Relationships matter: 5 steps to stronger partnerships

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By Colleen Killen-Roberts

“People Need People” was the title of my second-grade reading textbook. My 7-year-old mind was curious about this title choice, but it wasn’t until much later that I really understood its meaning. Life can be both wonderful and challenging, and having people in your corner can make the highs higher and the lows lower. This concept applies to professional life as well.

For example, last year the Edward Lowe Foundation served 740 second-stage entrepreneurs across the nation.  Being a national foundation on a limited budget is no small task. This is where our partners come in.  We work together with them to find our audience and be more efficient in serving them.

In recognition of this, our organization has an intentional partnership strategy. It’s simple yet profound:

  • We go where we’re wanted. Our founder, Edward Lowe, worked his entire life to leave the foundation an abundance of resources. We have something to bring to the table. Some partners will recognize that, and others will not.
  • We work with organizations who “get it.” In other words, they share our belief that America was built on the backs of entrepreneurs. In our founding documents, Mr. Lowe stated that we should work with people who believe this. All of our partnerships meet this criteria.

As I ponder further about partners and what makes the relationships work, a few things come to mind:

  1. Understand each other’s challenges. This might be funding issues, how big of a support team they have, shifts in their local economy or how collaboration works within their ecosystem. It all affects what kind of help they might need. For example, some organizations may lack consistent funding, and you may be able to kick in more dollars. Others may lack bench strength, and you can share expertise from specialists on your team.
  2. Stay connected. Make sure you’re talking to your partners on a regular basis — whether you’re updating them on a project or just to say hello. For example, last December I happened to call Tammie Sweet of GrowFL (our key Florida partner) to wish her a Merry Christmas. The social call transitioned to an idea Tammie had about GrowFL’s regional partners learning more about our System for Integrated Growth (SIG) program. A few weeks later Paul Bateson, our general manager of external relations, and I were on a plane to Florida to do a training session.
  3. Be there physically whenever possible. If you’re a national organization like we are, it can be challenging to meet with partners in different cities or states. Yet that doesn’t mean you don’t try. Magic happens when you’re in the room together. For example, Lois Brinkman from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC) and I have lunch together in Lansing on a regular basis. Just yesterday, we cocreated a potential succession plan for our Michigan program when she retires in December.
  4. Be consistent — and genuine. Walk the talk. Do what you say you’re going to do — and in a timely manner. Bring the authentic version of yourself, warts and all, when meeting with existing or potential partners. You don’t have to be perfect. But you do have to be real.
  5. Celebrate each other. Let your partners know you appreciate them — and recognize their unique strengths. For example, as a public-private organization, GrowFL is always challenged to raise money, and yet it’s amazing what Tammie Sweet is able to accomplish on a shoestring budget. Louisiana Economic Development (LED), our Louisiana partner, stands out for their willingness to innovate and help us beta test new programs. And one of the hallmarks of the MEDC, besides a shared pride in our home state, is its ability to holistically deliver our suite of services.

So in the end people do, in fact, need people because together we are better.  I for one am a better professional as a result of the foundation’s relationships. Thank you to all of our partners for your leadership and dedication!

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Colleen Killen-Roberts
Divisional Vice President of Entrepreneurship
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“Entrepreneurs need a bridge between their dreams and reality,” says Colleen Killen-Roberts, Divisional Vice President of Entrepreneurship at the Edward Lowe Foundation. “And that’s where operational expertise comes in. Operations is about creating the necessary infrastructure to take the entrepreneur’s ideas and make them happen.” In this series of articles, Killen-Roberts shares insights gleaned from more than 25 years of operational and fiscal management experience at second-stage companies.