“Truth between candid minds can never do harm” Thomas Jefferson
Next year I’ll celebrate my 30th wedding anniversary with my beloved husband. In the early months of dating, we asked a lot of questions to get to know each other. What’s your favourite food/ book/ film? Do you like dogs or cats? Which team do you support? As the years go by, the questions change. We don’t need to ask about preferences anymore; I know he hates olives, is allergic to cats, and loves watching cricket. We talk about issues that test and stretch our relationship: grieving the loss of a parent, worries about illness, or hopes for our children.
As you develop relationships with your partners you need to move beyond the basics that established the partnership. If you want a relationship that lasts decades you can‘t be asking the same questions year after year. If you’re just asking for more money each time, they’ll dread your call.
Here are the seven best questions you can ask to advance and deepen your partnership:
Is it having the impact we want?
Things change over time and there will be bumps along the way. Checking in with your partner and being candid about your joint achievements will create trust, transparency and greater commitment to the best outcomes for you and the community.
What benefits are you getting from the partnership?
When you negotiated the partnership, you probably included a bunch of benefits like PR, content, expertise or access to key audiences. You won’t have visibility of the full range of benefits that a corporate is getting and there may be some unintended ones. Cancer Council VIC worked with Commonwealth Bank staff to change the way they supported people experiencing financial hardship as a result of their diagnosis. It not only benefitted CBA customers but had the effect of improving the way that the bank dealt with a range of customers with similar issues. It improved CBA’s customer retention and net promoter score and their staff satisfaction went through the roof. The partnership allowed staff to feel proud and inspired about doing something meaningful to improve people’s lives.
What’s the most important thing to you?
Our world is volatile and complex and things are changing fast. Corporate leaders move on, companies merge or restructure and markets evolve. A corporate’s priorities may well have changed and they need to refocus. You need to keep checking in to make sure you’re still delivering to their needs and your own.
Are we being ambitious enough?
Early wins in the partnership are great and you can celebrate together. If you’d like the partnership to grow, can you challenge and stretch each other? Community needs aren’t getting smaller, so how can the partnership respond?
How can we use our collective assets better?
As you get to know each other you’ll uncover ways to leverage your expertise, networks and assets in new ways. Beyond Blue and Australia Post have a well-established partnership. During the Sydney Pride celebrations, Beyond Blue invited Australia Post to share their prized Mardi Gras float. It was an opportunity that AusPost wouldn’t have been able to access, to celebrate its LGBTIQ+ community and enable employees to participate.
How are your staff/ customers/ stakeholders feeling about the partnership?
You and your main contacts may think that the partnership is going swimmingly, but what about the corporate’s external stakeholders? Or your own NFP donors? Find ways to get their feedback and input and you’ll uncover ways to tweak and improve your communications and partnership impact. When BAE partnered with the Smith Family they wanted to make a commitment to education. Unfortunately the wider community didn’t warm to the combination of weapons and children, irrespective of the original intent, and the partnership did not survive.
How can we make the impact sustainable?
No corporate wants to feel like an important program or initiative will fall over the moment they leave. They want to create a legacy that endures. That may involve bringing other stakeholders into the relationship, for example, universities, government, researchers. With ESG metrics a hot topic for corporate leaders, being able to measure and plan for long term success is critical to sustaining a longer-term relationship.
It’s easy to get comfortable in a long-term relationship. But without the right questions, you could find that you’ve drifted apart over time. Note the shift from first person “I’ questions that often dominate early conversations. “I think, I want, I need, I can offer…” Now the emphasis is on ‘we’ as the partnership becomes an invitation to collaborate, not a bilateral exchange of value. If you create a space for collaboration and co-creation, you’re on the right path to celebrating a long and fruitful relationship.