Trust is the central ingredient in any partnership and no legal clause can compensate for its absence.
–as quoted in Best Practices in Investment Advisory Partnerships
Finding a life partner is one of life’s great joys and challenges. Those of us who are blessed enough to find one know the finding is more art than science. Likewise, finding a great partner is more art than science.
When looking for a partner in business, we may seek a complement to our skills, markets, systems, clients or life stage. Similarly, in a marriage we look for someone whom we complement. You already know how to look for the ideal partner—whether that be having specific criteria around ideal client lists, systems and people; or personality, brains, and beauty.
But in both business partnerships and in marriage, we actually seek one whom we cannot live without.
But in both business partnerships and in marriage, we are really looking for one whom we cannot live without.
We don’t get to that place with a partner overnight. We come to it through building trust. This trust-building requires we and the prospective partner know what kind of foundation we need–how big a hole we intend to dig and what’s needed to pour the right-sized foundation upon which to build that partnership. It takes investments in time together, diverse experiences together, and extensive communication. If you think it sounds like courtship, you are right!
If we hope for a legal document like a buy/sell or partnership agreement to hold the partnership together, we’re starting from the wrong place. That’s akin to putting a roof on a non-existent building! We need to dig out and pour the foundation first.
Building trust seems daunting–difficult to build and so easy to undermine. So, where do we start?
1. Building trust starts with intent.
You are looking for someone who intends to build a partnership. If you’re seeking a lifelong partner, you’ll immediately rule out someone looking for just a good time; similarly, you’d probably rule out a partner who’s just looking for a quick cash infusion or office space or key talent acquisition.
2. Trust-building continues with actions of integrity.
Does each party mean what she says and do what she means? As trust is built between prospective partners there ought to be a growing sense of clarification of the firm’s mission while keeping its best interests in mind. Trust between marriage partners means that each partner is as committed to the good of the other as they are to the organism they are building together—a marriage.
How do you know if you’re building real trust or phantom trust?
1. Trust requires a deeper foundation than the presumption of a sterling reputation or familiarity.
According to neuroscience research, we have an immediate positive bias toward those we define as “in-group” vs. “out-group.” To those potentials who seem to be part of our in-group we ascribe similar motives and thought patterns. We interpolate how “we” would act based on limited information about the partner.
On the other hand, those we deem part of the out-group we see with greater skepticism. Those missing data points are filled with negatively biased information. This is an effective way to preserve our brain’s capacity for action and decision-making. But we need to be aware that bias can color how we view a potential partner. In fact, it may be well worth looking outside our usual range of suspects for potential partners.
2. Cast a wider net to include others more broadly—expand your partner search parameters.
Authors Lisette Smith and Tanya Rapacz had two surprising findings about partnership formation: the types of connections often found in professional associations do not seem predictive of success. And, the additional effort in beginning with someone who is not known personally is minimal. So the degree to which you’re willing to do due diligence, is the degree to which you’ll minimize potential blind spots due to in-group bias.
In one case cited by Smith and Rapacz, one partner approached another who had been in the same study group for years. Based on that in-group bias, they focused on their commonality and ignored some key red flags including how one partner treated his staff. After the merger, that oversight grew to include conflicts about sharing client information escalated into a cold war standoff that necessitated an expensive and distracting attorney-led resolution. Missing the initial red flags resulted in loss of momentum, revenue and reputation for the combined firm.
How you know you’re building trust with a potential partner? As you explore potential partners, you might try out these ideas:
- See how your prospective partner handles herself in a trying situation. Or do a role play to simulate that difficult situation.
- Speak to those who know your prospective partner. Be sure to include co-workers, clients and non-work contacts.
- Put yourself and your prospective partner in social environments novel to both of you to “level the playing field.” Get out of the office and try some active new to both of you: sport fishing, art museums, bowling, etc. Doing so will actually enable your brain to rescript your perceptions and experience.
Source: Best Practices in Investment Advisory Partnerships by Lisette Smith and Tanya Rapacz, http://thepartnershipresource.com/request-whitepaper.php
- If you seek to expand your firm, do you intend to do what’s good for you, your partner, your partnership AND your firm? Note: those are four different stakeholders!
- What’s something “out of the box” you can do to find the right partner or build trust with them?
Image Source: http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=75753&picture=simple-handshake by Piotr Siedlecki