Smart businesspeople understand the value of risk. Taking a smart risk can lead to dynamic growth and competitive advantage, whether it’s investing in a new product that has the potential to revolutionize an industry or aggressively targeting a potentially lucrative market competitors have overlooked.
But what many businesspeople might not know is the importance of risk in their business relationships. That risk might include inviting a colleague to be part of a critical project, sharing a professional weakness in order to establish rapport or even taking a hit for a partner when things don’t turn out according to plan.
“That kind of risk doesn’t always occur,” said Gale Muller, vice chairman and general manager of the Gallup World Poll. “At the critical moment, if it’s necessary and doesn’t happen, then sometimes partnerships don’t mature and you don’t get the bang you’re hoping for.”
Muller is the co-author, along with Rodd Wagner, a principal with Gallup, of Power of 2: How to Make the Most of Your Partnerships at Work and in Life, slated for publication in November by Gallup Press. The book is the culmination of five years of research into the dimensions of effective partnerships.
It’s not just an academic exercise. According to Muller and Wagner’s research, people with just one collaborative relationship are 29 percent more likely to say they will stay with a company for the next year, and 42 percent report being more likely to stay with their company for their entire career. The authors said that partnerships create happier, more engaged employees who are likely to be more productive, call in sick less and deliver higher customer service scores.
“And at the same time, they have a better time doing it,” Wagner said. “So it’s really a win-win situation for the organization.”
While the benefits seem simple, getting people to partner can often be difficult. “If you’re going to have a powerful partnership, it’s actually more involved than you might think and challenges people to really get outside themselves and really invest in someone else’s success,” Wagner said. “That frequently doesn’t come easily.”
Learning and development practitioners can create more effective partnerships by helping people identify their strengths and assess their weaknesses in a nonconfrontational manner. Wagner said that people often think they are much more well-rounded that they actually are, creating a go-it-alone mentality that can cause stress and lead to failure.
“In most cases, when you expose people to a scientific assessment of their strengths and weaknesses, once that’s on paper, there’s a sigh of relief,” he said. “They let go of that idea that they have to be all things to all people.”
People are incomplete puzzle pieces, Wagner said, and identifying strengths and weaknesses can help them see the need for collaborative partnerships with others who possess complementary strengths and the same goals. While partnerships are highly personal, there is a role for CLOs to play.
“Here’s a key strategy: Help them build more partnerships at work and you increase your productivity,” Muller said.
Muller suggested asking questions about existing partnerships to create specific examples for discussion.
“Where have you and another person taken on a task and really been very effective, maybe more effective that you would have thought, and certainly more effective than if you had been doing it alone? Now tell me about that, and how can we replicate that in other places where you work?” Muller said.
It’s also important for CLOs to examine company culture to ensure that there is top-down focus on collaboration that allows and encourages partnerships.
“In many companies, when they look at it closely, they find they have incentives that run against partnerships,” Wagner said. In sales, for example, compensation is frequently set up to recognize individual achievement. “Subsequently, in many cases, the company loses sales that it could have had if two people with complementary strengths had collaborated to work with that particular client or prospect.”
Some believe that there is an element of fate to effective, or ineffective, partnerships. In other words, a partnership is destined for success or doomed for failure from the beginning. The reality is that small steps at the beginning can go a long way to solidifying a successful partnership.
“Many times these partnerships, particularly in the early stages, are very precariously balanced,” Wagner said. “Very small overtures or very small defections can tip the entire thing one way or another.”
Communication, trust and acceptance are critical to making a partnership work in the long run.
“Everybody has foibles,” Muller said. “As soon as you find the foible or the thing about your partner that isn’t perfect and then you say, ‘I don’t care. I’m going to get through that one because it’s not that important,’ you’ve made a big step forward.”
While these keys seem like common sense, failure to do the simple things can often be the downfall of a potentially fruitful partnership.
“Sometimes those common-sense items can flummox a partnership more than anything because they’re assumed,” Wagner said.