Something felt off. I looked forward to meetings with my old friend because they’re always fun, inspiring and productive. Lately, it feels like we’re hitting invisible bumps in the road every time we talk. Something significant had changed. It didn’t make sense.
Then I got the call.
“I’m going out on my own. I’ve decided to start my own business instead of joining your team.”
“What?” This one word plopped out as a placeholder, while I regained my mental footing. This is not what we’ve been talking about. For the past few months we’ve shared our strategies, contacts and best practices with the aspiration of joining forces. What just happened?
“I’ve talked it over with my wife and we think it’s the best move for us. I hope we can still find a way to work together.”
Understanding the Face of Change
I wanted to find a way to continue working with someone I had history, trust and respect, but I suddenly could see my friend in the light of a client, collaborator, competitor or all three. How do we make sense of these new business dynamics and lay an authentic relationship foundation that we can build on?
Here’s the clarifying questions and process we used to define our path forward.
- How do I think of you? : The Definition
- What does that look like? : The Behaviour
- What will that mean? : The Consequences
- The definition: There’s a job to be done and you know I can do it. You need a service or product from me. You serve as client and I am paid a contractual fee by you.
- The behaviour: Customer service based relationship. As a client, you have to be clear on what to do, yet as a service provider, the responsibility and final decision making on how to do it is up to me.
- The consequences: Transactional relationship. Confidence and satisfaction when excellence is experienced through providing high quality outcomes. Eroding of relationship if outcome is perceived as less than desirable.
- The definition: We share the responsibility and resources in getting the job done. Percentages of both contribution and profit are clearly defined. Collaborators share the risk, reward, authority and accountability during the specific project.
- The behaviour: This looks like two separate businesses working together for a common goal during a clearly defined project time-line. Both parties bring a business owner’s mind-set, skills and resources to achieve the common goal.
- The consequences: Synergy. When it works well, you start thinking of other projects that would mutually benefit from the collaboration. You realise that you are better and can achieve more with the collaborator. When your collaboration is experienced like a train wreck, you can re-invest in making it work or move on. What does the other collaborator really bring to the business? The perceived potential that the collaboration brings to your own projects will give you the compelling reasons to work on it or walk away.
- The definition: Going after the same thing in the same place as others.
- The behaviour: You want what they want. . There is an awareness or intelligence about what the other is doing. This may look like respect, fear or disdain for others. There is a sense of “Getting there first” or “Taking what’s mine” or “Owning this space!” Feels great when you win and miserable when you lose.
- The consequences: Winning and losing. One of us wins and one loses in the same market. There is constant measurement applied to expanding and shrinking market share. Judgment, criticism, praises and raises are applied depending on the temporary outcome measurement of market share.
Working C-Cubed Out
My friend and I like to think of ourselves as collaborators. Everyone talks about collaborating and it seems like a better aspirational goal. Honestly, the space we’re in is a combination of all three areas. The reality is we do have separate businesses that have competed head to head against each other. While we more often have been client or collaborator with each other, competition remains.
Clarity of understanding and tolerance of behaviour have been the keys to keeping our valued personal and business relationship healthy.
How Do You Want to Be Seen?
Follow these simple steps for getting C-Cubed clarity on your business relationships.
- List your 10 most influential business relationships
- Mark your immediate reaction next to each name (example: John Smithers: competitor)
- Then have a second look and add the next layer of relationship (example: John Smithers: competitor + collaborator)
- Any relationships contain all 3 to qualify as C-Cubed? Add and edit to your list
- Reflect on your answers.
- Were the categories and overlapping relationships clear to you?
- Are they clear to the other person?
- Have you been clear about how you want to be seen to your most influential business relationships?
Time for a C-Cubed Chat
Meet with the most important business people in your life.
Build on the above definitions to help others see you in a clear light.
Strengthen business relationships by asking for clarity on definitions of your roles, call out behaviours instead of the person and agree on consequences of outcomes during specific projects.
What are your experiences with having overlapping C-Cubed relationships: client, collaborator or competitor?
When has clarity provided more choices and a better overall business result?
When did the lack of C-Cubed clarity lead to unexpected volatility and damaged an important business relationship?