Strategic Alliance: Managing a win-win partnership

The first step to a successful strategic alliance is choosing a good match for partnering, but even the best match can be quickly undermined by poor management. With any collaboration, it’s key to clearly set expectations and agree on critical aspects of the relationship from the beginning including timeframes, deliverables, and ongoing measurements. I recently posted on the what, why, and how of strategic alliances and now I want to share a list of considerations and the critical steps to setting the stage for a win-win partnership.

When you bring two organizations, businesses, or teams together with individual and cooperative goals, you will inevitably hit a roadblock. Perhaps employment changes will throw a wrench in the plan: what if the partner manager on the other side is laid off? Or a key person on your team chooses to leave for a different firm? What will you do if your strategic partner isn’t keeping up with their end of the bargain? I’ve seen all of these things happen and more. I’ve seen alliances where excellent management quickly handled the changes and moved forward. I’ve also seen these changes wreak havoc on what could have been a great relationship. The best way to prepare your company for bumps in the road is to anticipate them and create a positive and clear environment from the get-go.

So, how do you do that? Here are four steps to creating the best possible chance for success.

First, set clear goals and timeframes in your initial meetings. Try to assume nothing and spell everything out: first in conversation and then in writing. Timeframes are key here. Sometimes people clearly discuss what needs to happen, but forget to talk about how long it will take. Also, keep in mind that a smaller company is more nimble and generally moves faster than a larger one. So, if one company is much smaller than the other, it’s important to make sure that both sides can commit and feel comfortable with the timeline. Remember that it’s much better to spend an additional month planning and understanding deliverables than it is to rush and have the strategic alliance blow up due to misunderstandings.

Something else to keep in mind in these initial meetings is trust. What level of trust do you expect or require from the partnership? Yes, trust is a good thing, but it’s not always needed or even reasonable depending on the circumstances. For example, it often makes sense to partner with a competitor. You only need to trust each other within the parameters of your agreement. Decide up-front how much information you intend to share and what information should be held close. Create expectations around the boundaries that you each set.

Second, meet often in the beginning. Compare progress to goals and adjust as needed. Encourage an atmosphere of support and collaboration. Generally speaking, either both companies benefit from the partnership or neither does — so it makes sense to help each other along the way. As with many endeavors in life, you hope for the best and plan for the worst. Meeting often can help you address sudden changes like the bumps in the road mentioned earlier. These changes don’t have to be a problem, but can simply be addressed and responsibilities reassigned—if you’re meeting often enough to catch them.

Third, ensure buy-in and awareness from the key players and top-level management. Have top-level executives from each company meet to discuss the strategic intent and benefits from the partnership. While these executives may not be involved in the direct planning, they need to have a clear understanding of “the what” and “the why” of the partnership so they can support your teams as needed. Between this step and the last, you will encourage top-of-mind awareness and continued focus on the partnership. Helping people to stay in touch with why you’re in the alliance and what you’re planning to accomplish will keep everyone motivated and active.

Fourth, once things are up and running, report on success for both parties. Track progress towards goals and expected benefits. Create metrics specific for your partnership on things like increase in market share and revenue or improved time-to-market. It’s important to make sure the alliance is benefiting you in the way you planned in a reasonable amount of time. If not, it’s time to figure out why or move on. Working together to track benefits to both parties as part of the partnership continues the development and growth of a collaborative environment. If you’re seeing great improvement, but your partner isn’t, you won’t be reaping those benefits for long. It’s in your best interest to make sure both companies are happy if you want the strategic alliance to continue.

This article was originally posted on Linkedin Pulse.

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