In the process of establishing a strategic alliance with another organization, many people get involved. It starts with an assessment of the company’s strategic needs that leads to the conclusion that a partnership is desired. In some companies that happens within a corporate function, like strategy or the business development department. In other companies, it starts with the business unit who is looking for a partner to expedite their business unit strategy.

Over the time of the alliance creation process, many functions can get involved. We often see functions like legal, product management, marketing, regulatory, and business development being involved. These are just a few examples and this list is far from complete.

You might think “What a large group of functions to get involved in a strategic alliance?” Indeed, it is. However, do remember that the word strategic hints to a certain level of importance of the alliance for the future of the company. The alliance, therefore, needs to be carefully crafted to ensure the highest chances of success, hence the diverse group of functions that often needs to get involved.

Success in alliance creation and execution also asks for alliance ownership. Ownership starts already early on in the process and involves at least two alliance functions. The executive sponsor is the ultimate owner of a strategic alliance. The alliance manager can be seen as the execution owner, as the conductor who ensures that there is music in the alliance. These two roles should be assigned early on in the creation process.

In one of my alliance masterclasses, one of the participating alliance managers mentioned that he only hears about an alliance when the contract lands on his desk. That clearly is too late! In a similar vein, there are companies that do not, or very late, assign an executive sponsor to their alliances. This practice is like building a house and only adding the foundation after the house is ready…

The alliance manager needs to be part of the alliance creation team. It will allow him or her to start building the relationship with the counterparts and to learn to understand the partner organization and its particularities.

Your executive sponsor will need to be able to provide guidance and support to the alliance creation team. Additionally, he or she will need to communicate the essence of the alliance on the executive level in your organization and with the counterpart in the partner organization.

The alliance manager and executive sponsor are the owners of the alliance in your organization and they can only be held accountable for their ownership when the organization allows them to be involved. They are part of the foundation of an alliance and thus should be involved from the very early days onward.

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