How To Forge Partnerships That Drive Organizational Change

It’s a surprisingly common problem—businesses stagnate and get stuck. Whether it’s because you’re not keeping up with market trends and competitors, or because you’re struggling with high staff turnover, a variety of organizational challenges can erode your potential for continued growth.

One only has to look at a comparison of the top companies by revenue between today and the 1980s to see how commonplace this is. Many of the top performers of decades ago no longer appear on the list today – and often this decline stems from an inability to make necessary organizational changes.

Despite the dire consequences of stagnation, organizational change is difficult. Indeed, leaders often begin the change process with flawed assumptions and data, limiting their belief in what is possible and what alternatives are available. This alone can lead to failed changes.

By involving a quality partner, real organizational change can occur. Whether that change involves improving the working conditions for your employees or finding ways to better serve your customers, partnering with people who bring deep and specific expertise that you don’t have, and probably shouldn’t have, at your organization can help , lead to truly transformative results. But you have to forge those partnerships the right way. When a partner is viewed merely as a “supplier,” both the organization and the partner treat the relationship as transactional and nothing more. But true partnerships are geared toward each other’s long-term success.

Definition of the goals of the partnership

Regardless of their specific nature, partnerships are designed to achieve better performance or better outcomes. Such partnerships do not have to be exclusively sales-oriented either. Regardless, if you are focused on what success through partnership looks like, all parties are in a better position to achieve it.

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For example, software provider vcita uses partnerships to help agencies offer technology to small business customers as part of their service packages. Through these partnerships, agencies gain insight into what’s happening with their clients, allowing them to offer strategies optimized to meet their client’s needs.

Because agencies are able to complement their existing offerings with additional, technology-enabled services, they are also able to help small businesses improve operational efficiencies, increase cash flow predictability, and close more deals. These value areas, in turn, help agencies with customer loyalty.

For Starbucks, partnerships have proven key to improving internal results. Two of the most popular employee perks are free Spotify Premium memberships and free mental health therapy sessions through Lyra Health. In this case, Starbucks had well-defined goals to improve employee well-being and its position as a provider of industry-leading benefits to increase employee retention and satisfaction.

A basis of humility and trust

In my own consulting experience, I have found that there are two key relationship dynamics that are prerequisites for successful partnerships.

Humility comes first. Leaders must be open and willing to acknowledge organizational deficiencies that are preventing them from achieving desired results. This requires a sense of humble curiosity because it means admitting that you are not doing your job as well as you could. The old adage of realizing you’re not the smartest person in the room is key to realizing you need help from an outside partner at all.

Trust is also key, as leaders need to be confident that their chosen partner will help them – thanks in large part to a fresh, unique perspective. Partners must earn this trust by speaking openly about their skills and demonstrating competence in their field of work. Likewise, partners must be open about the full scope of work required to successfully achieve the desired change.

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In order to build this trust, the willingness to share information is crucial for both parties involved in the partnership. Sharing relevant data helps to track the progress of joint initiatives and determine if the desired results are being achieved.

Common courage for real change

Humility and trust are certainly important, but they are not the only parameters required for a successful partnership.

Successful partnerships almost always require a dose of courage. By their very nature, change-focused partnerships will carry harsh messages and messages that the partners will need to confront. This may require addressing behaviors or issues that others did not want to discuss. But a willingness to step outside of the comfort zone of tradition is key to achieving change that fuels growth.

When that boldness is paired with genuine collaboration, both sides take ownership of the change and commit to achieving it together. Both parties (including the one who initially sought help) have expertise and knowledge relevant to the goals of the partnership. Working together keeps both sides fully engaged, which can be especially important when challenges arise.

Regardless of the specifics of the partnership, quality communication is an absolute must to delineate each partner’s responsibilities and keep everyone on the same page. Partners should establish in advance how they will communicate with each other and the frequency of such communications.

Perhaps most importantly, solid communication ensures that the expectations and vision for the partnership are clearly defined from the start, and helps partners set realistic goals that focus on the big picture. In fact, ineffective communication and collaboration costs US businesses an estimated $1.2 trillion in losses each year. Build your partnership around these elements and you are already in a much better position.

Be committed to your partner’s aspirations

Fewer circumstances are more challenging in a leader’s life than initiating dramatic changes in the organization in the face of staunch resistance. In a complex change initiative, the phrase “lonely at the top” can take on a whole new meaning. At this point, customers not only need our advice as consultants, but also our support.

When clients interact with their teams and units within their organization, they often encounter people who disagree with the direction they are proposing or the methods they are advocating for achieving specific outcomes. While the client’s primary responsibility is to persuade those who disagree, as consultants we can and should help educate people about what our clients are trying to achieve. When we find ourselves with people who “don’t get it”, we can act as advocates for our clients, helping to explain the reasons for change, the thinking behind the approach, or the logic behind the decisions made. Many resistance fighters simply want to understand why things are done the way they are before committing to action. Our customers cannot speak to each person or group in person. Full-staff memos and large-group communication sessions only go so far as to answer specific questions individuals ask. When we help gain the support of key individuals or groups, we help drive change in the organization by taking on the role of advocate.

Organizational change must be approached as a marathon, not a sprint. It will test a leader’s stamina and tenacity as well-established patterns of comfort and familiarity are dissipated and it feels like all hell has broken loose. The experienced partner will be installed their partnership with a leader an allowance for such storms and establish herself as an ally and advocate.

Laying the foundation for success

When done right, organizational partnerships can help create meaningful outcomes for your organization. From improving communication between your internal teams to providing a better culture that truly engages and motivates team members, partnerships can be critical to addressing the issues that are preventing you from making lasting improvements.

But these kinds of results are not accidental. They begin when leaders enter into a partnership with clearly defined goals and a sense of humility that allows them to work with their partner in an environment of collaboration and trust. With the right mindset, long-term changes become reality.

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