First, make a friend ….

Thomas Enright, CSR Lead at Affinity Water and Albright Special associate, shares his formula for building effective partnerships

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A mentor I once worked with summed up his advice for making change happen as “make a friend, tell them a story, show them the money”.

As I started to become involved in building effective client-contractor partnerships in the utility sector I found that the advice reflected three critical elements to a successful outcome:

  • The importance of relationships
  • The power of narrative
  • A focus on the benefits

The importance of relationship building: Effective partnerships are based on trust. Investing the time up front to build trust and understanding will underpin the success of the relationship. Far too often partnerships get into difficulties after an initial ‘honeymoon period’. With both sides focused on the task in hand rather than the relationship, the partnerships don’t develop the resilience to deal with challenges ahead.

The power of narrative: The ability to articulate a clear vision and narrative allows everyone involved to fully engage. Timelines, metrics and graphs will work for some but weave the key points into a short and powerful narrative that tells the ‘why’ as much as the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ and you are set for success.

A focus on benefits: It may not be all about the money, but a clear understanding of the benefits to each party must be at the heart of a successful partnership. With an increasing focus on ‘value’, many of the most successful partnerships are adopting the concept of creating shared value (Porter, 2011), where corporates create value by addressing social problems that intersect with their business.

Although the three elements of relationship building, story-telling and value creation apply to many types of partnerships, I believe they are particularly important to those between corporates and the third sector.

Different sectors have very different cultures and ways of working. Corporates and charities effectively speak different languages. This can lead to mis-communication and misunderstanding that undermines the partnerships.

My tips for success: Investing the time up front to build the relationships and explore the partnership ‘fit’ is an essential first step.

Use the power of storytelling to create a common sense of purpose for the partnership. Use everyday language that eliminates the in-house terminology and connects with staff, stakeholders and the wider public.

Be clear on your shared goals, keep them simple and repeat them often. Cross sector partnerships may have some of the biggest pitfalls but they also have some of the greatest potential for creating real value for all.

Just last month kicked off a great conversation with Raleigh International, the sustainable development charity, exploring their ‘fit’ to the UK water sector and how to create a strong narrative that connects to that industry.

Raleigh is an organisation that has changed a lot since I first participated as a volunteer on their 1992 expedition to Chile. They are a great example of a charity developing their partnership model for businesses around ‘relationship’, ‘story’ and ‘benefits’. The results speak for themselves with the recent announcement of a strengthened partnership with construction and engineering company VolkerFitzPatrick.

Whether it is establishing new cross sector partnerships or re-invigorating existing ones these three steps, summed up neatly in the advice of that mentor “make a friend, tell them a story, show them the money”, have proved their worth.

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