectives for the partnership. Document each organization’s interests in the partnership’s success. This exercise will reveal the common overlap on which to build the partnership. Acknowledge individual benefit. In addition to the collective impact of the partnership, each partner has the right to benefit for their own goals.
Partnerships are more successful if individual goals and objectives are openly communicated, understood, and respected.
Set Roles, Responsibilities, and Expectations at the Beginning and Manage Throughout.
Each partner should take on a role in the partnership that relates to their core competencies. Clearly defined role and responsibilities create accountability within the partnership. They also help to prevent potential misunderstanding by laying out specific action areas based on a partners area of expertise.
Invest the Time, People, and Resources to Manage the Relationship.
The most successful partnerships are those in which all partners make the necessary investments both within their own business and in the partnership itself. Committing the appropriate human, financial, and organizational resources including funding, staff time, and meeting spaces that are critical to the success.
Empower champions. Champions are individuals that are deeply committed to the success of the partnership and often lead it from concept to implementation. As the partnership develops, they help to navigate internal and external roadblocks to the partnerships success.
Appoint relationship managers who are responsible for day to day management. Providing a dedicated point of contact establishes continuity in daily interactions among partners. Establish partnership offices that are staffed with relationship managers can assist private sector and government partners to navigate bureaucracy and help unlock the partnership’s maximum potential.
Develop a network of people who are committed to the partnership’s success. It is important that leadership explains and demonstrates why the partnership is aligned with its core business. It is important to sensitize benefits up through the organization and build internal support among key champions.
“Today our world is changing faster than ever before-economic, geopolitical and environmental challenges abound. A company must invest in the key ingredients of profitability: its people, communities and the environment.”
True partnerships are more than just an exchange of funds. They are about co-creation and design, shared decision making, and pooling of resources. Adopting a mindset from the beginning enables partners to be more responsive to unforeseen challenges.
Co-create an implementation strategy that lays a clear path to reach the objectives. Setting objectives and developing a clear plan is an important step in identifying, tracking, and achieving partnership aims. Provide opportunities for partners to give input on how the goals and objectives can be achieved.
Jointly develop a flexible governance structure to support a variety of solutions. How will the partnership make decisions and resolve issues? Who will speak on behalf of the partnership?
Who will run meetings?
Using a structured process to partnership operation can help reduce vulnerability and streamline the process.
Decide on the time stamp of the partnership. Design and success of longterm and short-term partnerships look very different. Defining the length of the partnership helps in establishing milestones and setting expectations of what can and cannot be achieved.
Give people time to seek internal commitment to solve problems.
What does the other partner need to have the partnership go forward?
Think long term about relationships. It’s not about one time transaction, its about making sure the relationship is working for both sides.
Start focused to make sure it is scalable and replicable. Concentrate the partnerships efforts on a few specific areas that are explicitly linked to the partnerships aims. Do not focus on too many broad issues. Once early success has been achieved, scale fast to increase the impact for both partners and beneficiaries.
Hold Each Other Accountable and Learn from Mistakes Accountability in partnerships is a key factor for long-term success.
Although conversations on this topic are rarely easy, they help ensure that partners individually deliver on promises. Mechanisms to monitor progress, evaluate partner actions, and enable accountability help to make sure the partnership is achieving its goals.
Regularly assess deliverables, time frames, and allocated resources. Establish a framework that clearly lays out milestones, target achievements, and performance measures.
Identify data requirements and put in place mechanisms to collect timely and high-quality data to enable effective management of the partnership. This provides a mechanism for partners to continuously evaluate progress against outcomes and the overall mandate of the partnership.
Identify short-, intermediate-, and long-term outcomes you expect to achieve as a result of your collective work. Have specific due dates for tasks and goal completion, and set expectations around delivery. When planned reality doesn’t happen, learn from missteps and coursecorrect.
If there are changes in responsibilities, vision, resource availability, or if expected objectives are not met, recognize them and adapt. Look at stumbling blocks as learned opportunities. Reassessing, redesigning or existing is ok. It is more import to focus on impact and return on investment than pure activity.
Focus on lessons learned for future success. Each partner has different expectations around lessons learning and feedback. Build capacity for future partnering success by going beyond the outputs and outcomes conversation.
A successful partnership does not have to exist in perpetuity. In fact, the most successful ones can have a designated end date in mind. Since not all partnerships will work, knowing when to move on is equally important as knowing when to press on.
Go into the partnership understanding that it may not be successful. Address contingency plans at the beginning of the partnership rather than the end. It is easier to deal with this in times of calm than crisis. Set up a plan to identify, at the staff level how the decoupling process will be implemented. As systems and resources become intertwined, closing down a partnership is more difficult than just walking aways.
Exit gracefully and celebrate the successes. Don’t make it personal.
Partners and individuals may have to rely on each other in the future. Even though the partnership may be ending, it is important still to
recognize the key achievements and positive impact the partnership accomplished. This allows partnerships a chance to reflect on successes and consider how to apply lessons learned to future partnerships.
Best Practices Lessons
Ensure alignment on the vision. Spend time together on the front-end articulating common goals and strategies for the work. Invest in the backbone. Identify and invest in a project manager to coordinate efforts, document agreements and ensure accountabilit required to drive the partnership towards a common vision.
Collect meaningful data to drive action. Invest in formative evaluation that can inform the work going forward and do it with enough frequency to allow for course correction Learn quickly and design collaboratively. Process data together to share learning and be able to quickly pivot to successful approaches.
Embrace flexibility. There is a high probability that some aspect of the partnership or initiative you’ re working on will not go exactly as planned. By building room for flexibility into the partnership you are setting them up for greater agility and sustainability.
It is important to note that utilizing an emergent approach to partnerships can be incredibly effective, but it does require a commitment towards a shared vision, significant investment in time and nuanced resourcing from all of the partners. Most importantly, it requires authenticity, trust and respect among all partners involved to guarantee that an honest dialogue about what’s working and what’s not can be catalytic in addressing problems and achieving systems-level change.