How Building Trust Creates Partnerships & Innovation: The 2013 GE Innovation Barometer

Without Trust Good Relationships Are Difficult To Start

Now in its third year, the 2013 General Electric Innovation Barometer, a global survey of the barriers and drivers of innovation, once again reinforces the vital role of partnerships and collaboration to successful innovation. The Partnership Paradox remains too; innovation requires partnerships, many commentators extol their value, leaders and CEO’s desire them but most individuals and organisations struggle to build them. A lack of trust seems a constant reason why these valuable marketing relationships are often so hard to secure yet often so easy to lose.

The excellent General Electric Innovation Barometer (the full report can found within their Ideaslab that you can visit here) is an annual independent research and survey conducted by consulting firm Strategy One covering 3000 senior executives across 25 countries. Among the key innovation issues that the 2013 Barometer explores are the role of government, the importance of international trade and the acquisition and retention of valuable talent. More than ever innovation leaders are recognising that they must drive towards reinventing the business model itself not just drive new products. The dramatic disruption in music, publishing, insurance, travel and the shape of the UK high street shows what can happen when core market mechanics are changing faster than you can launch new products. For example, 52% of the senior executives surveyed believe that it is new business models can drive their business forward better than R&D and product development.

Yet the importance of building and securing partnerships is a powerful recurring theme since the first GE Innovation Barometer in 2011. (You can see my previous posts about the Barometer from 2011 and 2012.) . As Beth Comstock, Senior VP and CMO at GE says; “We are exploring different markets, partnership structures and business models – all in the pursuit of uncovering new ways to better serve our customers and meet the world’s biggest challenges head on.”

Partnerships and Innovation Culture:

Working Alone Can Be A Bad Thing...
Working Alone Can Be A Bad Thing…

GE was not the first and has not been alone in highlighting the need for partnerships and collaborations within innovation. Gary Hamel and Rosabeth Moss-Kanter published seminal essays on the need for partnerships in 1989 and 1984 respectively. And a range of commentators continue to stress the importance of forging relationships in a culture of Open Innovation. In this excellent video piece from last year Stefan Lindegaard points out that for many marketers it was no longer a matter of ‘ if’ they pursued partnerships and collaborations but rather ‘how’ and who with.  Partners can create that clash of ideas, skills and technology that creates the environment for true innovation. As Lindegaard says; “You cannot have strong innovation culture – unless you have a strong networking culture”.

And José Baldaia is another popular writer on innovation who consistently emphasises on the need to partner, forge alliances, collaborate and nurture important relationships. Mirroring the GE Innovation Barometer his recent Intuinovare blog also points out the importance of trust in securing partnerships that can drive innovation;

“Networks work more and more to small and medium-sized companies as a way to learn about business opportunities and about the potential for intervention outside its borders. After a few years since Henry Chesbrough coined the term “Open Innovation” the leaders and managers of SMEs do not yet demonstrate behaviour and practices typical of an exploratory attitude or of a networking of exploration of new territories and environments. There is not a trend or a common desire widespread within companies for advancing collaboration in the creation of products and services or in their marketing, most likely because there is not a climate of trust to promote this collaboration.” – Jose Baldaia, Intuinovare, 22nd January 2013

It is no surprise that 87% of executives surveyed as part of the Innovation Barometer believe that their firms could be more effective by innovating through partnerships and collaborations. Such relationships offer the opportunity to access to new technology (79%) and enter new markets (79%). Whereas previous Innovation Barometers also noted the importance of building partnerships the 2013 Barometer points to what seems to be preventing them. It reports that 64% of executives believed it was a lack of confidentiality and IP protection – and in a common theme, 47% believed it was a lack of trust and 45% stated it was a fear of talent poaching. The common aspect to all of these reasons being – a lack of trust…

And its Trust keeps the Partnership Gears moving in the right direction...
And it is Trust that keeps the Partnership Gears moving in the right direction…

Having worked as practitioner in marketing partnerships and collaborations I have identified three vital gears of partnership that I have noted and seen in action over the years. I define these gears as FIT (of mechanics, markets, culture and people), PLANNING (leadership, consensus, joint objectives and measures) – and MOMENTUM (balance, capability, resources and delivery). All have to keep moving forward, gradually building the relationship and improving the value and output. And TRUST is the oil that keeps Fit, Planning and Momentum gears moving in the right way. Personal trust between project teams and leaders, trust that the other party will deliver to the plan and commit to the relationship. Without trust any key business relationship stalls and then grinds to a halt.

How To Build Trust Between Innovation Partners:

It is often said that without genuine trust all that remains is words. Words which are just the hollow clanking gong announcing a new relationship that will eventually wither and fail. Without trust, a business (or personal) relationship does not feel or sound right. How do you create the kind of trust so needed to secure vital innovation partnerships? How can marketers, traditionally educated and cultured to be competitive leaders and self-promoters learn to make better decisions and products by working with others in the spirit of collaboration?

1 – Start With Collaborative Conversation:


A Good Cafe Conversation Is About More Than The Coffee...
A Good Cafe Conversation Is About More Than The Coffee…

Firstly, innovation leaders and marketers need to invest time in building open conversations with their partners, where listening is as important as speaking. In 2012 I explored empathy as it struck me how important it was for the creation of genuine cooperation between marketing partners. Empathy is about seeing the world from the others view and understanding (if not always agreeing with) – their perspective. As the adage says, ‘if you can help people get what they want, you are more likely to get what you want’. It all starts with strong connections.

Our own Marketing Workshops and CollaborationCafes are designed exactly for this purpose. They are tailored to break down the behavioural and conversational barriers that too often inhibit genuine cooperation. Cafe Workshops do this by deliberately disrupting the traditional hierarchies and preventing participants from ‘playing their usual cards’. New conversations are encouraged to help create a different view and perspective. A MarketingCafé is not designed to solve complex problems in a few hours with the usual suspects dominating a noisy brainstorm from their own view of the world.  Neither are Cafes about senior executives taking the floor to dictate and lead the thinking. Rather, a Cafe lays the ground for genuine understanding, collaborative ideation and exploratory conversation. The aim is to allow the confident and dominant leaders to take time to listen and think whilst and encouraging technical specialists and experts to share their knowledge.  For more information on Cafe Workshops can help marketing and innovation teams, please see my blog post Stimulating Conversation And The Marketing Cafe.

2 – Learn To Love First Dates:

Secondly, my tactical approach to partnerships has always focused on aiming at simple ‘first dates’ rather than over cooking the partnership expectations based on hope over experience. As my Law tutor always told me; ‘start with little steps Andrew – and see where that goes, before you jump in’. The initial focus for new marketing partnerships should be on delivering a low risk, low-cost and quick to implement joint activity so the relationship can safely move towards working together. If the expectations and objectives are too big and the tactics too complex then do not be surprised if the partnership falters in a quagmire of risk, lack of resources and uncertainty. The value of first date activities is not the outcome of the activity but rather in learning how the other party works. Can the partner obtain resources and seed budgets to kick things of? Do they create and approve materials quickly? Can they implement in full and on time? In very simple terms, do we think we can we work with them more? These activities give you the confidence that the relationship can progress – before you launch into bigger plans, commit greater resources, confidential information, IP and talent. Quite simply, if partners cannot deliver something simple and relatively low risk – then how can you expect to collaborate on something more valuable and complicated?

Some of the best first date deals I managed resulted in discovering that the partnership was not worth spending any more time on. The other side talked a good game, presented beautifully and drank some good coffee – but when it came to delivering I discovered the  personalities, politics, hurdles, layers of decision-making and lack of momentum told me that our efforts were best focused elsewhere. The learning that this was the case was worth the minimal cost we invested. If you need to fail, fail quick and fail cheap.

3 – Create Open And Honest Communications:

Can An Argument Be A Good Conversation?

Finally – trust is fuelled by consistent, open and honest communications. The questions do not end at the pitch and the deal is not ‘done’ just because a contract is signed. These processes are best viewed as the starting-points for an ongoing relationship and conversation. Over the years, I have built hundreds of partnership deals, from simple co-promotions to complex product development initiatives. The most valuable inevitably involve those moments when both parties have to tap into the bank account of trust and confidence that has been built through consistent, open and honest communication.

The 2013 GE Innovation Barometer shows that trust is a big issue for securing successful innovation partnerships. We can build tools, plans, reports and proposals that can perhaps help to secure a relationship we need but at the end of the day building and retaining that trust is a matter of personal effectiveness and behaviour. The late Stephen Covey put it in a way that is as true for building effective marketing partnerships – as it is for any other;

“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.” – Stephen Covey

Further Information

You can learn more about Andrew Armour and the MarketingCafes and CollaborationCafe Workshops from Benchstone.

To discuss how Cafe Workshops can help improve your marketing and innovation activities please contact Andrew Armour.

You can see the full 2013 GE Innovation Barometer here.

Thanks and credit to General Electric.

You can read more from Stefan Lindegaard at 15Inno and from Jose Baldaia at Intuinovare

Author: Andrew Armour

Andrew Armour is a marketing and media professional, a specialist in business partnerships and the Founder of the consulting business - Benchstone Limited. His career spans from the UK music industry to the America's Cup, from winning agency pitches to securing key digital content deals. He is married to Viv, lives in Hampshire and works in London.

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