So I was sitting in a meeting today with a couple of guys from a firm that may become a business partner and we were discussing how we could bring them up to speed on our approach and methodologies, what was in the relationship for them and so forth. Then we hit the part of the conversation that everyone feels like having but often seems just like lip service. Someone said, "We want you to win and us to win. It should be a win-win." Yeah, no kidding.
This is then followed by a rather long back and forth about how important it is for both sides to get something out of the agreement and that it should be commensurate with effort, knowledge and experience. Both should put in equal contributions and both should take out equal benefits. While I know this is the case, I often feel like 1) this is self-evident and is the basis for the discussion and 2) this never happens in practice.
Most firms or people agree to some commitment with another person or firm based on some mutually agreeable criteria. If person X gives company Y his best efforts 40 hours per week, company Y agrees to pay him or her Z dollars. If two firms agree to work together, they have certain criteria and conditions about how they will work. This is what keeps the lawyers busy - writing the agreements and adjudicating them later in court. If there aren't mutually reinforcing reasons to work together, then the partnership won't happen unless one of the firms is forced to work with the other. Yet we feel the need, through politeness and camaraderie to explain to each other how important it is to be fair to each other.
Yet in practice most relationships are never 50:50 all the time. Generally speaking, most partnerships are about one firm or individual leveraging the skills or channels of another partner. In any specific situation, that means that one of the partners has more control over the situation and more experience. The best that can be hoped for is that the pendulum swings and the weaker partner in the first situation has capabilities or channels that can be leveraged to the other partner's benefit. Rather than talk about "win/win" situations, we need to instead define what a "win" is for each partner and make sure both partners can get to the level they can declare the relationship valuable for them.
Perhaps I am impatient and too anxious to get to the nitty-gritty in this case, but I expect a partner to do what's right for himself or his firm first, and to do what is best for my firm based on the agreements we have in place. I don't believe many partners will put my best outcomes in advance of their firm's goals and outcomes unless they are heavily compensated to do so, which then puts them in a terrible bind. I'd like to think that most people are interested, rational actors who understand the need for me to accomplish certain outcomes in our relationship and that they need to accomplish their own outcomes as well. Sometimes those outcomes are mutually reinforcing, sometimes not.
I'd prefer to say to a prospective partner - these are the things we can do and how we can best partner with you. These features and capabilities are important to me, and here's where we think we differentiate and how we make our revenue. Now, can we together create an offering or solution that helps me achieve those things, adds even greater value to a customer, and helps you achieve something that's important to you? Too often when we use the niceties and "win/win" language we never get to what's important in each person's or partner's business model to understand how they make money, how they differentiate, and what they consider their strengths and weaknesses.