STRONG RELATIONSHIPS MEAN HAVING OPEN LINES OF COMMUNICATION, TRUST AND COLLABORATION. IT MEANS BEING ABLE TO NAVIGATE THINGS TOGETHER BY TRUSTING IN THOSE PRINCIPLES.”
— JANICE DODY, VP OF STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIPS, IDOC
In his book, “Strategic Alliances,” Steve Steinhilber discusses one of the main tenets of building collaborative relationships: People want integrated solutions to their problems. As VP of Strategic Alliances and Corporate Consulting Engineering for Cisco Systems, Steinhilber has built a career on fostering equally crucial, well-managed alliances that generate value for everyone involved.
The crux of Steinhilber’s strategy is based on three essential foundations for building successful alliances: the right framework (how alliances help achieve strategic goals and identify potential partners); the right organization (having the right people and continually honing their skills); and the right relationships (cultivating trust among key industry partners).
In a business landscape defined by constant change, the ability to build and maintain partnerships supersedes better strategies, better processes, better time management, and better self-discipline. Steven Pearlman knows this. As co-founder of The Critical Thinking Initiative, Pearlman has had a first-hand look at how collaborative relationships work in real time, especially in a time when the pandemic and social unrest have forced everyone to work twice as hard to keep their heads above water.
Pearlman’s take is that in today’s fast-paced, network-centric world, building close-knit working relationships with strategic partners offer different, yet invaluable perspectives. If done correctly, you build lasting relationships with forward-thinking organizations that can offer the resources you need, but lack the time to develop yourself.
Take the higher education space, where Pearlman and his company focus a good bit of time. The Critical Thinking Initiative offers faculty development and turnkey programs for students around thinking critically across all disciplines. Educational institutions seeking to develop thinking outcomes can draw on resources like The Critical Thinking Initiative rather than spend years developing curricula, materials and training on their own.
Pearlman says that when organizations become attuned to the needs of each other, strategic alliances can serve deeper purposes. “Rather than cookie-cutter connections, deeper partner alliances attend to a company’s needs and long-term strategic plans. When partnerships emerge in concert with strategic planning rather than in service to existing plans, it enables you to create an infrastructure for success.”
All for one…
DOC is an optometric alliance committed to providing independent eye care professionals (ODs) across the country a competitive advantage. With more than 3,000 members, the organization offers countless services, including industry-leading vendor savings programs and invaluable guidance from some of the industry’s leading consultants.
At the core of IDOC’s mission statement is its ability to offer best-in-class knowledge sharing opportunities with industry peers and experts. With IDOC as an ally, independent optometric practice owners can compete in an industry that is not only packed with mega players like Wal-Mart and Costco, but also home to a growing pact of online rivals’ stalwarts like Warby Parker and EyeBuyDirect.
Matthew J. Woelbern believes the relationships that IDOC helps foster strengthen the outcomes for optometrists that may otherwise be forced to face alone. Through continual mutual discussion and brainstorming, ODs can learn together how to keep a healthy future amid all the industry dynamics, including areas like improved product/technology education, practice consulting, in-store branding, and profitability improvements through commitment-based pricing programs.
“There are a lot of forces at work that favor the industry’s big players, and it’s hardly a fair fight for independent optometry,” says Woelbern, Head of Marketing – U.S. ECP, for ZEISS Vision Care U.S., an IDOC vendor partner. “Relationships with peers and suppliers are the only way to scale with the collective power of like-minded organizations and have a fighting chance to resist the industry’s current headwinds. It’s hard work simply to serve patients and not pay attention to the competitive, industry dynamics happening. With deeper alliances, you can make better decisions quicker, and then return to serving your patients.”
Vendor partnerships are a staple in this strategy. Since joining IDOC less than two years ago, ZEISS has signed 200-plus practices to its IDOC Z-Select program. Woelbern says each practice was committed to giving the program a chance. “Take a moment to reassess everything your existing programs have to offer. Then, take one you haven’t tried, and engage with it in earnest. You may be surprised how valuable it is.”
Janice Dody, IDOC’s VP of Strategic Partnerships, believes that working relationships with forward-thinking peers offer a wealth of valuable perspectives, especially in the throes of the past year’s challenges. “In the wake of COVID, we really realized the power of our partnerships, specifically our vendor partners’ ability to make sure we meet our member’s needs. Strong relationships mean having open lines of communication, trust, and collaboration. It means being able to navigate things together by trusting in those principles. In a vulnerable time, we saw some people really rise to the occasion.”
“WHEN PARTNERSHIPS EMERGE IN CONCERT WITH STRATEGIC PLANNING RATHER THAN IN SERVICE TO EXISTING PLANS, IT ENABLES YOU TO CREATE AN INFRASTRUCTURE FOR SUCCESS.” — STEVEN PEARLMAN, CO-FOUNDER, THE CRITICAL THINKING INITIATIVE
When it comes to peer/partner relationships, Gregory Pas believes that the concept of trust is one that every participant must embrace wholeheartedly. As Marketing Director for FUJIFILM North America Corporation, Graphic Systems Division (North America), Pas continues to see increased dependence on networking and community building.
“Once individuals settle in with each other, the trust factor increases and these groups become the go-to communities for brainstorming and/or answers for solutions addressing problems,” Pas says. “Everyone has their own unique ideas on various topics, and to be part of a trusted networking group, ideation begins to explode in a positive manner because you’ll always hear, ‘Oh, I never thought of that’ or validation; ‘Yes, I was thinking about that but now that I know that it works, I’ll give it a try myself.’ ”
When the pandemic hit, the majority of businesses were focused on developing relationships with the people and organizations that were known commodities. Having deep, solid relationships mattered. “Taking risks today are not what most people or organizations are doing,” Pas says. “They want to make genuine and validated decisions to comfortably and successfully keep things going. You must trust your business partners to successfully execute what you partner with them to do, which eliminates a lot of stress. It allows you to focus on what you are supposed to focus on and not be bifurcated, which then gives you the right mindset for other execution and decision-making tactics you’re responsible for. When you freak out, you make the wrong decisions.”
Woelbern says that learning “what works” in your industry is not always easy to do. While there are ways to self-educate yourself, sometimes that only gets you so far. “Only through real relationships can you ask specific questions that may not be answered through a search engine. These relationships are the only way to build consensus on topics that matter to specific parts of our industry. And these relationships help in brainstorming how to keep a healthy future with all of the current dynamics and threats.”
By keeping good company, you give yourself and your business a chance to survive and thrive.