Alliance Management Expertise, Partnering Frameworks and Tools, Collaborative Leadership

How do you Define Partner?
1. Partnering Guide / May 17th, 2013     A+ | a-

Author: Jan Twombly

When it comes to business buzzwords that have lost all meaning, “partner” is likely at the top of the list. Everyone is a partner today. Whether decision making, investment, risk and profit are shared or the objective is to shake down a service provider to the point where it cannot make a profit – everyone is a partner!

Really?

Charlie Baker, candidate for governor of Massachusetts and “partner” at investment firm General Catalyst Partners is currently ruing that he was ever described in that way. It seems that the public infers certain legal and contractual characteristics to the word and doesn’t see it as just “a marketing term,” as Baker and his firm contend. As a result, he is answering questions he would prefer not to about a political contribution he made and a subsequent investment in a General Catalyst fund by an entity controlled by the recipient of the political contribution. If he is a partner, then this series of events may have violated both campaign finance and investing regulations.

Every time we work with a company new to partnering we find that there is no common understanding of what is meant when another organization is referred to as a partner. Some of the definitions we have heard recently include:

  • Provides services in addition to product
  • Helps us do something we would otherwise have to hire employees to do
  • Supplies us with innovative material we can purchase and incorporate into new product
  • Any relationship where money doesn’t change hands
  • Everyone is a partner!

Partners are special. They are collaborative relationships with external parties, in which risk, reward, decision making and work is shared. Did Mr. Baker have this relationship with General Catalyst Partners? That remains to be seen. What is clear is that casually labeling someone a partner can have unforeseen consequences.

Are the organizations your company refers to as partners really partners? If not, are you aware of the risks the label might present? Language matters. As a profession, let’s leave the buzzwords and marketing jargon behind and be precise about the nature of our critical collaborative relationships.

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