Whilst most of my work is in large corporate environments, I also have several small business and charity clients. The expertise I’ve built from my time in big business is clearly valuable for them, but the learning is by no means all one-way. In fact, there are a number of things they do brilliantly, from which big businesses can learn a great deal.
One thing they do really well is “partnership”. Some of the charities I’ve worked with, especially those in social care, are really good at this. It isn’t without its challenges, but their ability to collaborate with direct competitors where they have a common purpose, is pretty impressive.
But to get a real sense of what’s possible through partnerships, you need to look to small businesses.
Take PES, one of my clients based on the Advanced Manufacturing Park in Sheffield. They are, quite literally, surrounded by other high tech engineering companies, ranging from one-man-bands to Boeing. And almost all of their projects involve collaborative partnerships with a constantly shifting network of other businesses, including competitors.
It’s an approach that allows them, even as a small business, to take on projects way bigger than they otherwise could, and more importantly, to find ingenious solutions to incredibly complex problems – problems their much larger clients can’t hope to solve on their own. The key to navigating such a complicated environment, is to be able to very clearly and convincingly answer these four questions:
- What needs to be done?
- What can others do for us?
- What can we do better than anyone we know?
- What can only we do?
The clearer each business can be about its unique capabilities, and the more focused it is on developing and talking about them, the easier it is to make giant leaps through partnership with other complementary organisations.
And the more likely it is to attract people wanting to partner.
So how convincingly can you answer those four questions?