Expert Author Susan Leigh
Recently I have come across several instances where a new three-way partnership was struggling because of personality undercurrents, poor communications and increasing lack of trust between them. As a result of the tensions their businesses were in serious danger of being wound up.
It was clear that in each of these situations one of the partners was feeling increasingly frustrated about the way the other two partners were treating him. He was feeling side-lined, disrespected, that he was being treated as an employee. I suggested several ways to try to get the relationship back on track. Things that the disgruntled partner could do to bring a more even basis and better communications back into the relationships.
The several options include:
- Start by writing a letter or an email to the other partners. Keep it non-accusatory. Take responsibility for how you feel but keep it factual, non-complaining. Merely state the facts, that the partnership has been in place for some time and it is now time for an assessment of where the business is at, what the short term and longer terms goals are, any issues that need to be addressed. Suggest a date and a time for a meeting with the three of you. Stress that it is important, that having a regular meeting is crucial to keeping everyone included and familiar with developments. Keep the email as a draft and re-read it several times over the following 24-48 hours before you send it. Check that it reads as professional and factual, that everything that needs to be said has been included.
- At the meeting have your agenda of the important facts and suggestions that you feel need to be discussed. In the early days of a new business the original model can change and evolve regularly so keeping in frequent contact with each other in a formal way reminds everyone that it is a serious business. The goal is growth and earning money. Keep the agenda as a reference point throughout that meeting. That shows that you are serious and mean business. It is important to you.
- Insist on a regular weekly meeting with an agenda and maybe minutes/notes written and circulated afterwards. This way the meeting has a formal feel to it, and is documented as a reference point for future times. At each meeting schedule in the next one and if someone has to change it make sure that a new date is arranged as soon as possible.
- Maybe have a coffee together at the end of each working day. When three people are doing different jobs it is easy for two to discuss matters together and feel that they are being reasonable, up-dating each other, maybe even making decisions. Meeting for a quick coffee enables everyone to be acquainted with any new facts or situations that have cropped up. It provides the opportunity to keep everyone up to speed on a daily basis in a light informal way.
- In a three-way partnership often each partner has very different skills sets, one may be an accountant, another sales focussed, the third may be the business manager. Often one person can feel side-lined, running the administration and the routine office based jobs while the other two appear to be in meetings, making the important decisions. Each person needs their role to be treated as equally valuable and relevant to the partnerships success.
- Suggest some sort of training or job rotation so that each partner has a familiarity with every role. There needs to some flexibility and an understanding of each others skills. If one person is involved with the sales side of the business that role is measurable.The other two partners can see how much business is generated, how many orders are placed, how busy the company is. The other two roles are often less easily measurable in terms of results and, as such, each person needs to feel that their contribution is appreciated. A job rotation or training allows the relevance of each section of the business to be understood more clearly.
- Write processes so that each role in the company is detailed. More basic jobs are then documented. It frees up each partner to be more involved in the more dynamic parts of the business. In a small growing business staff take their lead directly from management. If the bosses are unhappy then that mood filters through to staff. Staff will pick up on the mood and wonder if all is well in the business, are their jobs safe, is something bad due to happen. A tense atmosphere de-motivates staff. Good channels of communication between partners may require time to be spent on them, but they generate a positive atmosphere in the business and as such are well worth the effort.
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