Trust and External Relationships

Wednesday, 02 January 2013 06:30
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Today, more companies than ever are seeking collaborative external business relationships. One of the most important foundations necessary for these relationships to work is a level of trust and shared values. This is not simply a cliche. If one or both parties are unable to set aside natural initial wariness of the other's intentions and or motivations, the collaboration will almost certainly fail.

Curious to learn more? Read on, dear friends...

Trust and External Relationships

External facing corporations like Beiersdorf, Unilever, Meadwestvaco and Procter and Gamble often will consider and enlist select existing suppliers to assist them with thorny challenges. They will do this prior to considering the introduction of new partners into the mix. This makes sense as there already exists a high degree of trust, comfort and confidence in these known entities. As new partners present uncertainty, they are approached more carefully. Parties seeking to be considered for entry into these "inner circles" must appreciate this and should try to do what they can to establish crediblity and trustworthiness.

Trust as the Foundation for Productive Partnerships:

Corporate liaisons from Georgia Pacific and S.C. Johnson have each separately shared with me their sentiments that good external partnerships are predicated on shared values and mutual trust. They have each backed away from partnership opportunities in instances where they lacked sufficient comfort with the other party, despite an otherwise seemingly attractive basis for moving forward. I've personally witnessed instances where technical collaborations between large corporate "peers" never realized their potential because distrust shaded internal decision making. Sadly, these partnerships flagged because the parties distrusted the other's motivations.
So, it is not surprising that some partnerships may take some time to develop as the participants work to develop a sense for each other and to gauge their mutual compatability.

Demonstrate Trustworthiness:

A terrific way for partners to build trust is for them to simply demonstrate trustworthiness. That is, to do what is promised, completely and on-time. They should overachieve, if possible.

Also, refrain from gossiping about partners, including prospective, current and former ones. "If you have nothing good to say, don't say anything at all." Assume that anything you do say will find its way back to the parties mentioned.

Trust But Verify:

President Ronald Reagan is famous for his expression, "Trust but verify". In practice, this can mean: put all agreements in writing and keep an organized and extensive (electronic) paper trail that documents activity and business correspondence. Business people often find both of these practices to be useful to avoid ambiguity, misunderstandings and the potential for outright abuse. View them if you will as means to "cover one's back side". However, as is often said, agreements and paper trails are not for when things are going well. They're for the (hopefully extremely infrequent) times when they aren't.

One should always approach new relationships carefully, especially if there isn't any information about new prospective partners that can be referenced in order to establish comfort. In addition to seeking to form our own impressions based on personal interactions, researching a prospective partner's track record can be a helpful and telling indicator. Just as one is well advised to check performance ratings of prospective vendors on Ebay before engaging in business transactions, it is also wise to research a partner's collaboration history, including business references. Intelligence gathering can be a good first step for any prospective collaboration and shouldn't insult the other party (who, after all, may be doing likewise).

Trust is an important and necessary prerequesite for quality partnerships. It can be immensely powerful once earned. Make the effort necessary to ensure that you choose your partners wisely and act in the fashion that you would like others to, as well.

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