Tip 6: Ensure Solid Executive Sponsorship

Before you get busy with forming a relationship with your prospective business partner, you have to ask yourself this first: Are the higher-ups within your organization on board with the potential partnership or alliance?

Partnerships are not there for fun. Partnerships are of strategic importance to your organization. That means your top management needs to support the partnership and you want to ensure that you have the support of an executive sponsor. This executive sponsor will have a role towards his counterpart in the partner organization, with whom they will need to build a relationship and trust, and find a way to work together. Otherwise, without executive support and sponsorship, the relationship between your respective organizations will simply fail.

The role of an executive sponsor is broader than just building relationships and trust. The sponsor will be your executive champion, evangelizing about the alliance and getting the other executives in your organization to come to your side. Your executive sponsor shall also provide strategic guidance; the guidance they will provide will be the escalation point when the alliance manager faces issues that cannot be overcome on their level.

At the end of the day, the executive sponsor will be responsible overall for the performance of the alliance. In daily practice, it will most likely mean that he has a delegated responsibility to the alliance manager. The executive will remain on the background maintaining oversight, while the alliance manager will be held accountable for daily results.

This means that the alliance manager will need to build a close working relationship with the executive sponsor. There should be a constant information flow of the alliance’s progress without overloading and without under-informing the sponsor. In other words, the executive sponsor will be the alliance manager’s best friend within the organization.

Given how essential the executive sponsor is in the alliance, it’s important that they be selected carefully. In smaller organizations, this might be relatively easy. You’ll probably only need to go to one of the top executives in the organization. But whatever the size of your organization is, it’s paramount that you think about the value of the alliance to the business area of your would-be executive sponsor.

On the other hand, it’s just as necessary for you to have a look at the said executive’s clout and longevity in the organization. Think about it – what can they really accomplish towards the success of your partnership?

I have seen two completely opposite examples of how executive sponsors are chosen in my client organizations. One client always chose the most senior in line to be their sponsor. The advantage of this choice is that the executive will have a stake in the alliance. The results of the alliance will consolidate into their overall results. The downside is this client was a typically large company where job rotation was, on the average, once every three to four years. This necessitates changing the sponsor every three to four years as well. In an alliance with a company that was still being led by the founders after many years, this resulted in a complaint about “frequent changing of executives” by the client.

In another example with a different client, they generally made the choice for sponsor with sufficient seniority in general company management. Here I experienced that an executive sponsor moved from overall global responsibility for one product line to overall global responsibility for another product. In both cases, the executive remained sponsor for the partnership and was personally measured for its overall results.

In the end, choosing the sponsor will also depend on the company’s culture. For instance, what would have worked in the second example I have stated above would have done nothing for the first example.

When an alliance is of strategic importance to your organization, the chances it can flourish without executive sponsorship are minimal. The alliance may grow in the early stages while still under the radar screen, but the reality is you already started off in the wrong mode at that point. Executive sponsorship needs to be ensured early on before moving into partner selection. Otherwise, any alliance forged is doomed to fail or fated to a false start.

Executive sponsorship is essential to the success of the partnership because it’s the embodiment of the organization’s support for the endeavor.

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.