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Successful Partnering Starts in the Executive Suite
by Edwin Richard Rigsbee

Profit by being an optimal partner. Be the kind of person that others would like to do business with. At Levi Strauss, they`re living what they say. This privately held San Francisco-based company, with 1992 revenues of $5.6 billion as reported in U.S. News & World Report, is letting action speak louder than words. They`re reshaping their corporate culture through dismantling parts of their hierarchy and overhauling how they design, manufacturer, and market their clothing. Chief executive, Robert Haas, a former Peace Corps volunteer and great-great-grandnephew of founder Levi Strauss is being an optimal partner by building ethics into the company`s bottom line through ethical practices, empowerment, and an appreciation of diversity. He embraces empowerment, the practice of putting more power into the hands of Levi`s employees at all levels and encourages them to become actively involved in corporate decision making.

Levi Strauss is embracing the belief and practice of partnering throughout their many areas of business. Haas suggests that their emphasis on values is "not just nice behavior" but that it is also smart business. He states, "Consumers are looking more and more to the company behind the product. Companies have to wake up to the fact that they are more than a product on a shelf. They`re behavior as well." This had much to do with their decision of partial withdrawal from China, citing "pervasive violations of basic human rights" as the reason.

Haas believes that this adherence to business ethics has not hurt the company. In fact he believes the reverse, it has helped the company`s profits. Haas walks his talk in being an optimal partner by embracing ethical business practices at Levi. He empowers his employees by giving power, rather than by protecting the power with the armor of his position. Similarly, Miles Gordon, CEO at Financial Network Investment Corporation, largest independent brokers organization in the country, advocates that being the optimal partner is their only strategy. In asking Gordon if he believes the ability to adopt partnering is in-bred, he answered:
"I believe you`re not born with it, but it starts from early life. I think it`s your family values which, looking back at our company, the people that have really bought into this (which is a lot of people) and especially people that have been around a long time and have orchestrated, family values are very similar. Strong family values, a strong belief in keeping the overhead down, working and not just living off other people. In other words, you earn what you get."

Being an optimal partner, whether your a small retailer or a major supplier, is the right thing to do, not just because its ethical, which should be reason enough, but because it pays off, as illustrated by the example of Levi Strauss & Company and for you.

THINKING your way to being an optimal partner is a start. For decades, the late, Dr. Norman Vincent Peal lectured across the country about the possibilities that are available through the power of positive thinking. In his classic The Power of Positive Thinking, Peal stated: "A sense of inadequacy interferes with the attainment of your hopes, but self- confidence leads to self-realization and achievement."

Create for yourself the attitude of limitless partnering possibilities. It`s no secret that attitude can and will make the difference between partnering failure and success and success is what you ultimately want! It`s easier than you think to get into the mind set of "I don`t care" or the "I can`t do it." It`s your self-confidence that will allow you to become the optimal partner the pentad I detailed last month will not be complete without you!

"In Theory X terms," states Roger Tompkins, vice president California of State Farm Insurance, "Managers see people as essentially lazy, somewhat stupid, needing constant direction and prodding to get any work done. Theory Y managers, on the other hand, see people as essentially interested in being productive, ready to work, and to cooperate, (if shown the way and given the tools) and essentially self-starting. As I think about how I have interacted with other associates of the State Farm Insurance Companies, both employees and agents, over the years, I realize I have viewed them through the Theory Y lens. As a result, our `Marketing Partnership` concept and philosophy, which is so integral to the way we approach serving our customers in the marketplace, has always squared with my personal view of people."

When you get caught in the drift of life and/or business, and you will, it`s your partners who will be there for you with strength, energy and enthusiasm to assist you in seeing new and unique solutions to your challenges. This is something on which you could never put a monetary value or price. What you can do is be an optimal partner and reciprocate when your partners, the others in your pentad, are in need. Your partnering alliances have a vested interest in your success, as you do in theirs.

To view your daily concerns, better yet challenges, from a new perspective, requires that you shift your paradigms (beliefs, standards, or models). You must challenge your paradigms and shift away from what is not serving you.

Look at it this way: when you look at a tall tree from 50 feet away through a standard 50mm camera lens you see a particular view, not all of the tree. Now change to a macro closeup lens and you see not much of anything. Now change to a wide angle lens and you see just about all of it. What was different each time? The lens, your filter each of us filters how the world truly is and that`s our reality. So, change your filter, your vision, and behold all the new possibilities.

To stretch your partnering muscles, try taking on a lens that a well focused question provides. Ask yourself daily: "Would you enter into a partnering alliance with somebody like you?" If asked habitually, this question will help you to keep activities and decisions in the perspective of being the optimal partner. Ask daily: "Who do I now trust that may serve and be served as my partner?" A sign you might consider posting where it is quite visible: "Who`s My Partner Today?"

It takes you. Partnering is not for every business and organization, because it takes you having the capability of being an optimal partner to know if partnering is right for your business. Reasons not to partner may include: You may simply view the world from a place of loss and negativity. You have the market cornered (but for how long), and enjoy the power position of calling all the shots. You may be a loner and prefer to go it alone. Maybe you`re even satisfied to make do with less. You may not desire to build a partnering pentad but let me warn you you can`t be in business today without partnering to some degree. Maybe it`s partnering with your customers, maybe another area, but you simply cannot operate in a vacuum and survive. If you find yourself having the above negative conversations, find the strength to escape your perceived dungeons.

Platinum Partnering. Maybe you`ve heard it called the Platinum Rule, or The Golden Rule Expanded whichever, the concept is, to do unto others the way they would have you do unto them. To be the optimal partner you must see things as your partnering alliance members do, otherwise you`ll greatly diminish your possibilities. Think back to great leaders you`ve had the opportunity with which to interact haven`t they made you comfortable around them? Sure they may have pushed you to achieve more, but that wouldn`t have been possible, had they not initially built rapport. They somehow have had the ability to get you to want to perform to your highest level of potential. The same is important for you if you want people and organizations to partner with you.

Learn the skills to understand people, learn how to effectively communicate on their terms rather than yours. Anthony Robbins` book, Unlimited Power, is essentially about creating more power within allowing one to more effectively influence others through effective communications. Robbins says:

"To me, success is the ongoing process of striving to become more. It is the opportunity to continually grow emotionally, socially, spiritually, physiologically, intellectually, and financially while contributing in some positive way to others. The road to success [or partnering] is always under construction. It is a progressive course, not an end to be reached."

Dan McNamara, senior vice president at Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America asserts, "Be sure you`re prepared to live the values you profess your people will `hear` what they `see,` not what you say."

In the Korean business culture the principle of Nunchi, the ability to look in someone`s eyes and understand, allows for a powerful nonverbal communication. Through this process, employees make decisions that reflect how their manager would expect them to decide. Nunchi also exists as a societal binder and is the reason given by some for Koreans` less outgoing nature as compared to Westerners. As partnering relationships blossom, this further sense of deeper understanding and communication, becomes more real and less theoretical assisting in alliance harmony. Study nunchi, if you can develop the sense, you will become the type of person to which others will gravitate the optimal partner.

Copyright Edwin Richard Rigsbee. All Rights Reserved.

Edwin Richard Rigsbee is the author of author of PartnerShift, The Art of Partnering, The Art of Developing Strategic Alliances and CEO of a strategic management and marketing consulting firm specializing problem detection and solutions, customized training programs, and keynote presentations.

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