Fear Not the Isolation

Fear. That is the worst motivator for foreign policy and organisational change yet that is exactly what is playing out on the world stage. From Britain leaving the EU driven by immigration concerns to the USA threatening to put up walls if Donald Trump wins the presidential race. Hillary Clinton in her acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention stated that Trump wants the United States to “fear the future and fear each other, …divide[ing] us from the rest of the world and from each other”.

The Western world as we know it is on the cusp of leaping from the safety of a global community and is at risk of turning inwards. Some would say that the notion of the West and its alliances is facing its greatest challenge yet.

Fear of the unknown, what can’t be controlled or what we don’t understand has always been a stumbling block. Yet we can’t allow it to become an Achilles heel for business.

Now more than ever, we in business should be demonstrating the rich potential from partnership. Isolation is not the answer. Instead, we should be saying, “Help me understand your perspective” and “What can our organisations deliver by coming together for something greater’.

A louder voice is required right now in business to quell the waves of uncertainty, risk and shock. We must speak louder than the terrors in the night. We need to look toward partnership and commercially robust relationship to produce outcomes that keep us relevant with consumers, help us innovate for growth and answer the challenges our customers face.

Let’s be clear on one thing. By partnership I mean collaboration between companies, not the legal construct of the word. For what end? To co-create products and services, develop joint marketing initiatives, harness greater use of brand strength and reach broader audiences through larger distribution networks.

What can be expected from resisting the urge to look inwards and lift our gaze to business partnership?

Extending your workforce

The workforce of any business represents only a fraction of the knowledge pool out there. Even the largest of multinationals control well below 1% of the global knowledge potential. It follows, we cannot expect to thrive by solely relying on our own internal capabilities.

Consider the approach that GE and Barclays Bank take. General Electric has started using ‘open innovation’ whereby external engineers can take part in design competitions[i]. This extra mental muscle is used to reduce development time and improve technical performance. Barclays on the other hand has set up an Accelerator centre to partner with start-ups and help the bank capture, implement and promote technology change[ii].

Supplier Capability

Our suppliers are an extension of our business. These are the organisations than underpin what we do. Without clients you’d have no income, without suppliers you’d have nothing to sell. So I’d venture that your top suppliers are as important as your clients. Now there’s an interesting thought.

Suppliers hold the detailed knowledge needed to help our businesses continually improve. Take Unilever as an example. This business estimates that around 70 per cent of their innovations are linked to their working relationships with strategic suppliers[iii]. With a global turnover of €53 billion in 2015, this puts perspective on just how significant Unilevers innovation activity would be[iv].

Market reach

Do you have strong brands and effective distribution channels to market and promote your goods and services? Imagine how much more could be achieved when collaborating with equivalent, or even larger companies than your own. The opportunity that comes from reaching broader markets through the promotion and endorsement by another trusted brand, is a truly powerful thing.

But there’s an art to partnership. It starts with us asking the other party, “What can I do for you? What would make a truly remarkable result for your business?” After all, a win for them is an opportunity for you. Whether it’s Roger Federer and Nike or Masterchef and Coles, perhaps BP and Velocity Frequent Flyers – the whole is always greater than the sum of the parts.

Right now, the West finds itself on a precipice. Will we stop, step back from the ledge and continue to engage in well thought through policy and trade? Will we realise the benefits from working with others? I believe we can. I believe we must. The alternative is a reality that no one would wish to face.

If you’d like to understand how commercial partnership can benefit your business, take a look at Synthesis Group’s Partnermore program and arrange a discussion with William Pegg.

[i] General Electric Open Innovation. Viewed 1 August 2016. http://www.ge.com/about-us/openinnovation

[ii] Barclays Bank Accelerator. Viewed 1 August 2016. http://www.barclaysaccelerator.com/#/

[iii] Trebilcock, B 2014, ‘Unilever Partners to Win’, Supply Chain Management Review, 24 September, viewed 6 July 2016, http://www.scmr.com/article/unilever_partners_to_win

[iv] Highlights of Unilever’s 2015 full year results, viewed 6 July 2016 https://www.unilever.com/Images/q4-2015-highlights_tcm244-470011_en.pdf