Friday Sep 27, 2013 by Jim McHugh - Experienced Executive & CEO Coach
I’ve been contacted a number of times this year by business partners who are bickering with each other and/or struggling over the condition of their business.
It seems like there have been more of these calls than in the past…maybe my blogging is the little nudge that pushed the business owners to either phone or email me.
Do you and your business partners get along?
There are 7 reasons (7 Partner Potholes) why conflict creeps into ‘partner’ type businesses and causes successful companies to fray or even break up after many fruitful years of existence. Conflict among business partners can become burdensome, intrusive, even crippling to the day-to-day operations of a company. Over the course of my business career, I have seen and/or worked with companies that have had ALL of the 7 Partner Potholes.
How can these situations be fixed or avoided? Are there some partner conflicts that can’t be fixed?
For purposes of this article, I define a ‘partner’ type organization rather broadly. Some of my business partner examples include, but are not limited to:
In many of the situations I’ve witnessed about these seven, the stories fall into the ‘you can’t make this stuff up’, Stuck in the Ditch genre. No MBA textbook will cover this ground.
Presenting the 7 Partner Potholes:
“Sally’s lack of skills is becoming a big problem.” A person’s role may be a bit fuzzy at the start of the business relationship, but as the company’s needs and leadership requirements evolve over time, that same person’s skills may no longer meet the current needs of their role. Conflict then surfaces over proper roles and functional responsibilities in the senior management team. Are the right people in the boat and in the right seats?
Stage left, stage right, stand still, do a backflip…what will it be? You would expect partners to have different opinions about long-term strategic direction when companies are in trouble, but I’ve also seen serious conflict when companies are doing very well. There is no ‘typical’ business environment where strategic disagreement flourishes. Generally, the source of the stress in good times has its roots in #3, # 4, and #5 below. Personal needs and desires easily infiltrate strategic thinking.
Gordon Gekko is alive and well in many partnerships. “The better we did, the worse it got” was a quote from one partner in a company that was rife with conflict over compensation. The “who sourced the business’ vs. ‘who delivered the work’ was a constant tug of war. Notice the use of ‘vs.‘! Note to rainmakers…delivery and execution help the cash flow!
As partners work together over time, different styles and personalities become more prominent. Consider what happens if the company has a mix of partners where some are control freaks, others are consensus seekers and even others are laissez faire about everything. Sort of like Attila the Hun meets Que Sera, Sera.
Related to leadership style are individual personality traits. “How can someone with an ego that huge be so insecure?” Ego and insecurity is a tough mix in a business partnership.
A partner’s personal interests may change (i.e. their commitment to the business can wane). “Jack has gotten lazy about business development.” (…heard this from some law firms…). Some of the younger partners might want to simply toss Jack out on the sidewalk. That could be the best solution; however, maybe Jack’s skills, relationships and experience are valuable. Could Jack thrive in a new role? (see #1 above).
This is similar to the stage of life, but different. People lose interest, even become bored. They get weary of each other. One description I heard about 2 founding partners: “They bicker all the time about everything”. Great for employee morale…
“Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive” (Sir Walter Scott): Fraud/Embezzlement; Ethics/Character; Personal Hijinks/Boorish Behavior; Sex, Drugs, Rock n’ Roll.
Again, I’ve seen ALL of these over the years. Not pretty and very destructive. Let your mind wander.
What can be done to fix or simply improve the 7 Partnership Potholes? Here are a few suggestions:
Have you experienced any of the 7 Partnership Potholes in your company? Which of the 7 make up your particular mix?
How have you dealt with them? Please share any ideas and suggestions with the readers.
Jim McHugh is an experienced executive and a CEO coach. You can find this post, as well as additional content on his blog called 9Stucks. You can also follow Jim on Twitter (@9Stucks) by clicking here.