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Stellar Partnerships

Stellar Partnerships: Corporate & Community Partnership

The trap of playing favourites

When you open your wardrobe do you have your favourites? I find myself reaching for things that I know are predictable, comfortable and safe. When Sharon moved house recently, she discovered a treasure trove of items that had languished unnoticed for ages. After the cursing and effort to pack everything up, I wonder if she’s discovered some hidden gems?

It’s estimated that people wear 20% of their clothes 80% of the time. Where do you spend 80% of your time in partnerships? Of course you’ve got favourites. They’re the ones who always take your call, the ones that you’ve built an easy rapport with, or maybe the ones that are the least demanding. But sticking with favourites and staying in your comfort zone can be a dangerous trap. It feels stable and predictable, like a favourite pair of shoes, but things can become stagnant.

How can you avoid the trap of playing favourites?

The Yerkes-Dodson Law tells us that the best results come from the ‘Goldilocks zone’, where there is just the right amount of discomfort and awareness to stimulate new thinking. Too little stimulation can lead to boredom and complacency. Too much can be stressful and can stall progress. When you’re out of the comfort zone and into the Goldilocks zone you get learning and growth.

Take a hard look at your portfolio

With established partnerships there is always the risk of stagnation. If they’re a favourite partner, then there’s the temptation to overlook the shortcomings of the partnership. Perhaps there’s also fear that you might lose a treasured relationship. But what if their level of giving hasn’t increased for 5 years? Or you’re always speaking to the same, low-level manager and never to the CEO? Mapping your existing portfolio against their growth potential, quality of the relationship and depth of commitment can uncover some uncomfortable truths about your favourite partnerships. Are they stuck in a rut and need some fresh ideas? Or will they never grow up to be the significant partners you want them to be? Don’t avoid the hard truths as you could be using up your valuable time on the wrong partners.

Treat them like a new prospect

If you were approaching your favourite partner for the first time, what would you ask them? Do you know what’s changed in their business and their industry sector? When you approach a new prospect, you take time to do a thorough series of discovery meetings. It’s like starting a new job, when you’ve got the first 100 days to ask a ton of questions without feeling dumb. It may feel uncomfortable to do this with an existing partner, but that’s exactly the type of challenge you need to uncover new opportunities. They will be grateful that you’re interested to hear about their challenges and what they’re facing into right now. The economic environment is volatile and challenging and their needs may well have changed. Adaptation builds resilience into the partnership.

Challenge their thinking

If they’re a favourite partner and you’ve got a great relationship, can you get them to help with solving your organisation’s current challenges? It might be finding more volunteers to run your programs, meeting the surge in demand for your services or the difficulties faced by your beneficiaries as a result of the COVID landscape. Your current partners will often ask you ‘what else can I do?’. Getting them involved and tapping into their expertise and perspective could be the catalyst you need for a breakthrough. I once challenged a group of CEOs to think differently about the issue of people trafficking in South- East Asia. Whilst some of their ideas were a bit outlandish (setting up their own transport company across the Golden Triangle??!) they had some great insights and a renewed commitment to solving the problem in partnership.

You need to try something uncomfortable to avoid the trap of stagnation with your favourite partners. You may feel safe and in control now, but things change in an instant. The last word belongs to that great thinker, Benjamin Franklin:

“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement and success have no meaning.”