The Underappreciated Key to Business Success: Partners

Last Updated Jul 15, 2011 11:17 AM EDT

To make a company successful, several ingredients are mandatory: a great strategy, terrific employees, and a mission that rallies those employees forward.

But there is another must-have that is necessary for success, one often forgotten in the drive to hire top talent or identify key opportunities. Call them partnerships, alliances or friends, most organizations need help from the outside.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a Harvard Business School professor, reminds us of the critical importance of finding and maintaining key relationships in her blog post, Three Reasons Everything Goes Better with Partners.

"The teammates by your side are certainly important. They're part of the family." Kanter writes. "But even more important are the partners or allies not directly involved in your project or venture who help you extend your reach and get what you need to succeed -- key suppliers, distributors, co-developers, independent designers, endorsers, and beyond. They are the extended family."

One advantage to consorting with great partners, she says, is that they provide access to people or resources you might not know or have the clout to command.

"They fight for you in meetings you can't attend, accounting for why people with sponsors are more likely to succeed in large organizations. Partners and allies provide windows on new ideas and introductions to new territories, whether to customers, suppliers, or opinion leaders."

Allies also help you when strength in numbers counts, such as when trying to influence public policy or remove barriers. And the third advantage is that partners help you create better products, either by supplying needed parts or contributing to an ecosystem that creates value for your customers, such as independent developers do by writing mobile apps for Apple's iPhone and iPad.

The key in developing successful partnerships is to think of allies and alliances from the start, not as an afterthought. Partners can help you create a better strategy just as easily as they can help you create a better product.

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(Photo by Flickr user fudj, CC 2.0)
  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.