BY KENNETH C. BATOR, MBA
As much as we are taught in college, in CUNA school, from webinars, and from conferences there are certain things that could really be useful to us that just aren’t taught in formal education. For instance, when I studied for the Series 7 test shortly out of college I learned a number of regulations and useless tidbits about the market but nothing to teach me how to be a quality stockbroker for my clients or how to attract the right business. Even today I think about how I developed my knowledge of branding, culture building, and strategic planning and very little of that expertise was built from my degree programs. I’ve come to believe the same is true when it comes to the art of collaboration.
Even in my MBA program on entrepreneurship, there was no discussion that I can remember about how to seek out and determine a good strategic partner for your business. Sure, there were classes about forming partnerships and other legal entities as well as developing contractual relationships. Those courses were about as exciting as a proctology exam. But nothing to help an entrepreneur or business professional determine how to evaluate the synergies and efficacy of partnering with another organization.
Maybe that’s why it’s so hard for some, maybe even most people, to truly collaborate. Although I have clearly seen much more collaborative examples in the small business community than I have ever seen in my 25 years in the credit union industry…a so-called “cooperative industry.” For example, restaurants want other restaurants on their block. It makes it a destination. If one restaurant is packed the overflow goes to the others. But, God forbid, another credit union opens a branch within 10 miles of another.
I saw plenty of positive examples of collaboration during a small business conference late last year. I attended the New Media Summit, an event for authors, speakers, podcasters, and consultants. I and many others networked but also truly collaborated. People talked about promoting each other’s books and shows. Consultants and speakers in the same field discussed sharing leads and even developing their own joint summits. One relationship therapist even pointed out that with five other professionals in the same field in attendance that she didn’t have five competitors but five potential partners. This was a far cry from what I have heard within three different credit union associations in the past 18 months with the following:
“Don’t let that credit union join. They just want to merge all of us in.”
“That credit union isn’t coming to the conference, are they?!”
And, my personal favorite, “If that credit union will be there we won’t be.”
I hadn’t heard anything like the last comment since junior high so that was kind of nostalgic for me.