3 Steps That Make Partnerships Work

Growth stories do not emerge as overnight miracles. They come about through cycles of testing, failing, learning, iterating and improving.


Imagine you are an enterprise CEO in a business under increasing pressure to address the demands of continued growth, a meaningful ESG strategy, a fickle and more diverse customer base, a changing regulatory environment and fallout from the pandemic. Just for starters.

While the organization is full of talent who are expert at running the business, it’s clear that more is required to transform, adapt to unpredictable change and get much better at anticipating what’s next.

One day, the CEO opens a dialog with a startup whose technology is proven and relevant to their business. This CEO is captivated with the idea of engaging with the startup to help transform the enterprise. The CEO knows the enterprise must break habits that are inhibiting innovation and change. The company must learn new ways of operating.

The CEO imagines that a partnership will be a win/win. Success will mean the enterprise is becoming a stronger 21st century business. And the startup can realize its goal of scale.

Everyone’s investors and customers will be happy.


It's possible. Success begins with the enterprise and startup leaders anticipating how to:

  • Bring together two radically different cultures, ways of working and talent profiles.
  • Ensure the machinery of the enterprise does not stifle the startup’s agility.
  • Transfer at scale new ways of working and new mindsets.
  • Convince stakeholders to buy in that this is a smart strategy that will deliver results.

How does the vision of enterprise/startup partnership move beyond being more than a dream and achieve a happy ending?

Commit to these three steps to head in the right direction.

1. Set a shared North Star by coming to a common understanding of the partnership’s mission, vision, shared ambition and success metrics. The best North Star ambitions complete such statements as:

"As a result of the successful efforts of our partnership, we will have succeeded when customers say ..."

See also: Why Weak Signals of Disruption Are Key

2. Engage in shared governance. Even the most motivated and resourced team tasked with bringing to life an enterprise/startup partnership will fail if the right governance is not in place. This means:

  • The CEOs hold both executive teams accountable for the success of the partnership, and
  • A routine is in place and adhered to for communications, agenda-setting and decision making. 

3. Resource and implement disciplined, agile experiments. Big new growth stories do not emerge as overnight miracles. They come about through cycles of testing, failing, learning, iterating and improving. As the capability for agile experimentation is created, consider:

  • How to operate outside the annual budgeting process.
  • Whether the talent exists internally that can be dedicated to the testing efforts.
  • Why it is critical for experiments to have established metrics from Day One.

As talented as the cross-business partnership team may be, they may benefit from external facilitation by a third party who has no stake in either entity’s pre-existing norms and who is only focused on helping the partnership succeed by bringing objectivity and operating knowledge. Their role is to keep the team focused on the North Star, through the many challenges, doubts and execution choices they will face, while pursuing proven practices to achieve their ambition.

You can read the complete article from which this post is adapted at Fast Company.

Amy Radin

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Amy Radin

Amy Radin is a digital transformation, marketing and tech strategy executive advisor, who throughout a 25-year Fortune 100 career created significant stakeholder value applying market insight, data analytics and creativity to deliver profitable organic growth for major financial services brands including Citi, American Express, E*TRADE and AXA. She is the author of the award-winning book, "The Change Maker's Playbook: How to Seek, Seed and Scale Innovation In Any Company."


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