When partnerships fail, it is easy to walk away. When they succeed, walking away is harder.
By Michael Carren
Successful partnerships across sectors connect people across sectors. At JPMorgan Chase, we are lucky to have many strong cross sector partnerships that are vibrant and ongoing. The key to these successes is empowering people to be creative in caring for and nurturing our community involvement. In our firm we don’t limit the leadership of our community partnerships to just our community relations team, we open them up to our employees.
In many instances this leads to more creative and localized solutions to problems but in all cases this leads to employee ownership of our collective actions and creates clear investment of all of our human capital resources (read, real people). This is the natural outcome of a commitment on the part of all partners to establish a true cultural collaboration.
It's All in the Translation
The joke about how the United Kingdom and the United States are separated by a common language occurs to me more and more these days when I am in conversations about partnerships across corporate and nonprofit sectors. Undoubtedly the importance of these partnerships is at its highest level since anyone can remember; there is more need in communities and corporations are more serious, focused and committed to social action and responsibility than ever before. However, the challenges we all face in making these partnerships come together are also more significant than ever before.
[Wells Fargo: Workplace Giving, Beyond the Numbers]
But the challenges don’t have to be.
Success across sectors means translating the goals and missions of organizations on both sides of the partnership into tangible actions, that not only benefits the community being served, but also play against the strengths of and capitalizes on the cultures of all collaborating organizations.
This translation from intention to action -- and from action to impact demands the development of shared expectations of partners and the truthful acknowledgement of each cooperating party’s strengths, limitations and modes of doing business.
The alignment of the cultures of collaborating organizations, both for-profits and nonprofits, is key to partnership success. This means that partnerships must first focus on sharing and understanding the ways that all parties involved run their businesses, the constituencies that are important to both and perhaps most importantly, what tangible assets each group wants to bring to the table. These assets include brand, funds, human capital and areas of operational excellence.
It is amazing how much you learn from a partner when you ask questions like:
- Who are your most important customers?
- What products or services are most important to you right now?
- What demographics use, need or want to be served by your organization?
- Who wants to serve with you in your efforts?
And partnerships become even stronger and more informed when we ask deeper questions like:
- What have been the largest stumbling blocks of your past work with others across sectors?
- What role does personal and professional development of your employees or other constituents play in your work with other organizations across sectors?
- How do you balance your customer, employee and brand considerations when implementing social benefit or impact programs?
While difficult, getting answers to these questions is primary to bringing cultures of different organizations together to address high level goals and ensure clarity of action and orientation to deliver results even as the partners work to achieve their overall goals – these answers set the stage for effective and honest collaboration.
Truth and Data Matter
A wildly successful program can be too difficult to continue to administer. A service needed five years ago may no longer be needed, or needed in a different place. Over time, conditions in communities can change for the better. Sometimes life cycles of investment in communities come to an end or evolve to a different place based on changing needs.
When partners working across sectors have success, it is based on their cultural collaboration, not specific circumstances of their action. At the core it is the people of both organizations that commit to being truthful about changing needs and work to leverage data to come to collective decisions about what possibilities continue to exist for the partnership.
When partnerships fail, it is easy to walk away. When partnerships succeed, walking away is more difficult. Success breeds connection on the part of employees, both leaders and teams, a desire to continue the good work and see more of the same great outcomes.
But if we don’t pay attention to what the evolving possibilities are in a partnership, as well as the changing objectives of each other’s work, partnerships run the danger of becoming solutions in search of problems.
Over time we are comforted by the premise that we are doing the right thing through our collaboration, but if we are nearing the natural end of the partnership life cycle, then the law of diminishing returns tells us that if we are not taking action to leverage our collective assets then truthfully, we are not creating change in our communities.
Managing employee engagement in a time of risk will be the topic of my presentation at the upcoming 2012 Employee Engagement Summit in New York on April 3rd and 4th. Join us by registering at www.charitiesatwork.org or follow along the conversation at #BPSEE12.
About Michael Carren
Michael Carren is Vice President and Global Director of Employee Engagement and Volunteerism, Financial Education, Disaster Response and Military and Veterans Giving for JPMorgan Chase and the JPMorgan Chase Foundation. In this capacity, Michael is responsible for leading the strategy and implementation of national and international grant making and community outreach programs.
Prior to joining JPMorgan Chase, Mike was the Manager of Community Relations for Chrysler Financial, managing the company’s portfolio of philanthropic giving, employee volunteer and community outreach programs. Mike also served as the Director of Carren Consulting and spent nine years as a senior leader of Capital One’s Corporate Philanthropy Program.
Throughout his career Mike has led programs with numerous nonprofit and corporate entities and has his professional roots in the nonprofit sector, having served as Assistant Executive Director and Educational Program Director with the Garfield F. Childs Memorial Fund in Richmond, Virginia.