Many growing companies choose to forge international partnerships. Partnerships can be a strategic way to extend their reach into new markets or to shore up internal weaknesses in either knowledge or capability.
However, these partnerships are often set up to fail. Some partnerships assume that today’s business environment will stay the same, setting up disaster when the winds of change come.
Other times, the partnering companies assume that all staff equally understand and support the goals of the partnership.
Frequently, company leaders also assume that communication channels are always open to receive any feedback that would be critical to success.
Because of these incorrect assumptions, many of these partnerships are sunk before they ever have much chance to reach their full potential.
To build a durable international partnership, let’s compare it to a 17th century trading ship. For those of us today who are professionally involved in international trade, it is hard to imagine the incredible risks that our predecessors took a few centuries ago.
Bobbing on the high seas, hoping for favorable winds, traders took months or even years to make shipments that today take hours or a few days. But those traders knew what to do to improve their chances of a successful voyage. Here’s advice that transfers to today:
1. Build your ship to withstand the worst weather.
Too many partnerships today are negotiated during a good economy and when business is going well. Just like the traders of the past, you need to consider how your partnership will work when there are less than optimal conditions.
One of the best ways to ensure that you reach your intended destination is to build your partnership on strong personal relationships with your partner company’s leadership.
Basing the relationship on contractual terms is limiting, because all possible future events cannot be anticipated. A strong direct relationship allows leaders to work together for a continuing mutually beneficial partnership.
2. Be sure that all crew know your final destination port.
Many times, company leadership hears about a new partnership, but the goals of the new venture are not communicated down to the crew.
In fact, the accounts payable specialist or the customer service rep or sales rep may find communicating with overseas partner staff or customers frustrating because of low English language skills. This leaves all parties exasperated and ready to throw the other party overboard.
Patience comes when all staff understand the importance of reaching the partnership goals.
3. Prevent mutiny and other subversions on the high seas.
The captain is often the last to know when there is something wrong on board. The same is true with many partnerships.
In production partnerships, factory employees, particularly in East Asia, are hesitant to speak up when there is a quality issue or a problem meeting quota.
Just like on those old trading ships, it is important to develop both formal and informal communication channels so that leadership knows about problems while the issues are still small and manageable.
The right strategic partnerships can help propel a smaller company to higher growth and long-term viability. But to be successful, these partnerships need to be built on strong foundations of direct personal relationships, clearly communicated goals, and a variety of communication channels.
All of this builds a sea-worthy ship and crew that will voyage to distant lands and opportunities!
Want to learn more about this topic? Sign up for Becky’s webinar with CME on Leveraging Canada-US Partnerships for Strategic Advantage on February 24.