Tip 9: Agree on a Set of Alliance Core Values and Operating Principles

You and your partner will be able to accomplish so many things just by trying to bridge your organizations’ two distinct cultures and create a third culture that’s all your own. This shared culture will build a way for you and your partner to understand each other on a deeper level.

However, it’s not just your culture, the way you do things that you should find a compromise with when you start your partnership. You and your partner have to agree to a set of core values. With a shared set of core values, you and your partner put yourself on the same page in determining what’s truly important in your relationship.

When the alliance is ready for kickoff, agreeing to a set of core values or operating principles is a good way to set expectations between two or more partners with different cultures and operating styles. You could argue that this should already have been covered in the legal contract that forms the foundation of the alliance. The problem with contracts, though, is lawyers often draft them with a protective mindset for their client. These contracts in general are sizeable documents, and people only look into them after the signing when the alliance starts going sour.

A set of core values and operating principles should be captured on one sheet. Additionally, this sheet should be easy to access. This sheet will guide the daily operation of the partnership. It will help bridge differences, especially when they are reviewed on a regular basis, such as during key partner meetings.

When you talk about what your core values and operating principles should be, you should be clear on the meaning of the words you use. For instance, if your operating principles contain a word like “quickly,” it’s important to jointly understand and define what “quickly” means for both parties in the alliance. Suppose your principles include a notice that decision-making will be done quickly and your company has a startup mentality, then “quickly” can mean as fast as between here and the elevator during the next hallway walk. But if your partner is a large organization, “quickly” can mean that it may take three consensus-driven, hour-long meetings to come to a quick decision.

 In Norma Watenpaugh’s 2009 article on creating value from innovation and the role of alliances, she mentioned that the key operating principle in the Rolls-Royce Starfish alliance is that there was no limit to profit for each of the partners. On the other hand, the SAS whitepaper on the outsourcing partnership between Proctor& Gamble and Hewlett-Packard described this partnership as containing elements like “look and strive for win-win” and “communicate openly, often and clearly.”

It is the best practice among alliances to review the common values and principles as the first agenda item at key partner meetings. Be clear on the meanings of the words you use! Clarifying until you agree on a common meaning will help cross bridges and create trust within the partnership. Values will then become the governing principles for your alliance and will help foster win-win thinking and behavior.

Agreeing on a set of core values and operating principles with clear definitions of terms creates understanding and trust within your partnership.

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