Building Your Business Through Partnerships

TWO people can develop solutions to problems easier and more effectively than one, according to Edwin Rigsbee, Rigsbee Enterprises Incorporated.

Rigsbee discussed "the art of partnering" as a way for companies or individuals to cooperate and yield results greater than either one could alone.

"Partnering is the process of two or more entities coming together for the purpose of developing synergistic solutions to their challenges," Rigsbee said. "One of the biggest pitfalls of partnering is becoming inflexible and not being willing to admit you're wrong.

"It's more important to be a good partner and get things done than obsessing on being right," Rigsbee said.

He defined conflict as protecting yourself and not trying to understand the other person's issues.

Rigsbee listed partnering benefits:

Synergy: 1+1=3

Innovation

Cost and resource savings

Eliminating duplication of effort

Accessing new markets

Overcoming new competition

Partnering works when both partners are getting value from it, according to Rigsbee. Partnering is generally not a short-term strategy to fix a problem.

"Partnering is not a flavor of the month management strategy or a quick fix," he said.

Partnering has downsides which, according to Rigsbee, are outweighed by its benefits. He listed poor communication, hidden agendas, and complacency as potential problem areas in partnering.

Total organizational partnering includes five areas:

Synergistic alliances

Partnering with suppliers

Partnering with customers

Partnering with employees

Executive/owner as the optimal partner

Relationships are at the center of Rigsbee's partnering pentad.

"Without healthy, working relationships, no partnering alliance will work," Rigsbee said. "You can't put a price on relationships."

Keeping in touch and building rapport are critical to any working relationship. He said that making an emotional deposit to partnering relationships is necessary before trying to make a withdrawal.

Partnering also has several core values that cannot be violated if the partnership is successful. Trust is the most important value in any partnering relationship. Rigsbee borrowed a quote from Alan Hobson and Jamie Clarke: "Once trust has been broken in any relationship, it is like a mirror struck by a stone. Although the tiny pieces can be glued back into position, the mirror always shows the cracks."

Also important are tolerance, understanding, caring, and commitment.

Partners must create a synergistic alliance or there is no point in having a partnership, according to Rigsbee.

"When selecting partners, be sure to spend more time observing their behavior than listening to their patter," Rigsbee said. "People don't change after entering a relationship. What you see is what you get."

Selecting a business partner is much like selecting a marriage partner, according to Rigsbee.

"Create a situation where you are woven together with your partner so you can predict each other's actions," Rigsbee said. "Find someone who is trustworthy and has integrity."

To be successful partners should:

Seek win-win situations and solutions

Assume responsibility for his or her own success

Be active listeners

Flexible, especially when the unexpected occurs

Respond well and act on feedback

Commitment, confidence, and communication are all necessary to make an alliance work, according to Rigsbee. Overlapping circles of interest are also important, especially if partnering with competitors.

"Be careful, the competitor you badmouth today, could be your partner tomorrow," Rigsbee said.

Hidden issues can ruin relationships. "Don't let unresolved issues come between relationships," Rigsbee said.

Rigsbee suggests holding quarterly or annual relationship reviews with partners. These two-way value updates will help maintain a healthy relationship and improve delivery of expectations.

"Evaluate relationships to find out if your effort is of value to your partner," Rigsbee said.

Rigsbee warned against the "boomerang effect" in supplier relationships-treating suppliers poorly and receiving poor treatment in return.

"Don't try to whip your suppliers into submission," Rigsbee said. "You'll never receive any good deals from suppliers if you employ this strategy. It pays to be a good customer."

When a business understands what a vendor needs and gives it to them, it can then ask for better value.

"Ask what you can do for your suppliers," he said. "Vendors are a dime a dozen, but partners are hard to find."

Partnering with customers presents special challenges.

"The success of partnering with customers is based on their perception of your services," Rigsbee said. "Little things mean a lot. Your must deliver on their expectations."

Businesses need to ask what they can do for their customers that offers low cost and high perceived value.

Lastly, Rigsbee discussed executives and owners as partners.

"Owners need to remember that they aren't the center of every partnership," Rigsbee said. "Rewarded behavior is the behavior that will be repeated."

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