You’re sitting in the office and you have a great idea to grow your service business. You’re sure it’s a homerun idea and you can’t wait to implement it. But when you tell your business partner about it, he’s adamant that it’s a bad idea that won’t work and isn’t worth the risk. So what do you do? You want the business to grow… but does he? You know this will work… so why is he not getting as excited about it as you? You can’t figure out why he’s happy with the plateau that your company is stuck at.
For those who own a business with a business partner: do you struggle to get on the same page as your partner? Are there times when you just don’t feel aligned and moving forward in the same direction? This blog post will give you ideas, tools, and strategies to help get on the same page with your business partner.
My business partner Rob, and I, started our last service business (Gold Medal Service) more than 2 decades ago. We get along great (and people always say that we interact like a couple of married people). We don’t necessarily agree 100% of the time but we are aligned and always work together. The value of powerful relationship was reinforced for me when we had another partner for a while that did not work out as well, and we had to make the costly decision to end that partnership. But Rob and I? Still going strong all these years. Here are some tips and strategies I’ve learned from the great partnership I have with Rob, from the not-so-great partnership we had with another partner, and from working with many clients and their partners over the years…
Strategy #1. Fully Understand Each Other’s “Why”
Everyone is inspired by something different. And you may own the same business and even agree on 90% of the actions and strategies in that business, but it doesn’t mean you fully understand the other person. If you want to know what drives another person and informs their decisions, you need to know their “Why”. What makes them think and act the way they do?
A person’s “Why” is their deepest level of motivation for them. Maybe it’s their family—they’ll do anything for their family. Or maybe it’s a hobby—such as if they are an adrenaline junkie who lives for the weekends. But it doesn’t have to be a think; it can be a way that they act—someone might feel an inner competition to keep up with others, to save face, to avoid the poverty they experienced as a child, or many other possibilities.
Here’s one small example: Let’s say you think of a potentially really effective marketing campaign. It’s a little zany and it requires you to get in front of the camera dressed as clowns. You think it’s a great idea because no one else is doing it and it will create some buzz in the community; combined with a great offer, you’re sure it’s a winner. But your business partner says no. He agrees that it’s a great idea with a great offer… so why does he want to do it? Well, perhaps digging deeper you discover that his ultimate “Why” is that he had a parent who always wanted him to have a white collar job, not a blue collar one. Years later, he still strives to raise the professionalism of the company to portray what he views is a highly respectable professional company. Now you see why your great idea doesn’t sound so great to him.
Once you know someone’s why—whether family or a feeling or something else altogether—you can understand why they might agree or disagree with you; you can also “shape” your ideas and suggestions to be more aligned with their Why.
Take some time to get to know your partner better than you do right now. Even if you think you know them well now (and yes, even if they are family) don’t assume that the “Why” you THINK they have is really the “Why” they have. You have to go deep and find the one key part of their life that shapes all their decisions.
Strategy #2. Build A “Painted Vision”
Many people have a vague idea of what they want in their business. “I want to grow my business” someone might say; or, “I want to make a lot of money.” But that’s too vague, which can actually create conflict among partners because you might each think you’re working toward the same end-game but it’s actually quite different (a “growing business” could mean an highly profitable one with a high stature in the community… or it could mean an international mega-corporation… or it could mean something acquired by another company… or many other possibilities).
Business partners need to get ultra-specific about what they see as the future of their company. Don’t just assume that they share exactly the same vague definitions of the future as you do. Instead, take time to create a “painted vision” for your company. A painted vision is a detailed “story” of what your company looks like in about 3-5 years from now. (It doesn’t have to be long; perhaps just 2-4 pages long at the most).
Write paragraphs about what your employees are like, what your customers are like, and what you as the owners do. Brainstorm the details together and then write it into a story. This is an excellent starting point that you can review regularly, and from which you can reverse engineer your company targets, KPIs, and action steps to help you get there.
Strategy #3. Do You Trust Your Partner?
Relationships are built on trust. When you trust your business partner, you can be confident that they have your back, that they share the company’s best interests just like you do, and that you can speak honestly and openly to them without them reacting emotionally.
Alignment is achieved by communication… but healthy, interactive communication is achieved by trust. If you want to have better conversations with your business partner, start by learning to trust each other more. However, trust doesn’t grow on its own. Trust is developed through knowing the other person well and through proving to the other person that you have their best interests in mind.
Start by showing your trust in them. Often, a partnership that isn’t aligned can feel like it’s one person being stubborn while you try to work in the company… but you can be sure that they feel something as well, and it’s possible that they feel the same thing about you! Unfortunately, what’s missing here is trust to allow you to see that you each have the best interests of each other and the company and the trust to speak openly about your feelings without the conversation getting heated.
If you learn to trust each other, you’ll connect more deeply through open and honest communication. That communication will allow you to discuss things you never discussed together before, which will help you to see the other’s perspective and learn why and how the other person sees the business running.
(And yes, I realize that it’s possible in some situations that you cannot trust your business partner and yet you may be stuck with them. I’m not suggesting that trust is always possible in every situation. One example might be a family business where you co-own your company with several others, but you didn’t choose to organize the company the way. There are still ways that you can get aligned with business partners who may be in conflict right now but that’s a topic for another blog post.)
Strategy #4. Partnerships Do Not Have To Be Equal Or Even Exist At All
Why do you have a partner if you struggle with alignment? Maybe you acquired the business and a partner came with it; maybe you co-own a family business with others who have a different view of the end-game than you. There are many reasons why your business has a partnership.
So, let me ask you: does it have to be the partnership that you currently have? Maybe you are thinking about partnerships right now as if it is each person splitting the responsibilities and the rewards right down the middle. But there are other ways to approach this! Assuming that neither of you want to leave the partnership (which is also a possibility to consider), another option is to adjust what each of you do.
Maybe you can’t figure out why one partner disagrees with everything you suggest… but then you discover that they really wish they were doing something else in life and just feel trapped in the business but unable to find a job or go out on their own. It might be in your interest to explore how they can minimize their role in the company while still retaining some form of partnership and reward, but just accepting less responsibility and reward, in exchange for stepping away from something they don’t feel aligned with. Or maybe they become a smaller partner in your service business and you invest in the business they want and be a smaller partner in that one. (See how this goes back to understanding the other person’s “Why”?)
Ultimately, partnerships don’t necessarily mean that everything is split perfectly down the middle. There might be other arrangements—perhaps a smaller role, perhaps a different list of areas they look after in the business, perhaps a new business that they own (and you partner with them), perhaps they are a silent partner.
Good partners know each other and trust each other and share a vision for what the company can become. Start with those pieces and grow. Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list of ways to get on the same page with your business partner. There simply isn’t enough room for that (Plus, some strategies are harder to communicate in just a few paragraphs versus being guided through them like we do for our clients.) But these are a great starting point for any service business co-owner and you will see a lot of alignment just from implementing and mastering these strategies.
At CEO Warrior we often work with business partners to get them aligned and moving in the same direction. If you’re not sure what to do or where to start, one great starting point is a free strategy call. Jump on a call for 30 minutes with one of our Master Advisors and we’ll dig into your situation to understand it better, give you some clarity, and help you put together an action plan to get started on alignment. Learn more and book your free 30-minute strategy call here.