Below are ideas I have heard from the voice of the collective – topics discussed over the past couple of decades with fellow strategic alliance managers, team members, management, consultants, spiritual leaders, and others.[i]
I have done my best to listen with an open mind and an open heart, while acknowledging personal biases based on experience, perspective and purpose.[ii]
Table of Contents
Define strategic alliance.
Define strategic alliance manager.
The future for our career.
Value – focus on the timeless and invisible forms.
Sales as the objective.
Metrics – especially soft, long-term and intangible.
The need for spiritual principles.
“Using” vs. “being used by” spirit.
Using the “God” word.
Atheists and agnostics.
Using “spiritual” verbiage.
Sharing spiritual ideas with others, including executives.
Linkage to culture.
A strategic alliance is a long-term value-creating business relationship.[iii] These relationships last beyond the typical 3-5 year planning horizon of most companies. Their primary purpose is to create value. This value is created in tangible forms like incremental revenue, a new product or technology, better solutions, or the development of a new market. However, future value is conceived in the intangible forms of value like trust, organizational learning, improved customer and partner loyalty, risk mitigation or sharing, and new strategic options. Strategic alliances differ from other forms of business relationship, in that they are:
A strategic alliance manager establishes, develops and manages a strategic alliance. As I see it, a strategic alliance manager:
- does the impossible
- with nothing
- in the eye of a hurricane.
We (i) get value-creation to occur between competitors, in a predominantly fear-based and ego-driven climate, (ii) with insufficient resources, in both type and amount, (iii) in the midst of overwhelming complexity, dysfunctional drama and other distractions.
This job, our role, ultimately our identity is discussed further in Strategic Alliance Manager Role (Identity): a unique, holistic and empowering perspective (32-page PDF). The “punch line” (or conclusion) in this whitepaper is that it is best when a strategic alliance manager thinks of herself/himself as the creator, in effect the god over their alliance. Think about that!
As I see it this is the current state-of-our-profession as strategic alliance managers:
- Role, or more precisely identity ambiguity abounds. What does it means to be a strategic alliance manager? Beyond job descriptions, best practices, suggested processes and procedures, tools, methodologies, training, certification, skill development and knowledge acquisition – what does it really mean to be a strategic alliance manager. What is our identity? Who do we think we are?
- There is a lack of clarity in terms on value:
- There is too much emphasis on value‐exchange and value‐extraction (i.e., sales revenue) to the distraction of value‐creation.
- There is an over‐emphasis on near‐term tangible forms of value (sales revenue) to the distraction of long‐term and intangible forms of value. Near-term tangible value is conceived in long-term intangible forms.
- While acknowledging the importance of such things as trust, atmosphere or climate, open communication, transparency, and attitude & mindset, it is unclear how these things can be assessed and improved.
- The overwhelming complexity of this job is acknowledged, with few practical simplifying solutions.
Can I make a long-term career out of being a strategic alliance manager? Why are so many alliance managers leaving the corporate world and appearing outside as consultants? It seems like what many businesses want today are glorified sales rep. It doesn’t seem like businesses really care about long-term value-creating relationships any more; it seems like the economy has forced most businesses to forgo that luxury. It seems like the role of strategic alliance manager is something someone does in between real jobs. These are some of the questions and comments I have heard, especially over the past couple of years.
My responses are:
- It’s natural that in these challenging economic times that many companies are in survival mode. I believe this is especially true in traditional areas of high-technology (hardware, system-level software, professional services), which are maturing, with diminishing profit-margins.
- As I see it there will always be companies who are willing to look beyond value-exchange or value-extraction to value-creation. Perhaps they are in non-traditional areas of high-tech (the cloud), or in other industries (e.g., Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s – a.k.a., “Firms of Endearment”).
- The need for true value-creation (beyond revenue) and the need for real collaboration is increasing over time; as I see it this trend is certain and long-lasting. We are admittedly going through a challenging period, a phase in the progression of humanity.
- In many ways life is a self-fulfilling prophesy. We create or “call to us” situations, events and people. We are powerful creative beings. The question is “Are we living that way or not?”
- Finally – stay true to yourself and trust the Universe. If you are of value and if you are of service, the Universe will respond in kind.
So, what would you like your future to be?
As I see it there are basically two attributes of value to consider – time and tangibility. What most alliances seem to be mostly focused on are near-term and tangible forms of value, especially incremental sales revenue. This is where most businesses and most alliance managers are mostly focused.
In spiritual realms, as well as in interpersonal relationships, it seems that the timeless or long-term and the invisible or timeless forms of value are actually more important than the time-bound and tangible forms. I go so far as to say that the long-term and intangible forms of value are actually the most important forms. It is in the timeless and the infinite that the time-bound and tangible forms of value are actually conceived.
Before something can be created there must first be an idea. The best climate for ideas to come to fruition is based in openness and trust. And when we are creating or growing things, we need patience, we need a sense of timelessness; pulling on a plant will not accelerate the harvest.
The point of all of this is that we cannot let our focus on near-term and tangible forms of value distract us from the long-term intangible forms. We absolutely do need to be concerned about sales, we need to be concerned about the harvest; but, if we ignore the tilling of the ground and the planting of the seeds, next year’s harvest will at best be mediocre.
Given there are traditional areas of our business that are already focused on sales (e.g., the Sales and Marketing organizations), why not let them focus there while we focus our attention where others in the organization cannot or will not focus. Strategic alliance managers should be maniacally focused on long-term intangible forms of value, such as the following, knowing that these forms of value will inevitably lead to tomorrow’s harvest:
- Having high trust in relationships with others, and in a trust-filled climate.
- Establishing a climate where relationship-deepening is valued as a strategic asset.
- The intention for mutual growth – for both companies and all individuals.
- Improved loyalty: partner loyalty, customer loyalty, employee loyalty.
- Open, honest and transparent communications.
- Establishing a sense of home where all can flourish and live their dreams.
This is just a start, the point is that there is a whole host of long-term and intangible forms of value to focus your alliance’s attention on. What forms are most important depends upon you, your alliance, your company, the industry, the forms of tangible value being created, and the maturity of your alliance.
Having a strategic alliance solely focused on incremental sales revenue is like having a marriage that is only concerned with maximizing the number of children. If sales revenue is the only objective, the alliance will miss the mark. It will fail to achieve its full value-creating potential and will wallow in mediocrity.
If the alliance manager focuses on long-term and intangible forms of value, sales revenue will naturally take care of itself. If there is a loving and open atmosphere in a marriage, the children will occur in due course.
Admittedly someone does need to focus on near-term tangible value; parents do need to care for their children; but in both cases that cannot be the only objective. If it is the overall health of the relationship will suffer and the children (the value in the alliance) will suffer. Mediocrity will abide in the relationship.
Also refer to the section on Value.
As I see the strategic alliance manager needs to focus her/his attention where others in the organization cannot or will not focus their attention. Traditional business can relatively easily focus on hard metrics (e.g., sales revenue and ROI). Business needs the alliance manager to focus on the soft metrics, and those that will have long-term payback. Below are examples of these metrics; admittedly it is challenging to quantify these things and developing time-based stakes in the ground indicating progress. But, just because this will be hard does not mean we shouldn’t do it:
- Clear role and identity defined in the strategic alliance manager.
- Treating “relationship” as a strategic asset and developing metrics around the assessment and deepening of relationship.
- Alliance development and alliance manager development plans in place, focused on changing attitude & mindset in order to deepen relationship.
- Willingness to be self-correcting and others-correcting-self – open and honest feedback.
- “Call” each other on organizational addictions, esp. complexity and drama.
- Mindfulness and true presence, pervasive throughout the alliance.
- Loving confrontation practiced throughout the alliance – co-facing difficult issues between people and in the midst of the alliance.
- Deal with value-limiting attitudes and behaviors.
- An inspirational climate the attracts deep brainstorming.
- Provide just-enough and just-in-time training on the relationship-ization of others and the alliance-ization of their work product.
- Establish home in the alliance – a productive community where all succeed.
- Practicing self-obsolescence – the empowerment of others by giving and serving.
- Being an illuminating mirror – the power in gratitude.
This is just a start …
Spirituality is defined as the deepening of relationship. Principles (ideas) that, when held in consciousness, have as a natural result authentic behaviors (practices) which deepen relationship.
Read Defining Spirituality.
Here are questions I have heard over the years, questioning the need for, or the value in, the use of spiritual principles in strategic alliances.
Q: Is spirituality required in order for a strategic alliance manager to be successful?
A: No. As I see it these ideas are helpful, they provide insight. They are not a requirement for success.
This may seem paradoxical. But while the use of spiritual words in strategic alliances is not a requirement, I do see the need for these ideas as a strategic imperative. These ideas may be brought into business via a different set of words, but the fundamental relationship-deepening ideas are strategically needed.
Q: Does spirituality bring fundamentally new and unique ideas into strategic alliance management?
A: Someone could arrive at many of these transformational practices via other means. As I see it these ideas save time. With spirituality we arrive at these practices more quickly.
Q: So what’s the point? What’s the value in considering these ideas?
A: As I see it spirituality helps us understand fundamental principles. Spirituality is about relationship and alliances are about relationship.
As we understand and apply fundamental principles in any area (e.g., in physics or chemistry) amazing things happen:
- suddenly past experiences make sense,
- we become inspired to solve previously unsolvable problems,
- we become enthused, and
- we gain an ability to predict future events.
If it is possible to bring some of these things into alliancing, that would be great.
Some people may find the word “spiritual” to be uncomfortable and difficult. Similarly there are some people who cannot deal with the challenges and intensity in strategic alliances. In both cases I find life to be too short to “mince words” or “sugar coat” issues. I strive to speak the truth as I see it, boldly and clearly. This may sound harsh and thoughtless, but after I have done my best to speak clearly and with love, how others think about and deal with what I say is really up to them.
For me I have two lines of rational argument for why spirituality is critically needed in strategic alliances:
- Most strategic alliances fail, mostly due to failure in relationship (businesses typically fail in the artful science of relationship). Spirituality is about a change in attitude & mindset (a change in perspective based on our chosen identity) that deepens relationship.
- The role of strategic alliance manager is extraordinarily unique; there is nothing like it in the world of business. The most helpful model for the role of alliance manager is to think of herself/himself as is being the god of the alliance (the creator).[iv]
I have considered and rejected other words besides “spiritual”: values, principles, ethics, etc. To me “spiritual” is the only word that works to describe that something that is within us, between us and all around us. And that something is alive. It is something we can actually use. But be forewarned. As we use spiritual stuff (ideas, principles, behaviors, practices – even spirit itself) we end up getting used, we are changed as a result.
This is an interesting topic, raised by a spiritual leader. The basic idea is that spirit is not something that we use, it is something that uses us – spirit changes us. As a practical matter I don’t know how the idea of spirituality can be sold to a business leader in this manner, “Bring spiritual principles into your work and it will use you.” This will not be seen as a proactive move, nor a change where the leader maintains control.
I do acknowledge that we end up being changed as we incorporate or embody these ideas into our lives. This is true for our lives at work and at home. And making these deep internal changes requires trust – it is a prerequisite for and a result of deep inner transformation. Still I firmly believe, I know based on experience, that we can in fact use spiritual ideas and achieve real-world benefit.
Q: Are you talking about religion? How do you differentiate religion from spirituality?
A: My answer to this often emotionally-charged question is both “yes” and “no.”
“Yes” when you can draw ideas from religious teachings (or spiritual writings, or philosophy, or wherever) that allow you to deepen relationship, here and now.
“No” if you are interested in debating or arguing with me. “No” if you want to ‘convert’ me. And, “no” if you want me to focus my attention on the past, the future or someplace else.
I am interested in deepening relationship, here and now. I am interested in ideas which naturally lead us to authentic behaviors that have as a result the deepening of relationship – with ourselves, with others and with whatever you want to call everything else (e.g., God, Higher Power, The Universe, Love, Spirit, etc.).
What is “religion”? Consider these words from Kahlil Gibran from his book The Prophet:
Is not religion all deeds and all reflection, and that which is neither deed nor reflection, but a wonder and a surprise ever springing in the soul, even while the hands hew the stone or tend the loom?
Q: Do you have to use the word “God”?
There are other words that work like the “Universe” or “Source” or “Higher Power” or “Light” or “Love.” The “Universe” seems to be the most ‘universally’ acceptable word. Religious people can hear that word as “God” or “Jehova” or “Allah” or “Hu” or “Yahweh.” The point is that we do need to use a word which points to something that is beyond us and is always amongst us – some source of Life and Light and Love and Inspiration. And this something is alive, it gives life; hence putting a name on it that conveys a since of aliveness seems to be helpful. The need for aliveness, even a personal (named) aliveness is why such words as “ethics” or “principles” are insufficient.
I try to mostly use the word “Universe” but sometimes I use “God” because it’s shorter to write and say, and we (at least in the US) live in a culture that is strongly influenced by Christianity.
I find it interesting that I have had some of the most in-depth, open and thought-provoking discussions with avowed atheists about spirituality. All they say is “Don’t use the ‘God’ word.” Spiritual ideas seem to be generally acceptable to atheists and agnostics, even the idea that we are divine.
As I see it there are 5-6 ideas which form the essence of the spiritual principles in strategic alliances. Used appropriately, by being inspired by spirit (the Truth within), these ideas can be shared without stirring up either pro- or anti-religious zealotry. And, more important than verbally sharing these ideas, the most authentic means for sharing them is in our living. We use spiritual ideas through our embodiment of them.
Q: How does spirituality help when we are asked to do unethical or even illegal things?
A: The simple answer is to (a) stay true to the truth within you, (b) speak your truth, and (c) trust that the Universe will take care of you.
Consider reading through a one-page document on ethics, based on the book The Power of Ethical Management, by Kenneth Blanchard and Norman Vincent Peal. From time-to-time I have had to refer to the simple and powerful ideas in their book.
In addition to the ideas raised in the sections using “spiritual” verbiage and “using” vs. being used by spirit, I would say, “We need to live or embody these ideas, that is really the only sharing we can do. And, let the opportunity present itself.”
Especially in the business world there is heightened sensitivity around spiritual and religious topics. I am personally sensitive to the risk of coming across as a missionary or a zealot. Therefore I strive to let spirit direct me. And the best way to do that is to be the silent observer, to allow opportunities to naturally present themselves. Even then I know I need to be very careful.
I am not here to convince you or teach you of anything except for the fact that you know, that you have the Truth within you.
Also consider reading Spiritual Disclaimer.
Q: What role does culture play in strategic alliances?
A: Unaddressed cultural differences, between organizations, are the greatest detriment to collaboration. Culture affects how we communicate and how we perceive the world around us. Until you can perceive through their world view and use words in ways that make sense to the other, you are not communicating. Refer to the 2-Slide MethodologyTM the value-impediments slide is a practical means for spanning cultural differences.
The word “ego” is meant to convey the absence of spirit. Ego-based thinking is an entirely self-contained and logical (to itself) thought-system, aspects of this line of thinking are such ideas as: fear (a lack of trust), making things happen (as opposed to allowing creation to occur), separation (“me vs. you”), scarcity (a zero-sum game, “your win is my loss”), secrecy (a lack of open and transparent communication), complexity (rather than simplicity, dissecting wholeness or oneness), selfishness (as opposed to selflessness), conflict (attacking the other), grandiosity (“I am better than you) and a general lack of presence (feeling bad about the past or worried for the future).
Leadership based on ego hinders value-creation.
Also read the 2-page PDF Two Thought-Systems One Choice comparing and contrasting ego with spirit, and fear with love.
- the force of the universe compelling us all to grow
- all there is, everything else is an illusion
Also read Love.
And read the 2-page PDF Two Thought-Systems One Choice comparing and contrasting ego with spirit, and fear with love.
Is the absence of Love, there is no opposite of Love.
Ultimately fear is insane. Living an ego-based life is insane.
Finally consider this fun 2-page PDF – What is Our Deepest Fear?
Also read the 2-page PDF Two Thought-Systems One Choice comparing and contrasting ego with spirit, and fear with love.
Trust is the fundamental of fundamentals in relationship. Given strategic alliances are all about relationship, this is true in alliances as well – trust is fundamental. It is also both cause and effect – it is both a precursor for living a spiritually-oriented life, and the result of such a conscious choice.
Also read Trust.
Either oneness is or it isn’t. Either we are in fact all One or we are not. There are really only these two options and either idea is mind-boggling. Either we are separate and isolated beings in this fearful world all alone, or we are One with each other and with the Universe.
Also read about other simple truths.
A number of spiritual ideas have subtle but significant differences. This topic seems to epitomize those differences. This relates fairly directly with identity. “Grandiosity” says I am better than you and the sooner you learn that the better off you will be. “Grandeur” says I am great and so are you. Furthermore it says that I draw closer to my greatness as I help you see yours. “Grandiosity” is about me vs. you. “Grandeur” is about we.
Also read the 2-page PDF Two Thought-Systems One Choice comparing and contrasting ego with spirit, fear with love, and grandeur with grandiosity.
“Humility” is about being part of, being part of humanity. True humility and true pride are both grounded in grandeur – I am great and so are you, and as I show you your greatness I draw closer to my own.
I have also heard “humility” defined as I am a creator, I am not The Creator. I am a creator created by The Creator to create.
As I see it living a meditative, mindful or thoughtful life is the foundation for living a spiritual life. It is the foundation for bringing spiritual principles into strategic alliances. It is about being the silent observer and observing our thoughts. This exercise helps us be more present and aware. This is also important because our thoughts create. It is in our thoughts that our amazingly powerful creative powers start manifesting themselves. Consciousness and creativity are explicitly linked.
Also read Meditation.
[ii] For a quick read on my experience, perspective and purpose read personal story (a 2-page PDF).
[iii] A fellow alliance manager suggested that value-creation needs to be balanced between the partners, and therefore the word “balanced” should be in the definition of strategic alliance. I agree that the created value needs to be balanced, in fact I would argue that if it is not balanced it will not be long term and there no real value will be created. Reciprocity is always at play in all relationships – I say that reciprocity is a law of the universe. More than that, I am actually reluctant to put “balanced” in the definition for fear of bringing the spirit of scarcity into our discussions. Also see the book Spiritual Principles in Strategic Alliances page 11.
[iv] Ref: Chapter 5 Role Clarity – Who Am I? in the book Spiritual Principles in Strategic Alliances.