Appreciating the value of Partnerships

Partnerships are in vogue in the world of construction. It’s now almost obligatory that clients will seek to work ‘in partnership’ with chosen suppliers, without always being clear what this partnership entails.
To the cynics ‘partnership’ is a woolly concept through which clients hope to squeeze more out of suppliers in return for the promise of some undefined future benefit. If this were the case partnership really would be, in the words of the old sea shanty, the worst old ship that ever did sail – bound to sink at some point.

Happily, our experience is different. Partnerships really can be mutually beneficial and meaningful.

A partnership is like a marriage. And, like a marriage, they don’t all work out. Some are even doomed to fail from the outset. Marry in haste, repent at leisure, as the saying goes. Partnerships are not, of themselves, beneficial. It has to be the right partnership. You have to be clear that partnership (with all its commitments) is really what you want and is balanced to both parties benefit.

Choosing the right partner is clearly essential. Are you compatible? Do you want the same things? Is a potential partner ready to commit at the same level you are?

Commitment to partnership is like the engagement. This is a step up from being an approved supplier that delivers contracts as required. It’s a commitment to share (information and expertise, for example) and to work together for a mutual long-term benefit.

Do you want the same things?

The seeds of future problems and disputes are sown if commitments are one-sided, unclear, or expectations are fundamentally different. Entering into a partnership because it sounds like what you should want, and hoping to sort out these details later is fraught with danger.

The partnership or ‘marriage’ should then be a natural progression. You know what each partner wants and expects, what roles they will play, and what they will commit to make the partnership a success.

Naturally, no successful partnership is going to be plain sailing all the way through. There will be problems and difficulties. Successful partnerships work through these together, just like a successful marriage. You’ll work hard to keep it going because you realise the effort is well worth it.

So why bother?
If partnership is such hard work and needs so much commitment, why bother? In reality, the benefits are potentially huge.

Investment in the project in the short term ensures long-term returns. That means cultural, behavioural and financial. All three must come together as there are few short term, quick financial fixes that are sustainable. Some of the benefits include:

  • Investment in the community. Social value returns from long-term partnerships increase exponentially. The supplier can sink roots into the community and progressively build on coordinated interventions.
  • Investment in people. Investing in those involved in and affected by the partnership makes more sense because there is a clear long-term benefit. This includes client and supplier teams, sub-contractors, asset users and communities.
  • A secure work pipeline encourages investment and innovation throughout the delivery chain to deliver increasing levels of productivity and quality.
  • True transparency and sharing of information can result in shared efficiency gains for both, with savings for the customer and sustainable profit levels for the supplier. Instead of the old confrontational approach of one benefitting at the cost of the other.

In return for a commitment to partnership working (which will include doing things you don’t get paid for) you get acceptable and stable returns for your efforts. The client has the reassurance of knowing that they have a supplier who is in it for the long haul, is committed to solving their problems, and who doesn’t reach for the contract small print every time there’s an issue.

A well planned and strong partnership will deliver what all partners want, and more. But it’s not easy. Nothing worth having is ever easy.

The worst old ship that ever sailed? Absolutely not. But it will be if you enter this marriage through speed dating and don’t put the effort in to make it work.

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