In an ever-changing socioeconomic climate, leading companies increasingly find themselves with a responsibility to address complex sustainability and social challenges. It goes beyond a CSR—it’s become a matter of necessity, as climate change, resource scarcity, and global health crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, threaten the viability and business resilience of companies across the globe.
Cross-sector partnerships are a critical and necessary tool to address these social responsibilities. Partnerships allow companies to harness the technical expertise, deep networks, resources and strengths of governments, foundations, NGOs, and other companies, to do more together. Lots of organizations focus their energies on how to find the right partners, but they miss the opportunity to build an internal partnership team that can not only make great partnerships but keep them flourishing.
Partnerships are hard, and many fail due to a lack of internal buy-in and will. Having the right people on your team—ready and able to do the hard work of making your partnership a success—makes all the difference. If you plan to partner, set your partnership up for success by ensuring that you have a plan to cover these 5 essential partnership roles.
Partnerships begin with connection, so you need to have someone on your team who understands how to connect with others and continue growing connections. Choosing an effective networker comes down to evaluating their ability to establish and foster relationships. You will want to find someone who knows how and when to prioritize high-potential contacts, someone who knows how to “pay it forward” by helping other contacts and companies even when the payoff is not necessarily immediate.
A smart networker will never dismiss anyone as unimportant, regardless of their role, because they know that the intern one person ignored at a conference could one day be running the hottest startup with millions of dollars in funding. A great networker will always follow up and follow-through, staying in touch and always keeping their promises to contact and partners.
While connection is a key step in curating new partnerships—lasting partnerships do not happen based on potential contacts alone. Your team needs someone to provide the energy, will, and determination to carry the partnership from idea to execution: this is where the champion comes in. Ideally, your selected champion has a status level within your organization that they can leverage to help push partnership’s through organizational processes and ensure visibility both within the organization as well as outside of it. An excellent example of this is Amanda Gardiner of Pearson, who was able to bring Pearson’s head of growth markets division, an influential voice within the organization, onboard to champion their partnership with Save the Children UK.
To find the right champion, look for someone who invests their personal political capital and secures the money and staff time to make the partnership successful. Ideally, they’ll also be able to actively communicate within the organization to ensure proper internal alignment on partnerships as well. A great champion will not only encourage and foster these partnerships but celebrate partnership achievements internally and externally, making sure everyone involved gets the visibility and credit they deserve.
The Project Manager
At the heart of it, a partnership is about getting things done. That’s why every partnership team needs someone to ensure that things are moving forward according to plan. The project manager ensures that everything stays on schedule, in scope, and within budget, so partnerships move seamlessly forward.
The project manager takes care of the details so that the rest of the team can focus on their individual contributions toward partnerships without worrying where things are at in the process. A good project manager works with partners to define a management plan for partnership activities and establish key measurements regarding business, social, and environmental goals.
The Organizational Sage
We’ve already seen how crucial internal alignment is to the success of a cross-sector partnership. That means you need someone on the team who has in-depth knowledge of your organization’s culture, processes, history, values, and any key influencers. That’s where the organizational sage comes in. A strong organizational sage maps out internal structures and processes for moving your partnerships forward.
It’s often ideal to find an organizational sage who has been around the organization while or is otherwise deeply embedded in the organization. A good organizational sage will help identify the right business measurements to ensure any partnership will be valued by internal stakeholders. They will also help engage internal stakeholders to ensure buy-in and alignment. Your organizational sage should be ready to help external partners understand internal processes and culture that may influence the implementation of the partnership.
The last role you need to ensure you fill for a world-class partnership team is the relationship manager. Relationships are the glue that holds cross-sector partnerships together, so partnership teams must continually invest in and renew relationships to build trust and transparency, and the relationship manager is able to focus on just that.
Because cross-sector partnerships can include companies of different cultures, values, backgrounds, and even industries, it’s important to have a team member who can serve as a “translator” for partners. Your relationship manager should be adept at communicating with partners, finding the right ways to convey important information in terms that are understandable across different sectors and cultures. A great relationship manager will demonstrate empathy and use it to foster more effective communication.
Steve Schmida is the Founder and Chief Innovation Officer of Resonance, award-winning corporate sustainability and global development consulting firm. He is the author of Partner with Purpose: Solving 21st Century Business Problems through Cross-Sector Collaboration. Connect with him on LinkedIn @ Steve Schmida.