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Stellar Partnerships

Stellar Partnerships: Corporate & Community Partnership

5 ways to unearth your hidden potential

One of my favourite things to do at the start of a new year is to buy a diary. The clean, fresh pages speak of opportunities and adventures yet to be lived. It also feels like I’ve got time; the whole year ahead despite hot cross buns appearing in shops in Boxing Day. Yes, Coles, I’m looking at you!

Many of you have new corporate partnerships on your wish list for 2024. No doubt your CEO has some big expectations of the budget gap you’re going to fill. But nobody is born with a natural talent for corporate partnerships: it’s a skill that must be nurtured over time. The author and psychologist Adam Grant writes of the Hidden Potential in all of us and how we can improve and succeed.

Learning from Adam Grant’s book, here are some ways to unlock your hidden potential for partnerships.

Become a creature of discomfort

Remember when you tried something for the first time? It was awkward, clumsy or even embarrassing. My first attempt at baking sourdough yielded a floury brick that could be classified as a lethal weapon. It wasn’t until many, many attempts later that I arrived at something approaching an edible food.

You won’t find partnership prospecting easy or comfortable in the beginning. But you need to put yourself out there before you feel like you’re totally ready. Your comfort will grow as you practice. Embrace the discomfort and build your skills as you practice. An easy way to overcome the fear is to reach out to some long shot prospects – the ones who are very unlikely to become partners. You’ve got nothing to lose and you’ll get comfortable with hearing no. You may even be pleasantly surprised!

Become a sponge

Success in partnerships will require you to build skills in areas that can be unfamiliar, like marketing, HR, sales or negotiation. Seek out new and different knowledge, skills and perspectives from your colleagues, your network or seasoned experts. You will build connections and tap into a community of knowledge that will help refine your approach to partnerships and stimulate innovation. That’s why NASA doesn’t just rely on engineers to develop its astronauts – it taps into psychologists, nutritionists and creative thinkers to unlock their full potential.

Become an imperfectionist

Done is better than perfect. You should strive for excellence not perfection. Too many times I’ve seen people polish their script or work on perfecting a glossy brochure. But they are excuses for procrastination. And as Elizabeth Gilbert says, ‘procrastination is fear dressed up in fancy shoes and a mink coat’. You can’t rely on corporate partners calling you and begging for a partnership. You need to be actively prospecting and starting those conversations. The start of the year is perfect, as most corporates are leading into their budget reforecasting and planning phase. Getting into their heads as early as possible gives you the chance for a slice of that next budget.

Set up the right scaffolding

Partnerships are fun because each corporate has different needs and priorities. Get the right support for each challenge. If it’s a corporate retailer, you may need help from the marketing team for a promotion or activation. For corporates who prioritise staff engagement, your HR or volunteer team may be your best source of support. If you’re building your partnership skills, seek out the right coaches, mentors or experts. When you plant a sapling in your garden you provide a stake for it to lean on until it’s stronger. What’s the scaffolding you should construct while you’re growing?

Build systems of opportunity

CEOs I’m looking at you. Partnerships are an ensemble performance, not a solo act. Most organisations, non-profits included, are set up as hierarchies with one person at the top of the ladder. That person usually has no experience in corporate, let alone partnerships, but has a lot of power to say no. Success in partnerships requires leadership practices, processes and systems to allow people to be heard. Too often the partnership people have no voice or no opportunity to put their case. Leaders set budgets without proper regard to the input or expertise of the partnership people at the coalface. If leaders build systems of opportunity where the right voices are heard, respected and included, there will be a more realistic approach to partnerships and less of the churn and burn of talented people.