In a 1993 HBR interview Peter F. Drucker mentioned alliances as “Dangerous liaisons […] which, by the way, very few people understand”. In the article it is clear that Drucker refers to the manager’s desire to have control. Luckily, we’ve come a long way in the past 28 years. However, even today, not many people really understand alliances.
That lack of understanding is often the reason why there are relatively high alliance failure rates. It isn’t just related to a desire to be in control. There was a recent study by The Consultancy Growth Network. It showed that alliances under founder-led consultancies failed to deliver to expectations due to reasons that would have been easily preventable with proper understanding, and therefore, preparation.
Preparing for an alliance and launching it with a solid foundation for future success is one thing. Maintaining healthy alliance relationships is another. It requires a structured methodology and lots of attention and communication. Not just with your alliance partner, but also certainly inside your own organisation. If you are in alliance management yourself you know this already and I might be preaching to the converted! However, to quote Mr. Drucker once more, “Very few people understand”.
One of the structural tools that should be used to keep alliance relationships healthy is the so-called Alliance Health Check. When carrying this out on a regular basis you will know how your alliance relationships are performing and will also know what needs adjustment to keep them healthy. Some people will argue that they look at the results or revenue of an alliance as an indicator of its health. However, a result is the outcome and if the outcome fails you will often be too late to adjust the cause of failure.
Alliance Health Checks assess the alliance relationship. A healthy alliance relationship will lead to a healthy outcome and onwards to alliance success. Such health checks should not be static, like when measuring body temperature, if there is no fever then everything is ok! No, an Alliance Health Check should go deeper than that. The outcome of a health check needs to be analysed to identify underlying reasons for gaps in perception. Reasons that, without corrective action, might be the cause of alliance failure.
Try not to be your own physician, especially when two or more parties are involved, as is the case with alliances. It leads to finger-pointing when identifying gaps in the relationship and to toxic “us” versus “them” behaviour instead of healthy “we” behavior. Do hire an independent “alliance doctor” to perform an Alliance Health Check. This specialist will run a health check and create a report with the outcome, analysis and advice for corrective actions. Based on this report, an action plan for adjustment of the alliance relationship needs to be implemented, co-owned by the alliance managers.
Do you want dangerous liaisons or healthy alliance relationships? A properly performed Alliance Health Check will help your alliances to stay healthy and steer away from danger; the choice is yours!