Challenges in partnerships

In my interactions with my counterparts in different organisations, if there is one story that stands out, it is about changing mindset and attitudes. This extends to redefining business priorities and more importantly, business models.

Many corporates today understand the value of partnerships. It is clear that lateral growth can be achieved via partnerships that add value to your unique business. For example, if your corporate is into pharmaceuticals, partnerships with health-tech companies or even healthcare startups can be leveraged to take the business to a new dimension and introduce unique offerings.

Communicators who also oversee either the shared value partnership projects or the corporate social responsibility (CSR) vertical often work with partners (Not-for-profit/government/other Corporates) across different geographies and different verticals. Management of these partnerships call for competencies and skills in dealing with various situations.

Here are some of the perils that CSR/Communication professionals can encounter when working with partners and the skills that they may require to develop to deal with the pain points.

Resistance to changing the mind-set

If you are used to working solo, imagine now having to adjust your style with that of your partner’s so that both of you can optimise the value you bring to the business. This takes time and is not as easy as it sounds. Now, translate this to a corporate working with another corporate/NGO/Government for a project and trying to align on common objectives…The change process can be quite time consuming and painful as well. Patience and perseverance to ensure the end objective is met is key here.

Giving consumers what they want

Often, in a partnership model we make the mistake of outlining our objectives on the lines of ‘this is what we want.’ That can at times be completely misaligned with what our customers want. Getting all partners on board to work towards a model that assures that services meet the demands of the consumers is something that CSR/Communication professionals may need to grabble with. Getting to know the business well and the complexities associated with it is a skill that communicators need to hone.

Constant motivation of partners

Partnerships involve people of all kinds with diverse backgrounds and different styles of working. A key skill set required from any professional dealing with partners is that of ‘constantly motivating’ them to give their best. As a young student of social work when I was placed at the Bhopal gas leak tragedy location for a household survey, the job of our professors was to constantly pull us (students) out of our melancholy mood (due to daily discussions with victims of the gas leak) and bring the focus back on the task at hand. Communication being all about people, understanding the psyche and behavioral patterns of your immediate ecosystem becomes very critical to deal with situations that at times can be very demanding mentally.

Speed up!

I love the concept of partnerships. I really do. But I am not averse to the factors that can terribly slow down the whole process. In one of the projects that I oversaw in partnership, I really had to push to ensure that the partner adhered to the timelines that we had promised and assured to the beneficiaries. Project management skills become very important here. One slow movement from a partner can derail the complete timeline for completion of a particular project. Partnership models impact communities and the ecosystem around it. Hence, adherence to timelines assumes key importance. 

The trap 

As human beings we love to be stay within our comfort zone. This becomes very apparent when we chose to continue to develop partnership models along set parameters and aim to maintain status quo, not challenging our minds to come up with an innovative solution and approach. As communicators/CSR professionals, we need to be alert and not fall into this trap. Collaborating with our partners to develop alternate, unique and sustainable models is something we should clearly aim for.

In the end, it does not matter which sector you belong to or which business vertical you oversee – working with partners calls for tenacity, perseverance, an out-of-box approach and the ability to spot challenges and be ready with solutions.

Sarita Bahl
Country Group Head CSR at Bayer - South Asia
Sarita Bahl leads the Corporate Social Responsibility function for Bayer South Asia and is also the Director – Bayer Prayas Association. Prior to this, she successfully oversaw the communications and public affairs function for Bayer South Asia. Over her three decades of professional experience, Sarita has held multiple roles across diverse industries, public sector, trade associations, MNCs and the Not-for-profit sector. An alumnus of Tata Institute of Social Science and the Swedish Institute of Management Program, Sarita specializes in stakeholder engagement, sustainability and communications. She is passionate about animals (is mother to a female cat), books and movies.

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