“Strategic partnership is based on a shared set of values”. Benigno Aquino III
When we consider partnering with someone, it’s quite often about what they can bring to the table. We also recognize that in a true partnership, we must be prepared to contribute adequate value. The sole focus is often on “what” the partnership will generate, but the secret to powerful partnerships is to emphasize “how” the partnership will unfold. How your association shows up can impact the quality of the relationship.
Every organization, including not-for-profits, has an airline story. What story is your association telling? Are the experiences of your sponsors, volunteers and members aligned with your promise? In today’s world of social expression, one of your greatest risks is reputational risk. One bad member experience can be magnified all over Twitter.
Association executives need to be clear about how the work gets done in your organization. Your staff need to understand the implications of their behaviors, and your systems and policies need to support your brand promise. When this alignment is in place, sponsors and volunteers enjoy partnering with you.
Maximizing Partnership Potential
Many association executives see partnering as a way to grow their business model. Sometimes, it’s a partnership with another association, sometimes it’s a partnership with a business willing to volunteer their expertise. Not every association can afford to have all the required skills within their staff ranks. But just like the dismal results of mergers and acquisitions, many partnerships also fail to deliver the benefits originally identified.
The number one culprit in this situation is the failure to identify different cultures between the two organizations. Consider this situation: your partner is an agile, entrepreneurial, high-tech organization and your established association tends to be more process-oriented with exceptional attention to detail. It’s not that one culture is better than the other, just different.
Spending some time up-front, acknowledging how each partner does business, will highlight potential perils in working together. Being clear about how you expect to collaborate will help staff on both sides optimize the benefits of the partnership.
Your Board – A Special Partnership
Nothing can be more frustrating, challenging or rewarding as the connection between an association’s leadership team and its board. With a revolving door leading into the boardroom, association executives must adjust to new partners over and over again. This is where partnership with purpose can shine. If personalities and personal agendas can be left outside and the strengths of each partner be embraced instead, the achievement of the organization’s goals is exponential.
This is easy to say, not so easy to do. Both sides need to be committed to creating a respectful and trusting environment. If the relationship is fraught with friction, it will find its way into the work of the staff. This, in turn, impacts their effectiveness to create those important collaborations within and outside of the association.
I remember serving on the board at the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce during a time when our advocacy work was contentious. There were differing opinions amongst the board members as to the degree of controversy we wanted to engage in. However, with respectful discourse and listening to the Chamber executives’ insights and perspectives, we were able to successfully push the business community’s position into the municipality’s priorities. It was such a rewarding time and it happened because of the special partnership between the board members and the Chamber leadership team.
A Special Culture Generates Special Partnerships
Your association’s culture is either your greatest asset or your greatest liability. Your culture needs to be aligned with your strategy and your brand promise. Your employees need to fit into this culture designed for organizational success. The culture of your partners also needs to be highlighted in order to maximize the outcomes of the partnership. Take a look at your association’s culture. Does it put your partnerships in peril or pump them up?
Carol Ring has been recognized as one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women. She is the author of Ignite Your Culture – 6 Steps to Fuel Your People, Profits and Potential.
For additional articles and information on how to renew your organization, visit us online at www.carolring.ca