CEO Blog: Rigid Flexible Partnerships
Rigid flexible partnerships. That doesn't really make sense, now, does it? Is a good partnership rigid? Is a good partnership flexible? What is a good partnership? For that matter, what is a good partner? I had this discussion recently with a prospective partner, and I think there are two very important sides to any good partner, one of which is rigid, and the other flexible.
There are certain things, let's call them "best practices" for the sake of appealing to those of you from B-school, that are present in most well run companies, especially smaller ones experiencing high growth. These range from organizational issues to the sales model to hiring practices and more. Many would like to think that these processes could always be rigidly applied. That is true to a point. There is a tendency in smaller, high growth companies to "do what you need to do to get the job done". While that might seem to be a great attitude, it can fly in the face of taking undue risks that might be a rounding error for a multi-billion dollar company, but could well put a smaller one out of business. The biggest area this manifests itself is in contracts. It is one thing to be overly rigid, but it is another to be reckless. I have seen many occasions where the circumstance contemplated in a contract that would "never happen", happen. Good governance is not an inhibitor to a good business, it is an enabler. Assuming the products are good and the sales execution is there, it allows companies to grow and scale. In that regard, it is also good for customers and partners. The reckless behavior of a vendor in pursuit of business should be more of a cautionary flag than a green one. So in that context, the rigid partner can be quite good.
But rigidity is only helpful if the business moves forward. While bad governance of a seemingly strong business can become, sometimes overnight, a failing business, good governance of a failing business is still a failing business. The goal is to prosper. What gets you there is often difficult, but seldom mysterious. You get there by helping your customers and partners prosper. In order to do that, you have to understand their goals. You need to be willing to invest in their business, and often, in them personally. This is not only good business; it is often a very rewarding journey on multiple levels. I feel better when our customers and partners reach their goals. I feel better when they make more money. I feel better when we make more money and reach our goals. I feel better... when they feel better. Not just JDSU or Adsafe Media or Bango or Mavenir, but Chuck or David or Chris or Tim or Ray or Terry or any of the people we rollup our sleeves with and work alongside. And guess what? Sometimes a rigid interpretation of a contract would have us roll back down our sleeves and check out. That is totally permissible. It's just totally out of synch with a desire for mutual success. And it's not us.
Good partnerships, like a good marriage, go way beyond the happy words and rhetoric. There is a visceral quality to what happens that cannot be faked, and that cannot be relegated to a three-part color brochure. And also like a marriage, things seldom always go right. But it's often those times that really define the strength of the relationship.
I truly believe we are rigid with good reason, and I also believe we are flexible with good reason. You can be both. I think it's almost the ultimate "best practice". But whatever anyone else thinks, I think it's who we are. And that makes me feel good. Really good.