8 characteristics of ideal business partners

“When the character of a man is not clear to you, look at his friends.” Japanese Proverb

After you have made a concentrated effort to understand as to who you are, you are now ready to go out there and start looking for the right individuals to partner with. This is a critical stage which will have a substantial impact on achieving your goals. Over the years I have either started or joined many business teams. There is a mental checklist which I run through when meeting my prospective team mates for the first time. This check list is made up from my own past experiences and also Jim Collins view on who “The Right People” (courtesy www.jimcollins.com) are.

1. The person must share the core values of the business or organization. These are the values which determine how the organization interacts, communicates and operates to reach it goals and objectives. For example there was a charity project for protecting the environment I was part of during my university days. There was a sales and marketing director who didn’t share the fundamental core value of compassion. He was in fact looking to profit from the project. Needless to say he didn’t last very long in the team. This just goes to show how important it is for you to probe and ask whether your prospective team mates core values are aligned to ensure that you are all on the same page and headed for the same goal.

2. The person should not need to be “managed”. When building your core team you need to find those individuals who are confident in their own abilities. If you are the more experienced partner then most definitely you will provide some guidance along the way. However if you are find yourself molding the individual into what you deem are the right behaviors then you have probably made a mistake during selection. These types of individuals who require constant support are draining and slowly become huge speed bumps for the organization. Make sure you select those individuals who have shown a capacity to operate on their own and have been successful at doing so.

3. The passion to become the best at what they do. There was a IT company which I was a part of a couple of years ago which was developing inventory management systems for the paper industry. Being a startup company we were naturally bootstrapping and couldn’t hire the best developers. However when filling a key role for project management lead for the team we selected an individual who had shown great potential during his university days and had great passion for his line of work. It worked out really well and the team flourished. So when you are making a key decision and may be limited by budget or geographic boundaries do your best to fill the seat with the person who has show the potential and willingness to be one of the best in that field.

4. Understand the difference between a job and holding a responsibility. This tip has helped me greatly in making some key decisions in recruiting partners. Say you are going to be hiring a developer for a new website to collect feedback for your product. You get the best coder in town to make it for you. He does what you asked for but users are frustrated because the website is difficult to navigate through or impossible to submit feedback easily. I know I have been in this spot many times. This is when you got someone who doesn’t know the difference. A coder who takes responsibility to make sure that users will be able to submit their feedback easily and quickly would have approached the project differently. So make sure when you are getting a partner who understands the bigger picture and is in line with it.

5. Would you hire the person if it were a hiring decision? This question allows you to look at the person from a different angle. Given that you know a substantial amount of the person would you hire him/her? When I get to meet people outside the workplace say at my squash game or at a charity that I volunteer at, you get to know a lot about the individual. When I ask myself this question when thinking about asking him/her to become a partner with me in a project it puts things into perspective. You begin to look at the individual impartially and can reach a more informed decision.

6. Does the person have a regard for rules, regulations and personal boundaries? I have learned this lesson the hard way as well. I came across what you call a super star performer. He excelled at a lot of the businesses he had been at. So if it were a hiring decision it would have been an easy one. However after working with him for a while I realized he had the sense that he was above any level of authority and did things which were ethically questionable when securing contracts and sales. We started to get complaints about his attitude from staff and customers and had to part ways. So when you meet a person make sure you get a sense of what his point of view regarding regulations and boundaries are even though everything else may look to be in place.

7. Professes a commitment to goals. When you are going into business you are looking for people who share similar levels of commitment as you do to the project. If you don’t pay attention to this aspect you will find yourself in an imbalanced partnership which could result in permanently jeopardizing your project. When evaluating prospective partners look at their past history and whether they were committed to the last projects they were on. Ask them about some of the big decisions they have had to make. Lastly if you are planning to take him/her on as a partner make them commit to particular goals and objectives and use them as benchmarks when performance will be appraised.

8. Integrity. This is probably the most critical yet most elusive quality to immediately identify. A person who has a high level of integrity will be one which will you can rely on and grow a successful business with. To be a good of judge of this characteristic however will take time and experience. I take Jack Welch’s advice here that if your “gut” feeling about someone is bad or you don’t get the correct vibes then it is best to go with that first presumption unless you are shown to believe otherwise.

By running through this checklist I have been able to select business partners with a lot more subjectivity. I hope this list helps out anyone who is looking to start up a new project. At the same time if you or anyone else has any key characteristics that they would like to share please do so in the comment section.

9 Comments 8 characteristics of ideal business partners

  1. Shama

    Interesting…since these qualities are more or less those that serve you well in most relationships…be they professional or personal….thanks for the re-cap !

  2. Adil

    The one characteristic I feel that is not present is a sort of human connection. I don’t want to sound too abstract, but I find that some of the best relationships are formed not on a list of objective characteristics. A ‘spark’ to use a simplistic term.

  3. Usman Sheikh

    That is a very valid point. Chemistry between partners is very important aspect. It determines the flow of dialogue, how they resolve conflicts and work together as a team. However I feel we shouldn’t leave out all the other characteristics as I have experienced chemistry sometimes fades away. This may leave you in an awkward point later on during the venture or relationship.

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  9. Carine

    A woman I didn’t know well at the time presented me with a great product that I thought could be a succes. She didn’t have a vision of how to make it work. We agreed to be 50/50 partners. I have been working on this project with her for the last few months. In the mean time I have come to know her as an unstable person and I have doubts about her trustworthiness. I feel that I have added a lot of value so far and don’t want to give up on it. From the other side I don’t trust her. We are now at a stage were an investor is willing to invest money into our business.


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