Tip 15: Be Flexible in Transitioning the Partnership

French essayist Francois de La Rochefoucauld once wrote that the only thing constant in life is change. As clichéd as it may sound, it is indeed true. Change happens whether we like it or not, and we have to brace ourselves to embrace that change in order to move forward.

Partnerships are started with an intention and with a scope based on what you know and based on your organization’s strategy at the time of creation. However, circumstances change, the market or the opportunity may change, and strategies can change. When this occurs, it will be good to evaluate and transform the partnership into a new form or shape to ensure future success.

Let’s take a look at the example provided by the Senseo alliance between Philips and Sara Lee. In this alliance, the companies involved – Philips and Sara Lee – appear to have reached a transition point when Sara Lee decided to split into two separate and publicly traded companies by early 2012. One of the companies would be concentrated on the food service business of Sara Lee while the other would focus on becoming a coffee and tea company, with brands such as Senseo, Douwe Egberts and Pickwick.

This is a change of circumstances that none of the partners could have foreseen when the Senseo alliance started. With this change in circumstances, the partners could have continued to work like they did before. However, within the new Sara Lee coffee and tea company, the importance of the Senseo brand also changed. It was no longer one of the many brands within the overall company, but in the new narrowed company focus, Senseo became one of the few key brands in the portfolio.

In January 2012, Philips and Sara Lee announced that they have renegotiated the Senseo alliance and signed a new contract that will run through 2020. In the new contract, Philips will transfer its 50% ownership of the Senseo brand to Sara Lee, allowing the new coffee company to gain full ownership of the brand. Sara Lee’s executive chairman mentioned that the Sara Lee coffee business would, from now on, be based on a strategy around the Senseo coffee brand.

In this example, the alliance appears to have reached a transition point, and both partners have been flexible enough to find a new way of working together after a change in circumstances. This flexibility is essential.

In your alliance, if the circumstances change, what do you do? You can break up the collaboration because the initial opportunity is gone. However, if the basic collaboration between the two partners works well, then there should be more attractive solutions than simply breaking up. In such a situation, it might be good to actively look outside the box and start searching for new opportunities and new ways of working together. It will allow you to leverage the effort you’ve already done, and it will allow you to maintain the trust and working relationship that you’ve already built with your partner.

The transition of a partnership will enable you to extend the relationship and to leverage all the investments made in the partnership. It must be noted, however, that a transition is no magical solution for failing partnerships. There will be situations where changing circumstances can thankfully be used to leave a partnership that probably would never have been successful anyway. A good practice is to evaluate your partnerships regularly. This will enable you to adjust your course towards success or proactively steer it towards an exit or a transition.

Being flexible allows you to easily adapt and embrace changes that your partnership may need to survive and flourish for the longer haul.

I am publishing my ebook “25 tips for successful Partnerships and Alliances” in parts here on my website. Every other week a tip from the book will be shared, in the weeks in between I will publish my regular column. If you prefer to read the tips in the ebook faster rather than wait a full year then click here to purchase your own copy of the book.