Partnerships are a beautiful thing, and they come in all shapes and sizes. As a learning and development (L&D) professional, you likely have partnerships with vendors, customers, co-workers and with other businesses inside or outside of your industry, among others. But no matter the form they take, one thing remains true: Partnerships matter.
Partnerships help us develop and sustain business momentum over the long-term, uncover innovative solutions and give us much needed support through difficult times. But as with any relationship, partnerships take work, and sometimes lots of it. Beyond business is the foundational human side to consider. We want to feel confident that those we work with are honest, dependable, consistent and reliable. And we want to be all of these things for them, too. Why? Because they contribute to trust, the very core of all healthy relationships.
Establishing trust is no easy task. It takes time, some skill and effort. Unfortunately, in our pursuit of healthy and productive partnerships, we often inadvertently do things that derail those relationships. While our intentions may be harmless, the outcomes can be fairly abysmal. Some preventative measures are in order.
Here are the top three mistakes to avoid as you work toward developing productive partnerships for long-term performance:
1. Don’t wait around for your partner to initiate contact.
It’s striking to meet the occasional person who waits around for clients or partners to contact them with needs. Perhaps surprisingly, though, this phenomenon isn’t born out of laziness or a lack of care for the other party. Instead, it’s usually fear that fuels this inaction. Imagine that you’re a salesperson who believes that initiating too much communication with a partner will come across as needy or pushy (the image of a used-car salesperson springs to mind). If that’s you, then starting a conversation is a huge risk. Therefore, the most logical solution is to keep a safe distance and sit by the phone, hoping it’ll ring. But your assumptions about relationships, and indeed your fear, cause you to overcorrect and place the relationship maintenance duties entirely on your partner’s shoulders.
What’s happened here? The scale has tipped in the other direction. In this hypothetical scenario, you’ve traded in pushiness for neglect. And the reality is that neither will do you any favors.
The key here is balance. While it’s important to avoid needy and pushy behaviors because they do suggest a self-centered attitude and will likely drive customers away, it’s equally important to hold up your end of the relationship. Your goal should be to foster an open channel of communication that moves in both directions. One simple solution is to schedule for yourself regular check-ins with your partners. And you can do this at broad enough intervals to allow for some breathing room, which creates the necessary space for your partners to also come to you when they need you.
2. Stop avoiding those difficult conversations.
Once you’re holding up your side of the relationship with a customer or partner, you have an opportunity to further solidify your value. This requires more genuine giving than taking, and one of the best things you can give is radical candor.
Suppose you’re helping your partner sort through a problem with closing sales. She firmly believes that her primary issue is that her sales teams don’t have the necessary skills to close deals effectively. So, she’s enlisted you to help resolve this problem. But as you investigate, you uncover that closing is only a symptom of a problem that reaches much further back in their sales process. For instance, perhaps her teams aren’t pursuing the right kinds of prospects to begin with. How do you help solve the problem?
The first step, of course, is to be honest about your assessment because until you tackle the incorrect assumptions at hand, you’re never going to reach a viable solution. Your candor — what we might call “care-frontation” — allows your partner to make measurable improvements. The end result? You reinforce your value.
3. Don’t prioritize your own needs and wants over your partner’s.
While some people worry that initiating regular contact with a partner might come across as needy or pushy (point No. 1 above), it’s actually when you allow your needs and wants to always take the front seat that contributes to this negative image. There’s no genuine giving (point No. 2 above). These kinds of partnerships are unsustainable. They’re much like a garden where you always harvest but never do anything to replenish the soil. Eventually, nothing will grow there; the garden just becomes barren over time.
You can get what you want from the relationship, but it’s absolutely critical that you always maintain the posture of genuine giving without the expectation of getting anything in return. One way to accomplish this is to make the most of your regular “check-ins” (point No. 1 above). Rather than the usual, “Hey there, I’m just emailing to see how things are going,” offer something of value. For example, if you find an article or a podcast that you’re sure your partner would like, send it their way. Use that as the reason for contacting them. Over time, they’ll know that you always have something to bring to the table and, more importantly, that you have their best interest in mind.
The irony is that when you practice genuine giving, you get more in return than you could’ve ever expected.
Partnerships are the mainstay of long-term business success. We all know it’s true. So, managing them well is essential. Starting with the three foundational areas above will help springboard those all-too-important relationships forward and pave the way for greater loyalty and satisfaction across the board.