There have been reports recently indicating that collaboration in the workforce has been steadily on the rise. The potential for it to continue to grow has been also identified and the word on the street is that employees want more of it. Now, new studies are continuing to emerge suggesting that forms of inter-organisational collaboration are increasingly becoming the preferred way to create value. Business leaders need to understand that the models such as M&As (mergers and acquisitions), which were the norm for the past couple of decades, are not always suited to the new world order which is defined by disruption and business resilience.
The source of this insight is part of an article by McKinsey’s Eileen Kelly Rinaudo and Robert Uhlaner. I recommend the full read; however what caught my attention was their point that companies still lack an overall strategy by which they can manage a portfolio of collaborations, regardless of the specifics of the individual venture. This is one of the critical areas of collaboration which I have previously written about; namely, the full potential for collaboration can’t be realised unless there is a strategic ‘brand’ of collaboration that each company develops and nurtures. In other words, your potential collaborators want to be able to get a strong sense of what kind of collaborating agency you represent. Being organic and opportunistic is all good, but it also confuses potential clients and customers.
I see too many collaborations that simply do not makes sense, narrative-wise. The PR statements seem to retrofit the purpose. Just because a certain collaboration is good now, doesn’t mean it is going to strengthen the brand of collaboration a business wants to develop. The idea of collaborative strategy is that it clearly creates a portfolio approach to ensure that consistent management practices are deployed across all collaborative projects/programs. It is therefore sometimes better to pass on a collaboration opportunity than risk short gains which can become a long term struggle.
Another reason why a systematic approach is necessary, is to boost the capacity for the entire organisation to better understand what the story of a business is. A collection of collaborative projects and initiatives, be they anything from formal partnerships and ventures to loose, flat governance structured projects, can end up looking to eclectic. Eclectic as a brand can be appealing, but as a desired approach, the ‘eclectic’ should be by design not by accident, which then has to be massaged via PR. Humans, be they customers, clients or observers, above all seek clarity. Clarity in business brand must be equally supported by the way an organisation collaborates. What kind of project it chooses, which partners, what model of governance, etc., are all factors that go into collaboration by design.
Businesses are now communicating by not communicating. It’s the old ‘you can’t not communicate’ principle that comes into play here. Strategic communication is far more than the manufactured message. It’s the subtle messages we send to our clients and customers who are more and more getting ahead of the game and know how to discern authentic from gloss. So, the positive predictions of a growing amount of collaborations is also a great opportunity to mature the discipline, which in my mind will be far more dominant as the essence of business practice, than many disciplines we see today.