Forward thinking partnerships

“The trouble with our times is that the future is not what it used to be.”[1]

Much could be said about our changing world—economic instability, political and civil unrest, the threat of terrorism, religious intolerance, epic levels of national debt, corrupt governments under attack, the rising influence of two of the world’s largest economies in China and India, and much more.  While these create uncertainty, new opportunities and markets have been created.  Certainly not exclusively, there is no doubt that the online world has also pushed many organizations into markets they never intended to be in, but now find themselves under pressure to respond to.  Donald DePalma calls this, “The Eighth Continent.[2]

Leaders and organizations are also operating in an increasingly competitive environment requiring careful consideration of forging strong partnerships, with the goals of leveraging the scales of economy, improving the reach of their products and services, and pursuing more effective, tangible outcomes and growth.

To do more than merely survive, leaders have had to sharpen their strategic focus; invest in improved brand awareness; refine their mission distinctiveness; explore alternative revenue streams; evaluate new markets; streamline their products and services; and be more focused on retaining and developing key talent.

Many leaders, however, have been caught unprepared and untrained for such severe business scenarios, often leading them to search for strategic partners who carry expertise in areas where they are weaker.  They are looking for synergistic or complementary relationships; where the value chain can be strengthened.  However, when expanding across geographic boundaries, particularly internationally, leaders have to think very carefully about their strategy and the implications of extending their operational ability into emerging markets they are not familiar with.  Strategic alliances rise and fall, often on seemingly harmless differences.

While organizations must have ‘culturally competent leaders’, Manfred Kets De Vries highlights the importance of organizational qualities to increase chances of success in a global marketplace.  He recommends organizations rate themselves on the following statements:

  • To create an overall corporate “glue”, our organization devotes a large share of its resources to global executive development
  • Global experience is considered essential to a successful career in our organization
  • The power of our subsidiaries is considerable
  • Non-home-country executives are well-represented on the board[3]

Unfortunately, some organizations claim to be global, merely because they operate across geographic boundaries.  As De Vries points out, however, their decision-making hierarchy, authority, and power continue to be centralized locally.

What’s the bottom-line?

It is a good idea for leaders and organizations to develop some criteria to help them assess the value and nature of the partnerships they are looking for as they seek relevance and sustainability.  It may include things like:

  • Defining the purpose of the partnership.  Consider a joint mission statement that aligns with your mission.  Is it compliant with your brand and the message you want to communicate with your supporters, customers, and stakeholders?
  • Define the relationship.  What are you seeking, and what are you hoping to contribute?  Don’t be naïve about the weaknesses and strengths that exist on both sides.
  • Define the scope of the project.  What are the desired outcomes?  Is there agreement on how they will be measured?  Are there finite bookends to mark the duration of the partnership?  Clarify expectations of each other.
  • Conduct a financial and legal review of the partnership and understand up front what risks may exist.
  • Have an exit strategy if things don’t work out.

The world has changed.  The value of partnerships has not. The end of a successful partnership doesn’t have to be the end of a successful relationship. Opportunities exist beyond the one that has expired or achieved its goal.


[1] French Poet, Paul Valery (1871-1945)

[2] DePalma, Donald A. Business Without Borders: A Strategic Guide to Global Marketing. Massachusetts: Globa Vista Press, 2004. xi.

[3] De Vries, Manfred, Kets. The Leadership Mystique: Leading Behavior in the Human Enterprise. Harlow, England: Prentice Hall, 2006, 186.



A great post and excellent reminder that in order to thrive in today’s business culture we need the gift of clarity and the courage to execute with compassion. Thanks Glenn!

Glenn Williams

Thanks Ken. One of the things that often puts ‘clarity’ and ‘courage’ at risk in organizations is the inability to check the speed in which some decisions are made. Daniel Forrester addresses this in his book, “Consider: Harnessing the power of reflective thinking in organizations’. We need to find ways to incentivize leaders and organizations to reflect on the outcomes of the decisions being made to ensure that future outcomes will not be hindered. Many resist this approach for fear of not getting things done quickly, only to discover that their speed has led to an undesired outcome, and sadly, to partnerships that never meet the expectations that existed when they came together.


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