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Stellar Partnerships

Stellar Partnerships: Corporate & Community Partnership

Hack your habits for partnership success

“You do not rise to the level of your goals; you fall to the level of your systems”. James Clear.

I’m guessing that most of you have big goals for corporate partnerships. Rarely do I speak to a non-profit that is just happy with whatever comes along. More likely the CEO has asked for a million dollars in partnership income by the end of the year and maybe some free wine for the Christmas party.

Most of the time we don’t have problems in setting goals. That’s why it’s easy to set New Year’s resolutions, but a lot harder to make them stick. The real challenge is aligning your goals and desired outcomes with your habits to create a system for success.

James Clear, the author of the best-selling Atomic Habits, talks about the 1% changes that will make the biggest difference if sustained over time. At his recent live event in Melbourne, I was inspired by his examples and how they can be applied to partnerships. If you want to hit those ambitious partnership goals, what are the habits you need to focus on?

The areas of highest leverage

What do you do that creates the maximum leverage or results for you? If you had to describe your best ever partnerships workday, what would it look like? Using the old 80/20 rule, those 20% of activities are usually the ones that get better results or help you advance towards your goals quicker. Think about how you can structure your day to prioritise those areas of focus rather than the time-wasting meetings, emails or general procrastination that create distractions.

Each morning, what is the moment that determines your day? For me, if I get to my desk and open up my emails and social media feed, I’m down a rabbit hole of distraction for an hour. But if I open straight to a document where I’m creating content or thought leadership then I’m set up for a great day.  Think about how you spend your day. If an alien from Mars came and observed your day, what would they guess that you do? I fear that some days they’d think I was a professional chocolate taster. Make sure you’re getting the highest leverage from where you’re spending your time.

Master ‘showing up’

James Clear tells us that a habit must be established before it can be improved. You need to master ‘showing up’, even for a short while. For many partnership people it’s making that cold approach email or call that’s the hardest habit to establish. So start small and do just one approach per day. When you’ve got comfortable in making this a daily habit, then you can look for improvements or additions. Clear recommends a ‘habit tracker’. This could simply be like the cute star chart you use for small children when you’re getting them to learn something new. How many of you write something on your To Do list for the satisfaction of ticking it off by the end of the day? The same psychology applies. The trick is to try not to break the chain. The longer it is, the more established the habit and the better you’re getting at that habit. If you do break the chain, try not to do it twice. You’ll find it easier to get back on track if you do it immediately afterwards. People who give up smoking report they often have lapses, but those who finally succeed are the ones that kept going back to the good habits.

Change your environment

Your physical and social environment has a big impact on your actions. For example, if you’re in a busy open plan office with lots of distractions, do you struggle to come up with creative ideas for your corporate partners? Could you book a quiet room for a couple of hours to get uninterrupted thinking time? Think about how your environment is impacting on your habits and behaviours. If you’re trying to get fit you want to hang out with people who go to the gym, not the ones who eat doughnuts for breakfast.

When you’re the only partnerships manager in your non-profit you’re often placed in the fundraising team. That means you unconsciously adopt their habits. You talk about a case for support instead of a commercial value proposition, focus on selling programs not solutions, or feel pressured to just send out volumes of unsolicited proposals instead of holding discovery sessions. The rules and norms for fundraising don’t work for partnerships but it’s hard to break the mould without compromising your acceptance in the group. As humans we’re all hard-wired to seek belonging and it can lead to some habits that are not helpful.

If you want partnerships success you need to join the tribes where the skills and behaviour you want are the norm. Hang out with partnership people at our next Partnership Connect, join interest groups or seek out partnership thought leaders. That way you can stay positive, even if your daily environment isn’t ideal.

Success isn’t achieved through radical change but a series of small gains that take you closer to your desired goal. You need to create systems that embed your skills, processes and approaches to partnerships until they are part of your DNA. Partnerships won’t be won by simply creating a massive target. You need to create awesome systems and they’ll be what gets you to the million-dollar goal.