Why is Esprit de Corps (Commitment & Loyalty) essential to partnership success?

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The fourth imperative of partnership success is Esprit de Corps. Esprit de Corps is a French word that means “for the spirit of the group; or, to feel enthusiasm, loyalty, and a sense of responsibility for the welfare of a group.”  

So, what does the word commitment mean? According to Heidi Reeder, Associate Professor at Boise State University, and the author of Commit to Win, achieving commitment from others requires the thoughtful consideration of four factors, which are: 

  1. Treasures (benefits) 
  2. Troubles (costs) 
  3. Contributions (investments needed/made) 
  4. Choices (alternatives) 

When considering engaging in a new strategic partnership, it is important to understand the full commitment of time, money, and other resources that will be required to make the endeavor successful. And to the contrary, you must ensure that your partner candidates understand the commitments that are needed. Remember, unlike sales, your objective is not to “get a yes;” your objective is to build a powerful symbiotic relationship.   

Managing and leading strategic partnerships requires a significant number of resources from all companies involved. Success is never achieved without a full and unwavering commitment to encounter, endure, and overcome the significant challenges that inevitably lie ahead.  

Commitment can only be achieved if people fully understand what they are committing to. The planning portion of a strategic partnership is critical to achieving commitment because this is the phase of the process that fully discloses details of the commitment. If you enter a partnership where quitting is a convenient option, then save your time and money and do not form the partnership. Every partnership undergoes challenges, unknowns, and turbulent waters that will test your will to succeed. 

Every executive knows growing a business is challenging even in the best of times. When you decide to grow your business through partnerships, you now must work outside of your company’s walls where you do not write these people’s performance reviews, you do not decide their merit salary increase, and you cannot fire them. 

Your partner’s organization has its own unique cultural norms, standards, and forms of communication. Your ability to influence and direct your partners’ actions will likely be significantly lower than your ability to influence employees within your own organization. 

Commitment in Partnerships 

Every partnering initiative falls somewhere on a continuum between fully transactional, where price is the major consideration, and fully collaborative, where hundreds of variables are considered. Transactional partnerships involve the use of commodities where replacements are easy to find. In contrast, strategic partnerships always include a significant innovation that is focused on creating value and ultimately a competitive advantage.  

Partnerships that fall on the transactional side of the continuum have unique characteristics as compared to partnerships from the strategic realm. The following illustration depicts a few of these characteristics and how they relate to levels of commitment. If successful, strategic partnerships will create a competitive advantage for at least one of the partners. These relationships are unique, and they must be treated this way. 

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Low Commitment

So, what are some strategies that can help you test a potential partner’s level of commitment to your innovative cause? 

  1. Have they actively engaged in planning conversations, and do they have a clear and consistent view of the partnership’s goals that align with yours? 
  2. Are they willing to sign a multi-year deal? Depending on the partnership’s complexities, many strategic partnerships require one to two years (if not more), to produce attractive results. 
  3. Are they willing to forgo a termination for convenience clause in your agreement? That is, are they willing to commit to supporting the partnership at least until the initial term ends, or do they want a lever that allows them to eject if they lose interest? 

Bernie Brenner, Co-Founder of TRUEcar and the author of The Sumo Advantage, states that his organization will not enter a partnership with a company unless they are willing to sign a multi-year agreement and forego a termination for convenience clause. He argues that these two points alone could be a clear signal of a company’s lack of commitment to a partnership. Bernie goes on to suggest that challenges arise in every strategic partnership—it comes with the territory. When we attempt to create something innovative, new, and unproven, we must be committed to the cause and not be willing to take the easy way out. Otherwise, failure will be the inevitable outcome, and everybody loses. 

As a quick side note, I want to share some staggering statistics regarding employee commitment as you look to improve strategic partnerships within your organization. As you seek to engage and develop relationships with partners to grow your company, you must first consider your own team. It is imperative that your strategic partners be engaged and committed to your collective success, but more importantly, as a business leader, you must first ensure that your own team is poised for the challenge. 

2020 Gallop Poll stated, only 35% of employees are “highly involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace.” 

Additionally, only 33% of employees state their supervisor is engaged in the team’s performance. 

This means that 65% of employees are either “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” in their work. Considering these staggering statistics, it is no wonder why the failure rate of strategic partnerships is so high. However, having partnerships that are led by employees who have a strong sense of purpose and commitment to the joint vision of the partners will significantly improve the partnership’s likelihood of success. 

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