A well-known poem by Robert Frost, "Mending Walls," contains the famous line "Good fences make good neighbors." This is also how a 2011 blog post on productive partnerships begins. The blogger pointed out that, while fences might support neighbors' relationships, they don't serve partnerships well at all. I have been interested recently in specifically what makes for good partnerships for two very important reasons: (1) Strategic partnerships and alliances are growing in importance and numbers as industries consolidate, research dollars shrink, and global opportunities open up; and (2) As the Baldrige Program looks to the next 25 years, I believe strategic partnerships will be critical to our growth and outreach. Indeed, the emerging Baldrige Enterprise is an important partnership we are building right now.
In the 2013–2014 Criteria for Performance Excellence (available mid-December 2012), the term partners appears on 24 out of 60 pages. The Baldrige Criteria define partners as "key organizations or individuals who are working in concert with your organization to achieve a common goal or vision."
I have learned that there is much more to successful partnering than this simple definition states. Some of those keys to success are embedded in the Baldrige Criteria's many questions related to partners. Those questions about partners appear in the Organizational Profile; categories 1 (Leadership), 2 (Strategic Planning), 4 (Measurement, Analysis, and Knowledge Management); and the Baldrige Core Values and Concepts. Partners also contribute significantly to an organization's success in relation to numerous category 7 items (Results).
Based on my readings and observations over time, I have divided the characteristics of partnership success into three levels: (1) the entry level, (2) the decision level, and (3) the operational level. All three levels are necessary for success and may be approached sequentially as the partnership is developed. A lack of compatibility between organizations in relation to any of the characteristics is cause for pause at a minimum and could be a signal not to proceed with a partnership if differences can't be resolved. The further down the levels you go, the more likely it is that differences can be resolved, although they may require some effort. Conversely, the higher up you are on the list, the more carefully potential partners need to consider whether any differences that exist between them are reconcilable.
Here are three characteristics that I would place at the entry level for partnership determination:
Here are four additional characteristics that I would place at the decision level for partnership determination:
Assuming that the partners can successfully address the questions at the entry and decision levels, the likelihood of a successful relationship appears much greater. The final, or operational, level of compatibility is more procedural in nature and, therefore, achievable with work and goodwill, even if initial differences exist. Here are four characteristics at the operational level for partnership determination:
You may quibble with my placement of individual characteristics at the three levels, but I hope you will agree that this is a good list to consider in establishing and periodically reviewing partnerships. And I hope you can use this list in your partnership building, as I hope we will do as we continue building the Baldrige Enterprise.
Baldrige Excellence Framework
Baldrige Excellence Builder
Force = Mass x Acceleration (January 2012)
Confronting the "no" in Innovation (February 2012)
Everybody Comes to Work Wanting to Do a Good Job (March 2012)
The Quest for Knowledge (April 2012)
I = IR + SE Innovation Results from Intelligent Risk Taking and a Supportive Environment (May 2012)
Embrace It or Not, Social Media Is Impacting Your Organization (June/July 2012)
A Reflection on Work Systems (August 2012)
What’s a Good Leader or Manager to Do? (October 2012)
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