“Partners are for dancing…” Joel Carmany

There are few things more difficult than growing a business when a partnership has run its course. In the beginning business partners share a vision and while in sync, turn it into reality. But there is a truism in business that nothing fails like success meaning that as the company grows so do you and the effect this success has on each partner begins to show.

What once were dreams are now realities – the bigger house, faster motorcycles, kids through college, etc. Add to that the independence economic power brings to chase other ventures and you have the recipe for a failing partnership.

There’s always one of the entrepreneurs, often the lead, where this success fuels a desire for more; to build a bigger, better company while the others see it as a time to kick back a bit and savor the fruits of their labor. That’s when the cracks begin as success and time has served to dissect their joint vision leaving the partners dissatisfied, at odds and at that proverbial crossroad.

On the surface it should be simple to resolve, but rarely is. Face it, we’re great at coming together but totally suck at breaking up because we simply don’t know how making it messy, fraught with passion turned to angst and disappointment. That’s a tough place to because for years you’ve worked side by side to build this great company and now find that it’s time to say ‘No Mas’.

I mean, here you are trying to build this damn company and they’re coming in later and later, taking more and more time off and simply not driving as hard as you. It’s become a distraction that’s sapping your spirit and something must be done…the only question is what? How do you tell your partner it’s time to leave in order for you to carry on?

The simple answer is you don’t openly tell them…you show them.

In my 2 decades of navigating entrepreneurs, I’ve dealt with this problem more than most honing a solution that both salvages the business AND preserves the personal relationship. It revolves around ‘the work to be done’. So what does this mean?

Simplify the problem by focusing on the company and where it needs to go. It’s the one thing partners are geared to do and can usually agree upon. It’s the steps that follow, the getting there where the problems usually arise from a difference of opinion as to how to go about it. Or more specifically, who DOES the work. And this is where the opportunity for a clean break lies.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Articulate and agree upon a vision – Where does the business need to be in 12-36 months to ensure its continued success? This is a logical discussion you’ve had many times before, but the main objective of the partner staying to build the business is not to compromise on its reality, i.e. sell it short. Now is the time to drive your agenda and set a goal that builds the company you want.
  2. Build a plan to get there – Here’s where you identify the ‘work to be done’. Identify the tasks and projects necessary to hit the goals. Thing to remember here is only focus on the work and not who does what…yet. These are the truths upon which the company will be built and you want and need everyone to agree that they must be done.
  3. Document the roles – This where the rubber meets the road and more often than not where the wipeouts occur. We’re all quick to agree to things that we know in our hearts we really don’t want to do and it’s a form of bullshit…a little white lie that we tell ourselves and others making us all feel good at the time. Everyone walks away feeling like a team but we’re really on the road to failure. So it’s of the utmost importance that, as the remaining entrepreneur, you lock them in to that agreement. Otherwise the next steps won’t work.
  4. Talk about the plan…often – This is THE crucial step in the process as can’t afford for the plan to end up on a shelf somewhere and taken down only when you realize that your partner isn’t pulling his or her own weight are now glaringly off track. Hells bells, you spent hours putting the plan together and agreeing on it but now, months later, the BS has risen to the top leaving you disappointed and pissed off. Aaannd here comes the wipeout because one of two things occurs. You either angrily confront your partner or internalize it, neither of which is healthy. But it’s your fault you’re in this situation because you failed to consistently talk about the plan and allowed things to get so far off track that talking about it now seems to be a waste of time. So set a meeting to review the plan regularly, a minimum of every month when the numbers come in. This way you’re simply holding up a mirror to each partner reminding them of their agreement which forces them to make a fundamental decision – that they’re still willing to walk in and do the work…or not.
  5. Tell your partner it’s OK – During this process the partners who don’t really want to do the work will begin to feel the guilt associated with quitting. Remember this isn’t about a guilt trip; it’s about continuing to build the business. Therefore, accept and understand that they had the best of intentions when agreeing to the work, but time and success is now proving they no longer have the drive. So have an honest heart to heart talk and tell them that you understand. After all, this crossroad is inevitable and one that you too will face at some point in the future. He just beat you to it and that’s OK. Begin talking about how to transition into the role they now want to play and then adjust your plan accordingly. This way you can celebrate two things in one. The continued building of a business and the next phase of your partner’s journey.

Because a history of success together is a terrible thing to waste…

As always – These are my thoughts and I look forward to yours. For over 2 decades I’ve served as trusted advisor to entrepreneurs looking to break through to the other side. Along with that work I produced The Biker’s Guide to Business, When Business and Life meet at The Crossroads and am leader of The CEO Ride – a conference designed exclusively for entrepreneurs who love to ride. So if you’re ready to saddle up, email me directly at Navigator@BikersGuidetoBusiness.Com or follow my blog at DwainDeVille.Com. I look forward to the ride.