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September 20, 2013
Do You Have the Upper Hand?
Formal contracts don't make successful relationships, people do. It requires a willingness to create a foundation on which trust, loyalty, and commitment can be built.
Remember, every relationship is unique and must be treated as special. The basic rule is that you get what you put into the relationship. A partnership is successful to the degree that it replaces the traditional "us versus them" mentality with a new "us" that enables everyone to grow and to reach their full potential.
People who are good at building successful alliances work very hard to structure win-win relationships. A partnership succeeds in the long run when both organizations work for their common good rather than each trying to gain the upper hand. When partners spend all their time trying to outnegotiate each other, the result is that everybody loses. Moreover, one of the organizations is likely to come out noticeably ahead, leading to jealousy and resentment. In well-intentioned relationships, everyone does their utmost to understand their partner's needs and to satisfy them.
In the past, conventional wisdom said that multiple vendors increased competition and enhanced performance; that playing one supplier against another was good business. The goal was to win at all costs. Today, however, the trend is quite the opposite. Experience has demonstrated that the only way to build lasting relationships is to begin with honorable intentions, make a commitment, and invest the time and effort with a select few.
What Causes Relationships to Fail?
There isn't a single set of rules to achieve success, but there are certain behaviors that should be avoided. For example, partnerships cannot succeed if a partner is kept in the dark and is unaware of key events. Partnerships also cannot succeed when one partner attempts to gain the upper hand or has selfish motives. Furthermore, partnerships cannot succeed if they involve scapegoating; everyone should have a vested interest in the venture's success.
Relationships fail for many reasons; some important ones are:
  • Lack of commitment. Relationships fail because partners are not equally committed to the venture or to building a lasting relationship. The result is that one partner resents making a greater commitment and getting little back in return.
  • Cultural differences. Relationships fail when partners, particularly organizations, are unable to adapt their work styles to complement the other's culture. For example, an entrepreneurial organization that thrives on flexibility may have trouble working with a large bureaucratic organization where several layers of approval are required before decisions are made.
  • Poor management. Relationships fail because management does not value the relationship and make the personal investment required to grow it. Unless management is fully behind the relationship, it will not flourish.
  • Poor communication. Relationships fail when organizations hinder the transfer of information. Unless there's a philosophy of open and honest communication, people spend their time looking over their shoulder rather than moving the venture forward. Furthermore, the rationale behind decisions may not be fully understood, causing errors, redundancies, and misunderstandings.
  • Failure of individual relationships. Relationships also fail because the individuals responsible for maintaining them may lack either the interpersonal skills or the personal chemistry needed to nurture these relationships. Trust matters
Maintaining the Relationship
Today's lean organizations cannot survive without strong alliances to supplement their core capabilities. The result is an age of cooperation, which brings unexpected rewards. But cooperative arrangements also bring responsibilities, both now and in the future.
Every partnership should reach beyond the formal bounds of a signed contract with a willingness to do more than originally planned. Partners should promote the philosophy that the relationship was not developed for a single purpose, but for the long haul. This may mean making investments not immediately beneficial to your organization or helping your partner in ways that are tangential to the relationship.
Good relationships in business don't just happen. They are the result of honesty, integrity, respect, commitment, trust, confidence, and openness. In any healthy relationship, partners create an environment that encourages continuous improvement, risk taking, a long-term perspective, and of course, win-win relationships. Clearly, the stronger these attributes are, the more enduring your partnerships become.

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Frank is an award-winning author. He has written five books and over 300 articles. He was recently named one of “America's Top 100 Thought Leaders” and nominated as one of “America’s Most Influential Small Business Experts.” Frank has served on several boards and has consulted to some of the largest and most respected companies in the world. Additionally, FrankSonnenbergOnline was named among the “Best 21st Century Leadership Blogs.” Frank's latest book is "Follow Your Conscience," November 2014.
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