Most of the frustrations, challenges and irritations you have about your partners, stakeholders and alliances are not the true issue. Most of what you are trying to fix are symptoms of a deeper root cause. Why is this distinction so important? Resources you are investing in solving symptoms are not actually fixing the problem underneath, and it is costing you vast amounts of time, money, energy and brain noise that could be put to better use.
Partnerships are hard work – managing people, priorities, performance and profits is not an easy task and further complicated when you add in differing cultures, objectives and needs of partnering leaders or organizations. Unknowingly, leaders will often present with symptoms of bigger issues because the symptoms are what are most noticeable and more identifiable. It is easy to be distracted by these symptoms because they are emotionally engaging.
Leaders will often say, “we’ve tried everything to increase engagement, and we can’t seem to fix it” or “I don’t understand why we keep having communication issues, even after continuous meetings and policies put in place.” What do these leaders have in common? They keep trying to fix the symptom, and IT DOESN’T GO AWAY.
Most likely, the reason why the problems are not going away is because they are symptoms of bigger issues that are not being addressed by the solutions leaders are putting into practice. When we fix sources of problems, the symptoms will disappear and results will be sustain longer.
What’s the difference between a symptom and a source?
Let’s think of it this way; My 8yr old son runs to me declaring he has a stomach ache and feels nauseous (symptom), and wants me to make it better. I have several options; I can ask him to sit down, get a paper bag, give him a sip of water, put a cold cloth on the back of his neck, give him medicine, hold his hand, tell him he’ll be ok, and so on. Any of these solutions might provide temporarily relief of his nauseousness, but how do I know the solution(s) I select will fix the problem quickly (so I don’t have to keep investing and testing)?
I can transform this whole situation by asking one simple quality question, which in this case is, “Why do you think you are feeling nauseous?”
Is he feeling sick because he has a stomach bug or because he went on a rollercoaster too many times? It’s obvious in this situation that the solution will be very different depending on the root cause of his feelings (source).
When I explain to my son that it’s probably time to stop the roller coaster re-runs, he’ll likely start feeling better. Or, if he has a stomach bug, antibiotics (or a natural approach) might be more effective than me holding his hand.
Similarly, the solutions you’re trying to implement to fix in your current strategic relationships might be just short term solutions because you missed a bigger problem brewing underneath. Which is like trying to stop a stomach bug, while your kid takes another ride on the roller-coaster.
The three most common root causes of partnership problems
The Value-Based Partnering practices are focused on helping leaders address the three critical criteria for success: shared purpose; better together; and impact on priorities.
These criteria are at the core of the most common problem symptoms reported by partnership leaders. They are so important, that unless met consistently throughout the life-cycle of a partnership, we don’t recommend that partnerships continue. Resolving your partnerships to ensure they meet these criteria – and dissolving the partnerships that don’t – is paramount for freeing up and redistributing scarce resources.
How are symptoms linked to sources?
More likely than not, the problem you are attempting to fix, isn’t really the problem. For example, common symptoms might include:
- Our partners are not engaged
- We can’t make decisions quickly or effectively
- We have power struggles
- Partners feel competitive
- Partners don’t show up to meetings
- Partners are not pulling their weight or staying accountable
- We have poor communication habits
- The partnership isn’t performing
- We don’t have enough resources
- Partners don’t trust each other
While every partnership is unique in its connection between symptoms and root sources, here are some examples of how the presenting symptom could be related to one or more of the three criteria above.
Our partners are not engaged
Partners are not clear on the purpose of the partnership.
Partners don’t see how their current strategic priorities align with the priorities of the partnership.
We can’t make decisions quickly or effectively
Partners don’t understand why they need each other to accomplish the partnership goals.
We have power struggles
Partners don’t think they need each other equally to accomplish the partnership goals.
Partners don’t show up to meetings
Partners don’t understand how the meeting helps fulfill the purpose.
Partners have priorities that are more important than the partnership (e.g., no longer have shared purpose)
- Take 5min right now and think about your most important partnership, stakeholder or strategic relationship. What are the symptoms you are noticing?
- Which of the 3 criteria might be the root source behind the challenging you are experiencing?
Learn to be a partnership detective! When symptoms arise, avoid the temptation to use duck-tape-solutions, and stay committed to understanding why the problems are presenting. Your investments will pay dividends as you discover more quickly the issues that are driving the problems you see. Not only will you be able to fix the real problems, you’ll be able to do a better job avoiding or mitigating them in the future.
- Posted by Enette Pauzé
- On October 16, 2016