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How to Create Successful Sustainability Partnerships

HandshakeAs businesses are increasingly expected to work with other organizations to resolve environmental and social problems, there are proven ways to make those alliances successful, according to research conducted by McKinsey & Company.

Given the jurisdictional boundaries that many ecosystem challenges cross, businesses should partner up with governments, local communities, investors, non-governmental organizations and other companies, and think of these as distinctive and complicated joint ventures. In specific, McKinsey & Company’s research identifies seven essential principles of success for sustainability partnerships.

  1. Identify clear reasons to collaborate. Some organizations sign up for a sustainability partnership because they don’t want to say no or be left out, and commitment can be weak. Partnership founders should identify strong incentives. If participants cannot pinpoint strong motivations, then that may be a sign the mission is poorly defined.
  2. Find a “fairy godmother.” Coordinated action can be difficult because the first movers take the biggest risks, while those entering later can benefit from without much investment. Organizations acting as fairy godmothers take on much of the risk and provide the generosity and sheer force of will that helps build trust.
  3. Set simple, credible goals. One way for a collaboration to fail is when the partners involved have different agendas. Set an aspirational goal on which everyone can agree — preferably one that could fit neatly on a bumper sticker.
  4. Get professional help. Most collaborations need a facilitator to get going, as organizations each have their own biases, incentives and organizational cultures, all of which can clash.  By pooling funds for a facilitator, the collaboration can progress even while staffing is still under negotiation.
  5. Dedicate good people to the cause. If member organizations are not dedicating qualified staff, check that they have a clear reason to participate. If good people are not volunteering, they may need greater security (which a fairy godmother can provide), or simple, credible goals.
  6. Be flexible in defining success. Many partners think that collaboration will change the world, and when it doesn’t, they think it failed. However, success may come from unexpected directions. Keep in mind that collaboration can still have a positive impact, even if it’s not in the way you expected.
  7. Prepare to let it go. Ultimately every partnership will either wind down or become an independent entity, which should be expected. Plan for it and know when it’s time to shut the door. No collaboration should be kept alive beyond its useful lifetime.

Photo Credit: Handshake via Shutterstock

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