How to Be a “Smart” Partner

It seems everybody partners these days.  And why not?  Partnering help you quickly reach new markets, tap into additional talent, and generate fresh ideas and offerings. The cost is lower than building or buying, and less risky, too.

But a lot of the potential value never materializes.  A shocking 60 to 80% of business alliances fail to meet their financial and business objectives.


Because of a lack of partnering skills — something we call “Partnering Intelligence.”  Partnering skills include knowing how to partner, choosing the right partners, and managing the predictable phases of a partnership, both structurally and emotionally.

These competencies are not only great predictors of the success of a business partnership, but are actually measurable.  Every executive, manager, and employee has a quantifiable “PQ,” or Partnering Quotient.  Much like an IQ, it measures how smart someone is about partnering.

smart partner

That means that you can increase the likelihood of partnership success by choosing people who have better partnering skills. And the other good news is that everyone can improve their PQ through awareness, coaching, and practice.

It’s definitely better to have people with a high PQ guiding the partnership. But having a high PQ isn’t a guarantee of success. Studies have shown that many partnerships also fail because they don’t follow a sound, disciplined process for guiding people and teams through the predictable stages of partnership development.

No engineer would ever just smash two production lines together and expect to achieve optimum performance. Similarly, taking two organizations and simply putting them together without analysis and structure is unlikely to maximize the partnership’s synergies. It takes training, awareness, and a great deal of thought, as well as adaptation and flexibility to achieve the best results.

People with a high PQ do what it takes to implement the necessary organizational and cultural changes to make the new alliance work smoothly.  

So, what are the attributes of a high Partnering Quotient?

  1. Ability to trust.  Do you give people your trust, or do they have to earn it?  This is probably the most important competency.  Without this, most alliances are doomed to sub-perform or fail.
  2. Comfort with change.  Are you comfortable changing not just the situational status quo and the status quo of other, but your own status quo?
  3. Comfort with interdependence.  Can you allow your partners to accomplish their assigned roles, even if they don’t do it the way you would? This often requires clarity on the actual outcomes, as opposed to the methods used to get there!
  4. Self-disclosure and feedback.  Can you easily disclose and articulate your needs, as well as express your appreciation or disappointment? This often requires open discussion at the beginning of a partnership, and this is doubly true when the team is cross-cultural.
  5. Win-win orientation.  Do you employ a problem-solving approach that creates wins for both partners? Most organizations say they follow this, and yet the reality is that one-upmanship or hoarding information is often rewarded.
  6. Past/future orientation.  Do you look to the future rather than the past in evaluating your business relationships? True, it is important to learn from past mistakes, but the partnership team needs to be wary of simply making assumptions grounded in past events.

These critical attributes form a validated system of behaviors that creates healthy, thriving partnerships.  Partnering attributes can be measured and learned.  Combine these with defined processes for implementing and guiding your alliances, and you have a repeatable formula for success.  We call these “smart partners.”

In the end, businesses don’t partner — people do.  Companies that build effective partnering competencies in their workforce have a huge competitive advantage over their competitors who shoot from the hips. Rather than jumping into partnerships because of theoretical potential benefits, they ensure the core competencies and processes to consistently build effective partnerships.

And this inevitably improves the bottom line.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *