The End of the One Way Street

For those of you that have been following my Little Life Stories blog over the past week, you know that I have had quite a bit of windshield time as my son and I drove the 2500 miles from Phoenix, Arizona to Brookfield, Connecticut.  Over 40 hours in the car equated to that much time off-line.  You should try it some time.  Disengaging and taking the time to think without the constant demands of meetings, phone, or computer.

One WayNow traveling down highways is the ultimate One Way Street.  If someone decides to travel in the wrong direction – it’s a recipe for disaster. 

But for most other areas of our life and business – traveling down the one way street is a very short sighted solution.   

A very wise friend of mine taught me long ago that by extending yourself, engaging, and helping others there is a karmic affect.  What you give comes back to you.  This video tells the story… 

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BVhWIetBH0]

A recent blog post and developing exchange with Gloria Feldt on her blog “Speaking Up” under the category of Courageous Leadership really helped me bring my thoughts into focus in terms of social media interactions and my social media tool kit as a leader.

How does social media fit in my leadership tool kit?

I loved that Gloria started off by recognizing that social media is a tool for leaders and not a strategy. Social Media – interactive websites, blogs, Linked In, Twitter, Facebook, and more are each separate tools that can be used separately and on concert to 1) deliver information and 2) interact with your audience, employees, customers, and community in general.   These actions are the components of our strategy.  The tools simply enable us to act more effectively.

The days of one-way communication are coming to a close.

With the development of new social media platforms, we have entered into a new era of two-way communication that will allow us, as leaders, to develop stronger relationships, enhance communications, share ideas, and collaborate.

I am just learning to use these new tools to facilitate these interactions. The more I learn, the better a communicator and ultimately a leader I can become.

Here is a short story to illustrate what effectively using social media tools can do.

Gloria and I met at an ASU Women in Philanthropy event in 2002. Since then we exchanged holiday cards, read an occasional newsletter or email, and were loosely connected. As we both began to use the newer social media tools, we began to more actively interact, follow each others projects, and introduce each other to friends with shared goals.  Ultimately these conversations can lead to collaborations in the future. Basically, our communication has become a two-way street.

Are you still stuck on the one way street?

Not everyone is taking advantage of this opportunity.  Often I continue to  come across others in the social media and business worlds who are still stuck on that “one-way street” mode of communicating.  They continue to PUSH information out while failing to take advantage of the opportunity to PULL information in by engaging with their social media communities.  Until they do, they will run the risk of missing out on great new ideas, critical information, or opportunities to collaborate, and make a difference in their businesses, their personal interactions, and their communities – where ever they may be.

It’s kind of sad – I hate to see anyone miss opportunities – but in the end, that is their choice.  Their decision just creates more available opportunities for those of us choosing to travel down “two way streets”.

Thanks for stopping by.  Stay tuned.

Joan Koerber-Walker

Looking Both Ways

One of the earliest lessons we learn as we make our way into the world is to “look both ways before we cross the street.” We heard it as children and have said it to our own. From a business perspective,– looking both ways translates more broadly to knowing that before you head out in a new direction, you must pay attention to the world around you.

j0402780[1]Understanding Environment

“Looking both ways” reminds us of the importance of taking a look at our environment. As we prepare to cross our first street, we are leaving the comfort of what we know with a goal of moving to a new location – the other side of the street.

As business people and businesses – to be successful and achieve our goal safely – we need to know:

Where we are…

Where our customers are…

Where our competition is…

Where our competition is going…

Where WE are going…

What resources we need to get there…

&

Where do we get them?

Why say we need to know where we are? It’s obvious, right?

Not always. Often we are so busy trying to achieve the next objective or goal that we forget to step back and assess where we are today. If we do not take the time to really look at where we are today, we may miss those important “little things” that can have a major impact on to where we want to go.

As we look at where we are, there are some important questions to ask. Some are based on what the organization looks like inside while others are external, how others see you. Both are critically important.

So take the time to look both ways, it can make all the difference in your journey.

Thanks for stopping by.  Stay Tuned…

Joan Koerber-Walker

 

Want more business – Get a Map!

The Impact of Services Mapping on Employee and Customer Enthusiasm

In today’s challenging business environment, creating and maintaining customer enthusiasm can make the difference between business success and business extinction.

j0402776[1]Customers have more choices than ever before and expect higher and higher service levels relative to

· product and service information 

· choice between service offerings

· tailored or custom services

· quality of delivery

· the quality of the buying experience

Across industries, companies are discovering that of these 5 customer demands, the greatest is that of the buying experience.

While a customer will forgive a service failure that is corrected promptly by a company’s enthusiastic employee ambassador, customers will migrate quickly from companies whose employees feel disenfranchised, even if the service is performed as promised.

But what is an employee ambassador, and where do you find one?

The answer is simple, employee ambassadors are all around you. They are each member of your organization who touches a customer – directly or indirectly. To create enthusiastic employee ambassadors, organizations must provide a support system to foster enthusiasm that includes:

· A consistent culture that reaffirms that each employee is key to the company’s success

· A commitment to process, structure and continuous improvement that allows the employee to make promises to customers and gives the employee faith that their promises will be kept.

As companies aggressively pursue the development and growth of services offerings and services revenue, it has become increasingly important, in fact, imperative for these firms to provide a consistent level of process, support and flexibility to support employees in their quest of keeping promises to customers resulting in the growth of high levels of customer and employee enthusiasm and the resultant customer loyalty and profitability.

All of us want our employees and customers to be enthusiastic about the products and services we provide. Employees can not be enthusiastic if they feel that they can not deliver what is promised, and customers will loose enthusiasm and go elsewhere if promises are not kept. The question is how do we create that enthusiasm and keep it? One tool, created at Arizona State University, is the process of Services Mapping.

Customer Enthusiasm SCC

Cross functional teams across the spectrum of a product or service delivery create a “map” of the product and service delivery systems. The map is broken down into five levels:

Customer View & Evidence:  What does the customer see in the way of marketing materials, articles, and information about the product or service that brings them to your door?

Customer Contact: What does the customer experience when they first make contact with your Organization?

On Stage Employee: What are the tools, attitudes, and systems in place to support a positive employee/customer interaction and the employees confidence in making promises to customers?

Back Stage Employees:  What are the tools, attitudes, and systems in place to support a positive interaction between the front line employee and those they must rely on behind the scenes.

Resources:  What are the physical, financial, and technology resources on stage and back stage employees need to keep promises to each other and ultimately to customers.

The Services Mapping process:

· Provides an Overview so employees know “What to Do” when things go right and when they don’t.

· Identifies weak links in the chain, so promises are kept more often!

· Defines the Lines of Customer Interaction between customers and employees so the employee recognizes where they can have the most impact to the customer experience and the company’s goals.

· Defines Lines of Internal Interaction defined between departments

· Provides a basis for identifying and assessing cost, revenue, and capital invested

· Creates a baseline for use in customer satisfaction and quality improvement efforts

When service delivery processes work, promises are kept, employee enthusiasm increases and it spreads to customers. The result is greater profits as customers stay, and more importantly, through their enthusiasm, bring more customers via the strongest marketing tool in the arsenal, customer referrals!

Thanks for stopping by.  Stay tuned…

Joan Koerber-Walker

Turning Things Around in 2009

What was your New Year’s resolution?  Mine was to talk to at least two different people every day about what’s happening in our economy and to explore opportunities. 

It had gotten to the point where I was afraid to turn on the radio, TV, or open the paper.  The news was just too depressing.  So I resolved to reach out into my community and observe things first hand.

Since January 1st,  I have met with and spoken to a lot of people in Arizona, across the US, and even abroad.  And what I am hearing is encouraging.  Yes, times are tough, but people are moving forward, innovations are happening, businesses are making changes to speed their recoveries, and investors are looking to invest in solid business plans.  As I meet with friends and business colleagues, they in turn have introduced me to their friends…and I have returned the favor.

Here are just a few of the wonderful things I have uncovered in my search for opportunities…

  • One of my friends was working with a company with a great new product and service concept.  They were getting ready to reach out to investors and showed me their developing plan.  I even got to make some suggestions.  Hopefully, they will help this company raise their next round of funding.  They have a great concept. 
  • I spent time with two executives in Detroit.  One from GM and one from Ford.  Some of the stories they shared were sad, but there were glimmers of hope as they talked about new developments and what those companies were doing to turn things around.
  • A biotech researcher in San Diego was bubbling over with excitement when she shared news about a new development in the lab that could improve an long-standing medical process and ultimately save thousands of lives when it is brought to market.  I told anther friend about it and he introduced me to the person I needed to meet to move the process along.
  • A manufacturer in Arizona has created a new system to help restaurants be more competitive, improve processes, and save energy.  Their business is growing by leaps and bounds.
  • An architectural  glass distributor in Michigan has taken their business global and not only grown substantially but has won high honors and awards along the way.
  • Over the last weeks I have met with people looking to buy businesses and re-capitalize them, not just saving jobs, but with future growth… creating them.  Oh, and they are finding the money for it too!
  • Meetings have brought me in contact with incredibly talented CEO’s and executives who are looking for their next big project.  They were not sitting at home or hitting the links.  They were out there just like me, sharing their expertise, serving on boards of directors, mentoring others, and helping to get things moving forward again.

With all of these encouraging stories bolstering my courage, I was brave enough to open the newspaper again. And what did I find?  Well yes, there was news of layoffs and filings for Chapter 11 BUT there were also NINE full pages dedicated to positive stories just like mine.  Stories of business owners and individuals sharing how they too are staying ahead of the downturn. 

I’ve made it though seven months of keeping my New Year’s resolution.  I think I’ll stick with it.  Wouldn’t you?

Thanks for stopping by.  Stay  Tuned.

Joan Koerber-Walker

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A Time for Growth – the era of the entrepreneur

Recently, I had an opportunity to share ideas with a group of legislators, educators, and business leaders on the role of the entrepreneur – now and in the future. Any time you get a group together, getting agreement can be a real challenge. But on one area we had unanimous agreement – Entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial activity in both the private and public sectors will be a significant driver out of our current situation and for long term economic growth in the years to come.

 More and more Americans are starting or running their own businesses –

j0439328[1]There are a number of factors driving a change in how many of us view work today. In the last five years, during both the up cycle and our current down cycle, many workers left traditional jobs in corporations and explored new alternatives.

In some cases, what they found was more rewarding than their former jobs and they will not be going back to the corporate world again. They have opened consulting practices, restaurants, retail establishments and on-line businesses to name a few. 

Others will return to more tradition employment as the current job cycle corrects itself.

Additionally, population demographics are changing. In 2010, over one half of the world population will be over 50 years old and the average life expectance in the U.S. will be approaching 100! People will be healthier, more active, and less likely to retire, but will want the flexibility of non traditional jobs. A new entrepreneurial or self employed life style is very attractive to many of the people embarking on their ‘second 50 years’. In many cases, ”Boomers” have or have access to the resources and key factors for starting or growing a business – education, talent, experience, and the drive to create something new and different. .

Are you a “-preneur”?

An entrepreneur is someone who organizes, operates, and assumes the risk for turning an idea into a business venture while an intrapreneur is a person who does the same thing within a large corporation. In both cases, you take direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable organization or finished product through assertive risk-taking and innovation. The prefix before the “-preneur” simply shows where you are in the organization when you are driving change and growth. When at the helm of my own company – I am an entrepreneur. When working with clients – they have the ultimate responsibility and my job is to help them as the entrepreneur or intrapreneur. I like to think that as a “-preneur” you can make things happen – no matter what the structure of the organization you are in.

Is being entrepreneurial enough?

Not if you want your business prosper over time! The purpose and values of an organization are the next KEY to growth.

Defining the core purpose of an organization is actually the process of centering in on what you really care about – what you are really good at – and in the area where these activities come together – what you can do that creates a degree of value that people will pay you for. This is your core purpose or the primary reason that you are in business. If all of your strategy, goals and activities are focused only on what satisfies each of these three criteria, there is a much higher probability for success. Conversely, activities that do not fall in these areas are opportunities for outsourcing or partnerships.

The basic premise is to do what you do best and for the rest – partner with whoever is best at it. This defines WHAT you do as a company. The next key factor is HOW you will accomplish it. This is where values come into play. An organization’s values define how they do things. We always talk about how a company does something but the reality is that it’s the people inside that make things happen.

People’s values determine how they do things. How they act. How hard they work. How creative they will be. If you can match the values of your organization to the values of the people who are in it (or come into it), you’ve got a winner. When people share the same values, they don’t have to be motivated. They already are motivated. They find new ways of doing things. They focus on the customers. They make things happen because they believe in what they are doing.

Are you ready to grow…

j0439318[1]Be sure that growth fits in with your core purpose and values. Very often we see an opportunity to grow and we jump into it before we take the time to fully evaluate what it means to our business in the long term. Growth for growth’s sake can be very dangerous. Companies that grow too fast can lose their focus, confuse their employees or adversely affect the quality their customers have come to expect. In the most extreme cases they can even run out of cash and without cash everything stops. Here are a couple of questions every company should ask themselves as they move towards growth:

  1. Does the new product, location or service fit into what we have defined as our core purpose?
  2. Do we have the operational and financial resources to support the levels of quality and service our customers have come to expect from us?
  3. What should we be measuring each step of the way through the growth process to ensure we are continuing to move in the right direction?
  4. Who are the partners we work with who can help us with this growth and how can they help us? What are they best at?

The best advice…

Find something you can get really excited about. Starting any new business – or growing an existing one – is hard work and few pay off right away. You need to really care about what you are doing. It keeps you energized and enthusiastic when things get tough.

Once your business is established, use your passion, your purpose, and your values as a guide. Find employees and partners that share your passions and values. Together you can’t help but grow!

Thanks for stopping by…

Joan Koerber-Walker

 

Making Cents of Your Health Insurance Dollar

As President Obama continues to lobby the American people and Congress on Healthcare Reform, talk of change and what it means to average Americans travels from the board rooms of global corporations to the kitchen tables of homes across the country.

In quite a number of discussions, this quote sums up the feelings of many people I have talked to.  “Spare me the details – I just want to know what Healthcare Reform will mean to me.”  If this is how you feel, than this short video from CNN Money might help answer the question.  CNN Money video

One of the major components of the President’s plan is to require almost everyone to have some form of health insurance – tackling the current social and economic  burden of a population of approximately 47 million Americans who are uninsured.  This will add approximately 47 million Americans into the existing insurance pools of either government provided insurance, employer provided insurance or private insurance.  You can find the current breakdown by coverage class in my related post earlier this week.

That being they case, I thought it might be helpful to look at where our insurance dollars go.  To do  that, I referenced the bi- annual report on that information from the same industry report that was referenced by the Senate.  In January of 2008, Price Waterhouse Coopers published research on health insurance costs as commissioned by America’s Health Insurance Plans.  This link takes you to the full report. The Factors Fueling Rising Healthcare Costs 2008

The graphic above shows the break out of the pool of dollars that make up the  employer and private health insurance spend. Looking at the graphic, 13cents of each dollar goes to corporate profits, administration and sales and marketing support.  The other 87 cents goes towards the basics of helping us stay healthy, diagnosing illness or other medical conditions, and treatment.

So if we are going to lower healthcare cost, realistically, the focus will fall predominately in the area shaded in aqua – that 87%.  It is in these areas where we have the greatest opportunity to use American innovation to improve the healthcare process.  Information technology enhancements in the area of medical records management can help us reduce duplicate tests and better manage patient care.  New biotech diagnostics currently in development will allow us to detect and diagnose diseases earlier – thus greatly reducing the total cost of treatment by addressing small problems before they become big ones.   But technology and process improvement alone will never be the answer. 

We, the people, will also need to make some changes in our behaviors if we are ever to really get things under control.  Here are a few things each of us can do to put the health back into healthcare:

  1. Get a check up.  85% of Americans, who have health insurance, do not get an annual check up.  Yet studies by Medicare and Medicaid have shown that if we detect and diagnose chronic disease early we can avoid as much as 90% of the costs of treatment. And, chronic disease represents almost 70 percent of the medical services spend. 
  2. Take a walk.  It is estimated that approximately 31% of Americans are either clinically overweight or obese.  This condition has been directly correlated to a wide range of chronic conditions including Diabetes, Heart Disease, Stroke, Hypertension, some types of Cancer, Sleep Apnea, Osteoarthritis, and Gallbladder Disease.
  3. Ask questions and talk to your doctor.  Whether in your annual exam or during treatment, take an active part in the healthcare discussion.  Ask your doctor what you can do to be proactive about managing your health and your healthcare spend.  Very often a few extra minutes can leave you with good information, ideas, and in the case of treatment sometimes more cost effective alternatives.
  4. Understand what your healthcare plan has to offer.  If you have a bad health habit you want to break, many plans offer free services to help you.  Pull out that booklet they send you once a year and look.  You might be surprised at the resources you are paying for that you have never used.

President Obama may or may not get everything he wants out of Congress this year in the way of health care reform.  And even if he does, the some of the changes will take years.  But we can each start our own healthcare recovery plan today – if we choose to.

Thanks for stopping by. Stay Tuned…

Joan Koerber-Walker

Healthcare: A Perfect Problem with No Perfect Solution

In the United States, we have two “perfect problems”: our Healthcare system and our Taxation system. What makes these problems perfect is their absolute complexity and an almost universal agreement that a problem exists.

The focus of this article is on healthcare.  I’ll leave taxation for another day – even though eventually our country will not be able to truly address one without the other.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HKOfXlB_3Wo]

Up until December of 2006, I did not think a lot about healthcare.  It was something I had, something I paid for, and with the exception of annual check ups for my family, something that I rarely had to use.  I knew it was a problem, but it was not necessarily mine. That changed December 21, 2006 when I became the CEO of the Arizona Small Business Association, and had to answer to and speak on behalf of our 3,000 business members and through them over 200,000 employees. 

The more I researched, surveyed, and listened; the bigger the problem became.  And I was just looking at one state, and within that, only one subset of the population, small business owners and their employees.  Yet both in our state and on a nationwide basis estimates from both the Federal government and independent agencies estimated that of the 45 million people plus who lacked health insurance, approximately 60% of them either owned or worked in a small business.   The constantly rising cost of health care was a burden these businesses were struggling to battle.  Others were starting to give up hope that anything could be done.

LOOKING AT THE NUMBERS:  HEALTH INSURANCE COVERAGE IN THE UNITED STATES

Source: Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2007, p.69

hc-numbers-chtThe chart at right shows the estimated U.S. population (as of 2007) and the breakdown of the insured/uninsured and where the insurance comes from.

But as we all know, there have been some pretty significant economic factors since 2007 that probably shift these numbers upward in the areas of both government provided program and the uninsured due to the significant change in the unemployment rate (4.7% in June of 2007 vs. 9.7% in June 2009) and the continuing economic pressures on businesses of every size.

With a problem this large, it’s hard to have any impact.  Especially when it’s also highly complex and politically charged.  At the state level we had various mandates, imposed and proposed, that were continually driving the costs up.  A state provided program for small business had serious limitations and flaws not to to mention a serious deficit that threatened its sustainability.  The whole thing was a mess. 

I had learned a long time ago that it is almost impossible to tackle a really big complex problem – but that if you break it into little ones and tackle them one at a time, you can make headway.  So that is what we did.

First we framed the problem with a set of goals.  Our conditions for success were the following:

  1. It had to be available to any business of any size (even groups of 1) without limitation.
  2. It had to cover the entire state AND provide coverage for employees out of state.
  3. It had to provide the same level of quality care and service that was available to employees in a Fortune 500 company.
  4. Coverage had to be guaranteed issue with no pre-existing conditions limitations as long as there had been prior qualified coverage and pricing and eligibility would NOT be determined by health status of the employees.
  5. It had to be reasonably affordable and competitive.

The next step was to look at what resources we had to work with and to identify potential partners.  We reached out to corporate partners, legislators, the Governor’s office, and national organizations to see what was available, what we could work with or what we could change.  Through a combination of negotiations, partnerships, and collaborations, we were able to design a plan that met all five of our defined goals and launched it 10 months after we started the process.  To see the full details of the program, visit the ASBA website

Now, this program did not solve the national problem, but it did provide a solution/option for the community we served across the state of Arizona. AND, it did so without a single taxpayer dollar.  Best of all,  from 2007 to 2009 the gross increase in premium was a total of THREE percent while at the same time the program benefits were enhanced – not reduced.

So my question is this.  Perhaps, while they battle in Washington tackle the perfect problem of Healthcare Reform – and fight over every sacred cow.  Maybe, just maybe, individuals like you and me, in our little corners of the country can build viable solutions by breaking the problem down to smaller more manageable chunks and tackling them one at a time.  That way WE can solve the problem and THEY can keep on talking.

Thanks for stopping by.  Stay Tuned…

Joan Koerber-Walker

P.S. While I no longer serve as the CEO of the Arizona Small Business Association, my time there taught me something very important.  There is very little that can not be accomplished by American small business with a little hard work. collaboration, and ingenuity.  If we focus on the challenge, frame it properly and get down to work the results can be pretty incredible. 

Just call me a ‘Preneur

I feel a rant coming on – bear with me please.  I don’t do it often.  Indulge me and perhaps by then end I can even find something positive to add. 

To start off – I really, really, really dislike the word ‘entrepreneur’.

entrepreneur“Why?” you might ask.  “Aren’t you one? “

The answer is probably yes by some peoples’ definition and then by others’ it would be no. 

There are few words in our business lexicon that are more misused, argued over, or modified than the word entrepreneur.

With all the talk about entrepreneurship these days, you would think our generation invented it.  We did not.

The word entrepreneur was first coined in the eighteenth century by Richard Cantillon and later expanded upon by Joseph Schumpeter in his writing the Theory of Economic Development  in 1911 .  It first appeared in Webster’s dictionary in 1852 and it’s definition is actually very simple according to today’s Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary –

en·tre·pre·neur  (noun)

Date: 1852  Etymology: French, from Old French, from entreprendre to undertake

: one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise

In today’s business literature, we now find a plethora of _____preneurs.

    • Intrapreneurs – entrepreneurial people inside an  enterprise
    • Co-preneurs – husband and wife entrepreneurial teams
    • Solo-preneurs – the me- myself- and I crowd
    • Mommy-preneurs – does being a Mommy make your business different?
    • Home-based-preneurs – does it matter where your office is?
    • Serial-preneurs – these folks just can’t seem to get enough…
    • Green-preneurs – these are the save the planet, eco-friendly folks
    • Social Venture-prenuers – the make a difference folks
    • Micro-prenuers – smaller scale ventures
    • Macro-preneurs – get out of my way I’m gonna be big!

et cetera, et cetera, et cetera!

And then we have my personal favorite – the snob-preneur – those entrepreneurs who look at other classes of -preneurs and confidently state that the other group really is not an entrepreneur at all.  They do not count.  They are just a life-style business, or a non-profit, or a franchise, or a …..

You can find snob-preneurs everywhere.  I’ve had this debate with some of the top authors of best selling books on entrepreneurship (and no, I am not naming names) as well as with entrepreneurial advocates across every level of the continuum.  It is like entrepreneurship is some exclusive club and only certain people have the right to belong.

But going back to our simple definition, an entrepreneur is a person: one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.

It should not matter whether…

you own the company or work in it. 

you go it alone, partner with family, or grow your team to be a cast of thousands.

your office is in a corporate complex, your garage, your basement or your car.

your enterprise is structured to create wealth for shareholders, for yourself, to create greater value to society as a whole,  or any combination thereof.

Instead, let’s celebrate the “one” in the definition.  The person who see an opportunity, has the courage to pursue it despite the risks, and who through their passion and persistence creates something great – by their definition – not ours.

Perhaps, it’s time for a new word to encompass that.  Preferably one that is easier to spell. 

Got any ideas?

  Thanks for stopping by.  Stay tuned…

Joan Koerber-Walker

Partnering – You Can’t Succeed Alone

“If the company with the best partners wins, how do you create great partnerships that last?”

j0439356[1]
Having a great product or service is not enough. In today’s world of competing technologies and services – the company with the best partners wins. But how do you create great partnerships that last? Partnerships that take your product or service and build it into solutions that make customers want to buy and investors want to invest?

Our partners are all around us.

They are the people and organizations that help us get from where we are – to where we want to be. Partners include our employees, our customers, our investors and the outside suppliers of goods and services we work with to make things happen.  Having spent two decades in the electronic distribution industry, I saw a lot of great products come and go. Some were wildly successful while others faded away. The companies that succeeded long-term understood that making their product accessible took partnerships with a broader network like distribution. At the same time, distributors with staying power understood that to build a lasting partnership, they had to add value to what the manufacturer had to offer. Pure transactional relationships don’t work in this world. The levels of investment and time horizons for payback are too long. For both parties to receive the maximum benefit – they have to commit for the long haul.

Are our perceptions of partnerships changing?

As I look around, I am amazed at how transactional we have become in our partnering relationships. A great example is the change in how we look at our employees. In my father’s generation – the partnership between employer and employee was often a lifetime commitment. Through good times and bad, you worked towards a common goal. You grew together. You helped each other. You were partners. You did not talk about it. You just did it. That’s the way it was. Today, we talk about employee satisfaction. We talk about growth and empowerment. We talk about strategy, teams, and commitment to a common goal. But when things get tough, do we stick together or part company. I don’t need to answer the question. The answer is all around us.

And the scariest part of this partnering shift is what it is teaching our next generation.

“There is no partnership. There is no commitment. Look out for yourself.”

If this is what we are teaching our future workforce through our example – we’ d all better watch out!

Successful partnerships are a lot like successful marriages.

My father worked for General Motors for over 40 years. He and my Mom will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary on August 1st. It started me thinking. There is a connection here. 

Whether we’ re looking for a date or scanning the field for a business partner, we look around for the most attractive person we can find. The one that sparks our interest – answers a need – has what we want. In the beginning, it’s not hearts and flowers – just the basic laws of attraction. There is no commitment at this phase, just a lot of checking each other out. It’s superficial like an advertisement, a website, or a resume. We see what they want us to see. And, if we like what we see, we reach out to learn more.

The next step is the courting phase. Here we check each other out to determine the right fit. Courting is like dating. We’re getting to know each other as individuals. What we really want and what we really do. In the beginning everyone is on their best behavior. But as you start to spend time together away from the day to day
distractions, you start to get more comfortable and relax. That’s when you start to see the real person you are looking to partner with. In business we call this due diligence. We test the water comparing long term goals and how we like to do things. We match our values. We explore how we can help each other. We listen to what the other person says and we pay attention to what they aren’t saying. Just like when you’re dating, each side wants to look their best for the other person. Sometimes you need to look a little deeper to see the real partner underneath. When you like what you see – when your values match – then you are ready to commit.

Next you get engaged. It’s more than just setting a date. You are setting expectations, making promises, setting goals. As you get ready to take the plunge, you are mapping out the future of the partnership. What you will do. How you will do it. You learn to handle details and who does what best. You start to come together as a team. By the time you get to making it legal, the deal is done. The contract – whether a marriage license, a contract or a purchase order is simply confirmation of what you will set out to do together. Over the life of your relationship, you learn to work with each other, to compromise, and to adjust so that each person is getting what they need.

Like a marriage, lasting business partnerships are personal. They take thought, effort and personal attention to make them work. But most of all they require and open mind and a willingness to negotiate.

We negotiate with people, not companies.

Partnerships that last are built through a continuing series of negotiations. The relationships in the partnership are not based on the life of a contract – they last generations. This key is so simple we often miss it. Each new objective starts with a negotiation. As the partnership grows, we learn more about each other. We take that knowledge and use it to set new plans and higher goals based on each other’s strengths. 

Companies don’t negotiate – people do. Traditional styles of win-lose or win-win negotiations focus on the tally sheet between the contracting parties. Keeping score of ‘who got what’ does not make for a lasting marriage and it doesn’t work in lasting business partnerships either. To keep things working, we must develop a new form of relationship based negotiations. Each party looks at a longer horizon, acknowledging that there will always be conflict and compromise but always placing the health of the overall relationship as the highest priority. When we do this, we anticipate our partner’s needs and care enough to help them fill them. Each time we do so, the bond grows stronger, the partnership better, and we benefit. Not just today, but long into the future.

Thanks for stopping by.  Stay tuned…
Joan Koerber-Walker

Creative Excellence

This weekend, it has been hard to go anywhere without hearing talk about the life and death of Michael Jackson. While driving in the car listening to KTAR yesterday I heard two radio personalities, who had met, him recapping his life.  They told a story that all of us can take heed of – whether you are a Michael Jackson fan or not.

Thriller cover

The story went like this…

During the production of Thriller, Jackson’s sixth album and the best-selling album of all time,  Jackson had just finished recording the ninth and final song.  The record’s producer, Quincy Jones, reportedly asked Michael this question.

Of all the songs, which  are your least favorite three?

Jackson told him three songs and Quincy Jones replied –

“Let’s re-do them. ”

and they did.  That album made recording history.  In today’s age of iTunes and downloads, it is unlikely it will ever lose its place as the top selling album of all time.

What an incredibly valuable lesson.  How often have we embarked on a project and judged it finished without taking one last objective look at what we have created.  Do we make the time to move forward towards creative perfection?

I think, the next time I have an important project finished, I will remember this story and follow Quincy Jones’ advice. 

How about you?

Thanks for stopping by.  Stay tuned…

Joan Koerber-Walker