Thursday, January 15, 2009

Partnerships are Challenging: Part Two

About two months ago, it occurred to me that I had not yet addressed a common approach to small business -- the partnership. After my first post on the topic, I had several conversations with folks who seconded that experience, suggested other challenges, and/or tried to guess at partners of mine that prompted the post. I figured it was about to time to revisit the topic, however. This time to discuss assumptions and goals when starting a business.

An alarming number of partnerships begin without clear discussion among partners of what individuals are hoping to achieve for the business and themselves. If questioned, the response is often along the lines of "we're all on the same page", "well, naturally we all want to _____", or "we got started so fast we didn't have time for all that stuff." If you find yourself currently in a partnership or starting one and have heard you or your partners utter statements similar to these, beware!

I have encountered no other circumstance in business where there is a better example of "when you assume, you make an ASS out of U and ME." Many small businesses are wrecked when the reality of disparate goals and drivers are brought to the light of day. Whether it is the strategy of the business or the hours you keep, the differences can be stark and, if you are not careful, toxic.

It is amazing, however, that the exact same differences can be reconciled and often improved through early-stage conversations. If necessary, you can find facilitators to help you in shaping the vision of your company from strategy through execution. Either way, the discussions are critical to have sooner rather than later.

Personally, I have seen one of these facilitated exercises that drove to the values of a partnership (and the company). Putting individual opinions and ideas onto white paper forced an incredibly rich conversation. The result of which was a set of company values that endured and guided every difficult decision the company faced. The values then drove the discussion of the vision - mission - objectives.

It was not all wine and roses from that point, but the partnership was much stronger for the exercise. From my experience, there is no greater indicator of a successful partnership that can endure than the ability of the partners to communicate and that inevitably starts at the beginning. Don't forget that in small business, there is no place to hide. You and your partners must learn to live by a set of shared principles to see your company through. The ties within that partnership will be tried at the best and worst of times.

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