Different Views in Partnerships

by : Dorene Lehavi

A series of articles exploring the seven critical areas that can indicate a partnership is in trouble.

The 6th C: Changing Vision

In order for a business to be a success the vision and mission must be reflected in all aspects of the structure, the culture and the strategy by which business is conducted. Contained in these are core values and principles set forth by the owners and leaders. If there are discrepancies between any of these, I can assure you there will be problems.

There are two parts to vision. One is the partners' vision for the business and the other is each partner's personal vision for their life.

The personal vision of each should be in sync with the vision of the business and enhance it. Obviously it is important to have clarity of both before entering the partnership and to revisit them periodically as they may change over time.

For example, Justin and Romero were partners in a chain of do-it -yourself stores for about 15 years. The vision the business fulfilled was to provide easy access to low cost supplies for homeowners in various locales who were involved in do-it-yourself home fix up projects. One-stop shopping at discounted prices.

They were quite successful and over the years added a significant number of stores to their chain. There was a 20 year age difference between the partners, and that seemed to have served them well. Justin was younger and more of a risk taker; Romero was more cautious. They respected each other's opinion and were able to create a balance in their decision making around the business. Investments of profits, adding new stores, dealing with suppliers, changing their inventory focus based on changing markets over the years were easy discussions for them.

About 15 years later Justin decided it was time to take some major risks by adding additional services such as a food and household supply division and a pharmacy. Justin was interested in a much broader base of customers. This would not only change the focus of their clientele, but also vendors, marketing strategy and ultimately taking risks previously avoided. At the same time, Justin was eagerly ready to move into this new level of business, Romero was thinking of retirement. He was becoming more cautious and did not want to forge ahead with new risks.

Obviously the changing perspective of the partners' personal goals created a dichotomy of opinion regarding the previous agreement of the purpose and vision for the business.

The resolution emerged through coaching sessions. The communication between the partners had always been open and respectful of each other. So in this situation the goal of finding a win/win resolution and a carefully crafted plan designed to end the partnership was not too difficult. A buy-out of Romero based on their original agreement with some new amendments took place and Justin found a new partner with whom he could implement his plan for the future.

In another example, Thomas and Fred were excited to be launching a new internet business. The vision for the business was to provide a unique means of networking geared to members of the fitness industry. It would enable people in that industry to find both employment and services supporting their industry. It also allowed new participants to feature their products. A particular mode of qualifying for the service would insure the trustworthiness of those benefiting from the service.

Thomas and Fred had been friends since high school and were very close. They got along well and had no doubt they were a good match as business partners. For the most part they were both in total agreement about the vision, structure and strategies needed to fulfill their plans.

In their first coaching session I asked them each how they saw their future 5 years down the line in relation to the business. Thomas envisioned a highly successful company that would achieve market value and go public in a year. By then he would be married and have a family, able to live well, vacation a lot and be quite affluent. The business would be there to provide at that level for his family for many years to come until he decided to retire. He envisioned passing the business on to his children if they wanted it.

Fred said in 5 years he saw the business as being a financial success worth many millions and at that point he would want to sell it as a public company and move on to something else. He had no intention of marrying or making a life long career out of this particular idea.

They looked at each other in amazement. Until that moment both had assumed they knew each other very well and were on the same page.

This difference in their personal life visions was certainly workable. It simply meant they now had a new dimension of knowledge about each other and that the partnership agreement between them could be written with more wisdom, minimizing surprises down the line.

Your vision is a picture of your purpose, whether it be personal or for your business. A purpose gives your life meaning. Your business also must have a purpose if it is to be a source of fulfillment and satisfaction. Partnerships are very much like marriages and likewise, the relationships between the partners need to be handled with the same detailed care. When a change in vision occurs, it can tear people away from each other. The key in partnerships as in marriage is to constantly talk openly. In a business the key to talking is to always hold the commitment to the business and the partnership as a given. When partners have maintained a close and open relationship the concern and care for each by the other is also a given. So when differences occur they can be managed in a manner that provides a win/win outcome.

The examples I used focus mainly on changes in personal vision, however, personal vision can have a direct effect on business vision and vice versa. If the vision of a business is subject to changes due to market, societal or global trends, business partners can be faced with the same challenges to reconcile competing or evolving business purpose. Communication and commitment are always keys to success.