The Challenges of Partnerships

In today’s global supply chain environment, working to create mutual benefit among partners is a key element for success. Cross-functional teams must work together to align business strategies. Teams are being asked to engage with other groups to define supply chain strategies that can optimize price, yet ensure timely delivery and best-in-class performance from their partners. Success in today’s interdependent world demands “We” leaders — people who look beyond narrow self-interest to build partnerships in pursuit of a greater good.

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Jonathan Tisch (October 26, 2004, p. B2) notes that partnerships are at the heart of effective management. Because of poor experiences, the term partnership is not really operationalized very well. Funcamentally, it refers to the fact whenever managers, employees, communities, shareholders, owners and even competitors join forces in pursuit of shared goals, everybody wins.

Tisch notes that partnerships is an approach to leadership that is not divisive but unifying; not competitive but collaborative; not based on a zero-sum philosophy of scarcity, but on abundance — the economic, intellectual and spiritual abundance that human beings can produce when their talents and energies are unleashed. Not only is it possible to “do good” and “do well” at the same time — you actually do better in business terms when you do good in ethical terms.

Some of the challenges identified by Tisch include the following:

  • You can’t fake partnership. Unless you’re prepared to treat your partner’s concerns as equal in importance to your own, you can’t forge a real or lasting partnership.
  • Partnership demands creativity. It’s usually easy to see how the interests of partners conflict or clash; it’s not so easy to find new ways of doing business that let you transcend the conflict and meet both partners’ needs.
  • Partnership requires compromise. If the idea of leaving a single dollar on the table drives you nuts, you may not be cut out for management by partnership.
  • Partnership demands commitment and consistency. When you enter a partnership, you are saying, “I will follow through on my promises; I will be here tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that.
  • Partnership requires flexibility. A partnership mobilizes the talents of two or more partners to benefit them all, but this can’t happen unless you are willing to let your partners unleash their talents — even if they make choices that are different than the ones you would have made.
  • Above all, a partnership requires fairness. Everyone must benefit from a partnership. If you try to use it as an opportunity to exploit or take advantage of other people or organizations, the partnership will soon collapse.

Tisch concludes with the fact that “Raising a generation of ‘We’ managers will require a serious ethical reorientation on the part of businesses, colleges and universities. And managing through partnerships may be tougher than managing through manipulation. But as David Neeleman and other exceptional leaders illustrate, it can be done. It’s the only way to achieve lasting success — and keep American CEOs from appearing on the docket in even more courtrooms.”