12 Components Of Trusted Strategic Partnerships

“But how do you KNOW they’ll do it, if we don’t put it in the contract?” I looked at him assuredly, “because they told me they would.”

But what if they DON’T? “If they don’t do what they say, we’ve got much bigger problems than this metric. That would be a breach of our trusted partnership.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for writing great contracts. Over the last few years, I’ve learned the intricacies of this fine art. But I also know the minute you have to refer to the contract explicitly you’re in trouble.

To achieve results create deeply connected, transparent, mutually beneficial relationships.

What Makes A Partner Trustworthy?

The Trust Across America built a quantifiable business case for trust, aggregating data based on FACTS

  • Financial stability and strength
  • Accounting conservativeness
  • Corporate governance
  • Transparency
  • Sustainability

What was not included in the model was my favorite part of their crowdsourced book, Trust Inc: Strategies For Building Your Companies Assets, Be Thoughtful.

“If your company is serious about increasing trustworthiness, consider engaging all of your stakeholders in rich thoughtful conversations. Don’t approach them as constituencies to be maneuvered, managed or massaged. Instead, view them as vital contributors to a better organization by letting them into the conversation. To be a thoughtful company with a thoughtful strategy, trust for stakeholders must be thoughtful.”

When I spoke with Barbara she shared that leadership is “tough to measure.” But leadership and relationships will make or break a company’s success. Trust translates to contracts, winning the deal and new business.

As leader of a Strategic Partnership Channel (formerly known as the vendor management organization) I offer big, un-written, and un-articulated rules that work best in our strategic partnerships. These norms apply to both sides of the relationship. I start and end relationships based on trust.

12 Keys to Trusted Strategic Partnerships

  1. Really understand one another’s business
  2. Invest in connecting as human beings beyond the business role
  3. Know how you each make money
  4. Tell the truth (even when it’s awkward, embarrassing, or could cost you business)
  5. Don’t commit to more than you can do well (repeat this one 3 times)
  6. Don’t play games… EVER
  7. Don’t wine and dine… the best deals are done over chopsticks or a long walk
  8. Lose some battles, admit when you’re wrong
  9. Let logic prevail, even when contracts are on “your side”
  10. Don’t sweat the small stuff
  11. Think long-term
  12. Reward trusted partnerships with more business/effort

This list applies to business partnerships and just about any partnership you can think of. Please share your views.

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Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.

38 Comments

  1. Great list and a favorite subject. One I might add is “Manage and respect boundaries.” We must know what we shouldn’t be doing and what we won’t do. This is very close to “Lose some battles…” We must protect the boundaries in the strategic partnership for the benefit of the partnership.

    Thanks for the challenging, thoughtful post. Mike…

  2. Trusted Strategic Partnerships are so instrumental to our business. These 12 components are a great approach.

    Getting over having to “win” each and every time can be a barrier. Also, making yourself and your business vulnerable can be a scary thing, but doing it in a genuine way can build a great foundation of trust.

  3. I love #7.

    Wining and dining is so 1990s. It screams “I’M TRYING REALLY HARD TO IMPRESS YOU, PLEASE LIKE ME!”

    Don’t be cheap, always get the bill, but you can do some seriously good business at a local hideaway or coffeeshop.

  4. I see that stockphoto you used all the time and it bugs me, because I climb and no climber would ever reach down to help another climber like that. There is an unspoken rule that you never physically help another climber. If one of you falls you would pull the other person off with you.

    You keep each person safe by using a rope tied between you that you never untie while climbing. And that rope is always secured to the wall you are climbing.

    I have learned alot by tieing in with climbing partners I didn’t vet properly. Same with tieing in with bad strategic partners.

    Great post Karin.

    • Jim, Great point. I changed the pic 😉 I should know better, I’ve been climbing… what a great analogy. In that case, it’s truely life or death.

  5. I rely on intuition to tell me if this person is someone I want to do business with.

    Same is true for coaching clients. When I do a consultation, yes, the prospective client is evaluating me. I’m also evaluating them for many factors: mostly coachability and character.

    I love this quote by the Oracle of Omaha. Pretty much says it all.

    “You can’t make a good deal with a bad person.” Warren Buffet

  6. There is a company that I worked with in the past that really focused on building trusted partnerships with the companies they did business with. They replaced penalties in contracts with bonuses. The trusted partners were invited into basic staff meetings and treated like company members. Things were going really well. The very top leadership changed and literally everything fell apart. There was a focus on the numbers, on the value of each contract. At renegotiation time, the notion of partnership was replaced with lowest cost. People felt really burned all around. Almost the entire director level and above leadership are now gone from the company. Like any trusted relationship, it takes continuous work to keep it going.

    • Joy, You raise such an important point. I have seen both styles and the implications. It really begins at the relationship at the top. Building trust is an ongoing process.

  7. Nicely reviewed, Karin! Trust is a deeper bond than legal commitments. It seems that in Oriental cultures this philosophy is understood, and it takes much longer to begin a business relationship as a result. Once begun with trust, however, leaders don’t have to look to the rules, they look to equity. I like your approach.

  8. Many times I’m on the “entrusted partner” team. My list includes doing the right thing when no one is looking and we don’t always have to make it known, if you’re consistent there is no need for a parade. Lolly added “Follow your heart”. I enjoy that remark, there is something to be said about instinct and going with your gut. Lastly, if a partner brings ideas, opportunities or faults to the table without being asked, it could speak to their “thoughtful” leadership style. I found wisdom in each comment. Thanks everyone and Thanks Karin for the topic.

    • Alma, YES! great add… doing the right thing when no one is looking. Indeed important. Being truly open to hear ideas from both sides is all part of the magic.

  9. Fantastic list and all are critical! I was nodding along with each one. Two that stood out to me are #4 – Tell the Truth and #11 Think Longterm. I used to get proposals all the time from prospective contractors and business partners. I’ve seen many potential partners think that by lowballing on price they’ll get in and win in the long term but two things happen. 1) If we wanted more, the dollars quickly piled on 2) They won on price for round one but were unable to successfully put in an “honest” bid for future work.

    Will be sharing! Thanks, Karin!

    • Alli, I get those proposals too. Bait and switch, or low ball and add on… makes me crazy. Be real with what you are about, what you offer, what you can do now, and what you can do next. Great add.

  10. Great post, Karin. I agree with you that engaging stakeholders in rich thoughtful conversations is key.

    The point that resonated the most with me was : don’t wine and dine. More is accomplished over chopsticks or a walk. I’ve always found that knee-to-knee and nose-to-nose conversations are the most productive!

  11. Loved your post and 12 points, Karin!

    I especially related to #1- Really understand one another’s business. When distrust arises between people and organizations or departments, I have noticed that there is oftentimes a misunderstanding of what each of their responsibilities looks like. Recently I saw this when one department kept blaming another for not making a joint task a priority. Once they spoke about the issues, they both learned more about their different job responsibilities. Understanding is critical.

  12. Terrific article Karen, building trust is much more challenging than writing contracts. Over here because of financial austerity, partnerships have been all the rage. A cynical but too often realistic view of the result? “Partnerships consist of organisations who have suspended mutual loathing in headlong pursuit of funding”. The big investment is in relationships and due diligence here is often lacking.

    One thing I might add as a result is ‘address issues of baggage and stereotype”. Many partners have had previous relationships, or heard of previous rumours, and often they act on the rumour or stereotype rather than exploring the current motives.

    In a world where collaborative leadership is going to be increasingly critical to manage issues big and small, this is such an important list!

    • David, Thanks for expanding the conversation with your important insights. You raise several vital issues. Due diligence is so important as is not relying on stereotypes of old news. I find it best to form my own opinions. I’ve also had some partnerships with “baggage” turn things around in amazing ways. Staying open to what is actually happening with a careful but open mind is so important.

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  15. I’d like to add one more to your list of 12 for a baker’s dozen. Synergy in your goals. I started a partnership with 2 other women for Women in Transition… We partnered because it just seemed right. We don’t know exactly how and why it works, but it does. The collaboration is amazing and rewarding.

    Sue Bock
    http://couragetoadventure.com/blog

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  17. Great list – very insightful.

    Three comments

    I have an addition, Don’t wait for tomorrow to get it done.
    Be open, honest, truthful, and share the vision and the plans of the Company with the employees and do it now. This is critical.

    I am most interested in the Don’t commit to more then you can do. How do you rationally provide that feedback to your manager without the manager looking upon you in a negative way. If anyone has feedback on this – please share. I am sure everyone would benefit.

    I especially like Etizaz additionas to the list. Awesome.

    May I suggest another good read… P.E.P.P. by Chad Carden.

    Joe

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