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Featured Contributors: The Partnership Resource

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We had a chance to sit down with Lisette Smith and Tanya Rapacz, of The Partnership Resource to discuss the growing demand of their serivces within Financial Services, as well as in other industries. Enjoy!

How did your careers start?

We starting working together at a wealth management firm in 1999, then formed our own financial planning firm the following year.

What led you two to get together and form The Partnership Resource?

After we sold our wealth management firm, Lisette started advanced education in conflict resolution. Tanya soon followed. We were looking into the unique relationship that exists between business partners and there was so little research. Based on our own experience as partners, we knew there would be others looking for a way to manage conflict and avoid business disruptions. We enjoyed working and building something together. We embarked on our own research project and started a practice offering services and resources specifically for business partners.

What exactly do you do?

We work with partners from formation to succession. We provide a “how-to” guide to get the most out of their specific partnership, so they can have a thriving business and a great relationship. We take business partners through a process; generally this involves assessing where they are, conducting facilitated meetings, and capturing what they have agreed to.

When businesses first discover your services, do they get it?

People who have been in business partnerships where there has been conflict definitely understand the need for outside help and are relieved to know it exists. “I wish I’d known about you before” is something we often hear.

We also do a lot of work with partners who are merging and with so much on the line and high failure rates, people are starting to take notice earlier.

Are you psychologists for business partners?

That’s an interesting way to look at it. While we’re not licensed psychologists, there’s certainly a lot of psychology theory in conflict resolution. Business partnerships can be very complex relationships. We think we bring the best of psychology theory and business perspective to the work we do. Our skills and services are generally more business-oriented and our process is very forward-looking for partners, focusing on what they each bring to the business.

What kinds of problems do you see arising in your clients?

Often they are at an inflection point in their business. This can be after the initial honeymoon of a startup, or after some level of success, facing issues related to the next phase of the business, or succession issues. There are a variety of possible conflicts, but many center on misunderstandings concerning relative contribution or the direction of the business.  A lot has to do with better defining roles, expectations and work styles.

Besides problems, what other business events are helpful to think about in terms of a partnership?

We’ve been working more frequently with partners just embarking on a newly merged business. In some cases, the principals have previously been through a failed partnership, so they have a heightened awareness of the impacts.

What warning signs do partnerships need to pay attention to that there’s trouble brewing?

There are three that seem to come up fairly frequently: 1) ineffective communication, including issues that never seem to be resolved; 2) change in tone of discourse; 3) avoiding contact, leading to an inability to make decisions.

Is there a best in class framework to think about in terms of beginning a partnership?

Definitely. We strongly recommend a Partnership Constitution, which is a document setting forth how you will work together to reach your vision of your business. We’ve also developed some best practices, which can be downloaded here.

Have you noticed any trends in conflicts within advisory partnerships?

Many firms are considering mergers as a solution to succession planning.  This brings up a host of issues that have to be resolved regarding ownership, decision-making and roles in the merged firm.

When a firm is considering their succession plan, what challenges can you help them to overcome?

Succession planning is often driven, for obvious reasons, by a founder. As a result, it can be very difficult to have open and productive conversations, which can be very frustrating.  Having facilitated discussions is often the only way to make a break-through in some cases. 

How do you suggest firms think about adding new partners into the mix as others leave?

When adding new partners, assessment tools, including psychometric testing, can give very valuable information; the partners should also be clear about what they hope to gain from each new partner being added.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

There is sometimes initial skepticism about whether working with us will really make a difference, especially if conflict among partners has gone on for some time and feels entrenched. The transformation is really rewarding; although partnerships may share similar issues, every partnership is unique.

What is most difficult?

We’re still getting the word out that there’s hope if your partnership has a problem that the partners have not been able to resolve. Partnership mediation is viable and accessible. The advantages are that it’s confidential, cost-effective, and can resolve issues while keeping relationships intact.

What would you like to leave us with?

The benefits of building a successful business with a partner are incredibly valuable and worth protecting.  Conflicts don’t have to get in the way of your business success.

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