Having matching cultures is critical when choosing strategic partners

How many times have you read about corporate mergers that didn’t fulfill the big promises made when the two companies first got hitched? I’d venture to say that nine times out of ten, the problem is a cultural mismatch. Small businesses can run into the same problem if they don’t carefully weigh the issue of culture before entering into strategic partnerships.

The benefits of strategic partnering are many and often the possibilities of growing your business through such an arrangement can be so dazzling that you overlook a possible cultural mismatch. I’ve seen numerous culture clashes happen to friends, mostly solopreneurs who were linking up with another solopreneur in the hopes that together they could land bigger clients.

Now, you may think that just because you’re a one-person company, you don’t actually have a corporate culture, but you do. You have values that you live by that inform your relationships with customers and vendors. When the person you’ve joined with doesn’t share those values, that’s a culture clash and it almost always leads to disaster.

Fortunately, with small companies, particularly solopreneurs, it is relatively easy to do your due diligence about the person(s) you’re considering partnering with. You can learn a lot about someone over a few casual lunches or dinners. How do they talk about their clients? Do they seem to value the people they work for as you do, or do they make disparaging remarks about them? What is their attitude toward sticking to budgets and deadlines? Are they focused on supplying high quality work at a fair price, as you are, or are they more interested in getting every last dime out of a client? Are they seem cavalier about breaching client confidentiality? Can what they say be trusted? Do you sense that they’re, as they say in Texas, all hat and no cattle? In other words, do you worry that they are exaggerating or perhaps outright lying about their own experience, skills or business successes? Being on the wrong side of any of these questions should be a red flag that perhaps this person’s values, attitudes and ways of doing business are not a match for yours.

Of course, this requires that you are clear about your own values and how they affect your working relationships. Here’s a helpful post on this important topic. Above all, always remember that hitching your star to the wrong wagon can lead to disaster, including irreparable harm to your reputation. So always look very carefully at culture issues before leaping into a strategic partnership.

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