Sirk Speculation article: In praise of promiscuous partnerships

Why self-sufficient attitudes endanger international associations

Here are a few uncomfortable truths facing international associations:

  • Historic roles as quasi-monopoly providers of specialist knowledge are being steamrollered by the Information Revolution.
  • Competitive pressures are only heading in one direction – and it isn’t just your obvious rivals who are in play.
  • If you aren’t in gold, silver or bronze medal position, you’re nowhere.
  • It’s impossible to be world-class in more than a few areas where you have genuine USPs.
  • The one thing increasing as fast as competition is complexity.
  • Your plan will be perfect until it gets punched on the chin (to paraphrase Mike Tyson).

And perhaps most important for this argument:

  • Everyone is in the same boat!

A partnership strategy begins with the recognition that the world has fundamentally changed and will change even more swiftly and dramatically in future, and that what made your association great today will not be sufficient to survive and (hopefully) thrive in the future.  For most associations, present success has been built on a foundation of specialist strengths, expertise, experts, and assets, all of which have been internally generated.  Associations have largely been self-sufficient, self-reliant, and of course self-confident, and could automatically count on the loyalty of their members.

Tomorrow, I believe the key to success will be the ability to utilise and leverage your internal assets in a comprehensive partnership strategy, one that ranges from high-level advocacy and global development down to individual project planning, and that creates roles for rival associations, companies and universities, city agencies, and all stakeholder groups that share an interest in your mission or fields of endeavour.

Partnership thinking should be embedded in every facet of an association’s existence.  Boards and management should constantly be exploring “who shares our values”; “whose input might lift this particular service from great to world-class”; “how can our skills and assets be leveraged to attract the most brilliant collaborators”; “could our rivals turn out to be our friends”.  And of course, “which cities will be our strongest, most innovative partners for hosting our meetings and supporting our offices” (GAHP has a strong view on the answer to that particular question!).

Partnerships don’t need to be permanent; they don’t need to be exclusive; they can be for narrowly defined purposes or time-periods, or in specific geographical regions or sectors of interest, or even set up as experiments to test out new ideas or open up new possibilities.

I’ll be leading sessions on this topic at the Dubai Association Conference in December, listening carefully as association leaders share stories of how they’ve built their own portfolios of productive partnerships, and will share these ideas through a later edition of this newsletter.

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